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McPherson Town: Dayton’s First Suburb

McPherson Town was declared as a Historical District in 1977.
McPherson Town Historic Society was founded in 1978. 

Not many neighborhoods face destruction from the forces of nature and the mistakes of man. The McPherson Town Historic neighborhood faced both and survived – a survival made possible through the courage and determination of early settlers and modern homesteaders.

Tucked into a corner of the horseshoe area formed by a bend in the Great Miami River, McPherson Town was founded on February, 1, 1845. On this date, an Irishman named Samuel McPherson filed a plat consisting of 34 swampy, wooded lots on both sides of Dayton and Covington Turnpike(Main Street). The center of this plat was located at the present day North Main St. and McPherson St.

After the 1913 flood - Shaw Ave on north end of McPherson TownAt first no one rushed to settle north of the river. Dayton was still a striving community carved out of the wilderness and struggling to establish itself. Nor was there a direct access to the area. A bridge over the river at Main Street was just an idea. If one wanted to travel to the other side of the river he either waded across or took a ferry. Folk history illustrates the wilderness of the future town in the early part of the century. For many years, Henry Brown, who built the first brick house in Dayton in 1808, kept a cannon in his stable to celebrate special occasions.

The latter years of the 19th century were good ones for McPherson Town. In 1871 Henry Herman and E.W. Davies filed for a subdivision in the area west of Main and north of Riverview to Herman Ave.(Grand Ave.). McDaniel and Babbitt were the main streets in the new plat.

Attracted by the improvements of the new plat and the flood problems that had been eliminated following the placement of a protective levee, many of Dayton’s middle class citizens moved to McPherson. The more affluent residents replaced many smaller original structures with larger homes in the latest Queen Anne an Eastlake styles.

1913 floodMcPherson Town and much of Dayton was devastated by the floods of 1897 and 1913. Many homes were destroyed and badly damaged.

Then almost overnight the old neighborhood began to change. World War II created a new middle class. With their newl acquired affluence, Dayton citizens began their head-long flight to the suburbs, leaving an aging and declining inner-city.

Government officials responded with a bulldozer and obliterate urban renewal philosophy designed to change city living forever.

McPherson Town now faced a man-made disaster more serious that the flood. The area was slated for commercial development, highrise condominiums and an interstate highway. Property was purchased for speculative purposes, deteriorating while owners waited to sell out and get rich.

By the early 1970’s, Phil Lehman, Tom Gabriel and others, recognized the unique historical significance of the neighborhood and began to renovate several old homes.

A move to obtain historic district status began. At first, City officials were reluctant, citing a lack of citizen participation. Finally in August, 1977 McPherson Town was declared Dayton’s third historic neighborhood.

Rehabarama

In 1993, McPherson Town became the first Dayton neighborhood to benefit from an initiative called Rehabarama. The concept of Rehabarama was initiated by a group of community volunteers who contacted the Home Builders Association of the Miami Valley (HBA) and suggested that they replicate the successful Homerama concept of showcasing contractors and suppliers, but this time in an urban setting…and focusing on rehabbing existing properties rather than building new ones.

McPherson Town, which suffered from years of neglect and urban decay, was a prime candidate for this exciting program. Although only 5 homes were rehabbed as part of the first Rehabarama, it caused a dramatic turnaround in property values and neighborhood ambiance. It spurred new interest in historic living in the area and ultimately stimulated private investments of over $2 million within the neighborhood to date.

Neighborhood Development Corporation

Infill House

Infill House: looks old, but isn’t

As the neighborhood renewal continued, residents decided to form an NDC to act as a 501C3 organization and facilitate reinvestment and improvements. Appointed NDC members crafted a master plan for the area and began to organize projects and fundraising to complete them. In the years since it’s founding, the NDC has rehabbed problem properties, designed and built new in-fill homes on vacant lots, and partnered with local organizations to repurpose the historic Hawthorne Elementary School into modern, market-grade apartments – as well as a neighborhood park. The NDC continues to work on updates to the neighborhood master plan to stay current with city changes and improvements along the commercial corridor of N. Main St. and the area surrounding the new River’s Edge Montessori School.

McPherson Town Today

Over 90% of the 95 structures in McPherson Town have been rehabbed since the renewal began in the 1970’s. Some homes have experienced more than one renovation since that time. Most houses that had been converted to apartments through the years have returned to single family dwellings. The neighborhood has become a vibrant center of urban living for it’s residents – whether they be young singles looking to live near the excitement of the inner city, empty-nesters seeking a change from sub-urban dwelling or young families looking for a community where their children can experience safe and diverse experiences. The bike-friendliness of the adjacent river bikeways and walkability to nearby places like the Dayton Dragons games, Schuster Center art performances, or festivals at RiverScape MetroPark or the Dayton Art Institute have certainly made McPherson Town one of Dayton’s most livable neighborhoods.

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