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To Plan A Trip

March 2024
6min read


FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE SITES MENTIONED IN THE ARTICLE:

• Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park: 937-225-7705, www.nps.gov/daav

• Aviation Trail: 937-425-0008 or 937-225-7705, www.aviationtrailinc.org

• Dunbar House: 937-224-7061, www.ohiohistory.org/places/dunbar

• Carillon Historical Park: 937-293-2841, www.carillonpark.org

• Huffman Prairie Flying Field: See Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park

• United States Air Force Museum: 937-255-3286, www.wpafb.af.mil/museum

• National Aviation Hall of Fame: 937-256-0944, www.nationalaviation.org

• Wright State University, Paul Laurence Dunbar Library, Special Collections and Archives: 937-775-2092, www.libraries.wright.edu/special

• Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum: 937-228-3221(cemetery) and 937-228-2581(arboretum), www.woodlandcemetery.org

WHAT ELSE TO SEE

If Detroit is the Motor City and Chicago is the Windy City, then Dayton must have some sort of aviation-oriented moniker, right? No, it’s the Gem City. Go figure. Explanations abound, but one thing seems clear: Dayton’s had the title since well before anything momentous emerged from a bike shop there. In a way, the flightless label serves as a useful reminder to visitors that as proud as Dayton now is of its aviation heritage, there’s still more to see in the city than just wings and things.

For example, there’s the automobile dealership at 420 South Ludlow Street. The showroom and manager’s office face the street. Farther back are the service area and a well-stocked parts department. Including the ones displayed in an adjacent building, the total number of cars comes to more than 50. “Fine,” you might reply, “but I don’t need to visit Dayton to find a car dealership; I’ve got plenty right where I live.” Yes, but this one is a Packard dealership. The Citizens Motorcar Company—America’s Packard Museum , as it’s also called—features beautifully preserved models from 1903 through Packard’s last production year, 1956. The most recent addition is a black and red 1928 speedster once test-driven by Charles Lindbergh. Contact: 937-226-1917, www.americaspackardmuseum.org.

The Dayton area’s tourist attractions are eclectic. The region is host to not one but two halls of fame. One is devoted to aviation, housed at the Air Force Museum; the other is the Trapshooting Hall of Fame and Museum , at 601 West National Road, Vandalia, OH 45377 (937-898-1945, www.traphof.org ). Vandalia’s trapshooting tournament, held annually in August and claimed to be the largest in the world, has drawn competitors that included Annie Oakley, John Philip Sousa, and Roy Rogers.

For anyone interested in science, but particularly for children, there’s the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery (2600 DeWeese Parkway, 937-275-7431, www.boonshoftmuseum.org ). The museum’s sister site is the SunWatch Indian Village and Archaeological Park (2301 West River Road, 937-268-8199, www.sunwatch.org ). Now the “Williamsburg of prehistory,” as one archeologist called the reconstructed 800-year-old settlement, the site was rescued by a community effort from a plan to build a sewage-treatment plant there.

The SunWatch Village is on the west bank of the Great Miami River. Just a few miles upstream, in downtown Dayton, is an encampment as modern as the Indian village is ancient. RiverScape is a recreational complex with gardens, walkways, laser lights, and some of the most creative uses you’ll find of water in motion. The city claims this park as the world’s largest river-based fountain. Dayton’s tradition of innovation is celebrated with interactive “invention stations” devoted to the automobile self-starter, the ice-cube tray, and the pop-top can, among other local contributions. Another one of these stations is the sculpture of the 1905 Wright Flyer next to the Engineers Club. Contact: 937-274-0126, www.riverscape.org .

Throughout its history Dayton has been shaped by its five rivers. The defining moment was a disastrous flood in 1913. In response, a distinctive feature of the region’s topography came to be its levees, dams, and other flood-control earthworks. Around these developed many of Dayton’s public parks (937-275-PARK, www.metroparks.org ). The monumental dam at Englewood MetroPark, for example, is a nearly mile-long embankment. For more outdoor attractions, try the Cox Arboretum MetroPark , with its nine specialty gardens (6733 Springboro Pike, 937-434-9005, www.metroparks.org/Facilities/facilities.html ), or Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm (1000 Aullwood Road, 937-890-7360, www.audubon.org/local/sanctuary/aullwood ), a nature center donated by one benefactor, Marie S. Aull.

For a mid-sized city, Dayton has a lot of historic districts. Much of its distinctive preserved housing stock is the legacy of fine woodworkers employed by the Barney & Smith railroad passenger-car works, who also took time to build and finish houses. The Oregon Historic District is a 40-block area that dates back to Dayton’s earliest days. Close to downtown, it was devastated by the 1913 flood and nearly leveled by a 1960s redevelopment plan, but it’s now preserved as a rich mix of residential architectural styles, along with some of the city’s trendiest bars, restaurants, and shops. Other neighborhoods worth exploring include the Santa Clara Arts District , the Cannery , Webster Station , the Neon District , and the Terra Cotta District —so named for the waterproof building material with which it was restored following the 1913 flood. For more information on some of these neighborhoods, visit www.preservationdayton.com .

The Dayton Art Institute has a substantial collection housed in a hilltop museum modeled after two Italian villas (937-223-5277, www.daytonartinstitute.org ). The new Benjamin & Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center is home to the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and the Dayton Opera, as well as local and national ballet, theater, and musical productions ( www.schustercenter.org , tickets at 888-228-3630 or 937228-3630). But the arts scene doesn’t stop there. The city has dozens more museums, theaters, dance companies, and musical performances. For an up-to-date listing, with links to the attractions, consult the Dayton/Montgomery County Convention & Visitors Bureau , 800-221-8235 or 937-226-8211, www.daytoncvb.com . The bureau also offers plenty of general trip-planning information. Another helpful site is www.activedayton.com , and for a downtown parking map, go to www.downtowndayton.org/maps/parkingmap.html .

WHERE TO STAY

Like most U.S. cities, Dayton has a full complement of Holiday Inns, Ramada Inns, and the like. If you’re pursuing the city’s aviation heritage, a convenient choice is the Dayton Marriott Hotel (1414 South Patterson Boulevard, 888-236-2427 or 937-223-1000, www.marriott.com ). It’s close to most of the sites mentioned in the article—for example, only a half-mile from the Carillon Historical Park. If you’re willing to range a little farther afield, a distinctive alternative is the English Manor Bed & Breakfast at 505 East Linden Avenue, Miamisburg, OH 45342 (800-676-9456 or 937-866-2288, www.englishmanorbandb.com ). Built in 1924 as the mansion for a wealthy toy manufacturer, the B&B is an elegant surrounding for the guests staying in its six overnight rooms.

Head farther south, but still only about a 30-minute drive from downtown Dayton, and you can add your name to those of Mark Twain, Daniel Webster, Charles Dickens, and 11 U.S. Presidents on the guest list of the Golden Lamb , Ohio’s oldest hostelry. Both the inn and the state itself were founded exactly two centuries ago this year. Portions of the current structure date back to 1815. In the 1820s and 1830s a stagecoach line ran through the town of Lebanon, and passengers would spend the night there at the Golden Lamb. Today the inn doubles as a museum of Shaker furniture and artifacts, with each of the overnight rooms open for display until rented. The restaurant fare is hearty and traditional, with roast leg of lamb the signature dish (27 South Broadway, Lebanon, OH 45036/513-932-5065, www.goldenlamb.com ).

WHERE TO EAT

When Daytonians give dining recommendations, they seem to start with the Pine Club . The paneled walls are indeed pine, the lighting is low, and the steaks are formidable at this classic supper club (1926 Brown Street, 937-228-5371—though they take no reservations, nor do they accept credit cards— www.thepineclub.com ).

When visiting the Air Force Museum, you’ll find the cafeteria there is perfectly fine, but only a short drive away is something much more memorable. For generations, up until World War II, Old North Dayton was a haven for Eastern European immigrants, and the diverse community is reflected in the menu of Elinor’s Amber Rose . There are selections from German, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, and Italian cuisines. The restaurant is in a 1912 building that was long the focal point of the Polish neighborhood. In 1995, as the Dayton Peace Accords were being hammered out at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the negotiators found a taste of home at Elinor’s Amber Rose. But the delegations from Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia made a point of eating there on different days (1440 Valley Street, 937-228-2511, www.theamberrose.com ).

Dayton loves its theater, both local productions and national touring companies. Autographed photos of many of the visiting stars are displayed on the walls and counters of Marion’s Piazza (937-293-6991, seven locations). Examples include Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Tony Randall, Sally Field, and Dayton’s own Rob Lowe and Martin Sheen. At Marion’s they also know how to serve up a prizewinning pizza.

In the Oregon Historic District, good restaurant choices include Blue Moon (524 East Fifth Street, 937-586-4250) and Jay’s Seafood (225 East Sixth Street, 937-222-2892, www.jays.com ). On the approach to Dayton from the south is J. Alexander’s (7970 Washington Village Drive, 937-435-4441, www.jalexanders.com ).

For something quick and tasty, visit Smales Pretzel Bakery (210 Xenia Avenue) between 7:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M. and sample pretzels right off the assembly line. Cincinnati-style chili has made it to the Dayton area. Skyline Chili has 10 locations there ( www.skylinechili.com ). Cincinnati is also known for Graeter’s ice cream , and there’s a Graeter’s now in Dayton (2412 Far Hills Avenue, 937-534-0602, www.graeters.com ). Is there something special about that ice cream? Suffice it to say that expatriate Ohioans living on the East Coast have been known to have it shipped to them by overnight express.

—L.A.R.

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