The Wright Brothers: A Visit to Home in Dayton, Ohio
By Kathleen Walters, Park Ranger, Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park
Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park pays tribute to three famous Daytonians who changed the world. Wilbur and Orville Wright, and Paul Laurence Dunbar all grew up in Dayton, Ohio, a city that was a booming hub of industry and innovation at the turn of the nineteenth century. The Wrights went on to become the world’s first pilots and Dunbar, a classmate and one-time business partner, went on to gain fame as an internationally known poet and author.
The park was founded in 1992 around the Wrights’ fourth bicycle shop. October, 2017 is the 25th anniversary of the park! The bicycle shop was saved from demolition in the early 1980’s by Aviation Trail Inc., one of our partner organizations, and it became the cornerstone of revitalization efforts in the neighborhood. In addition to the last remaining Wright cycle shop in Dayton, the park has two floors of exhibits in its Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center where it discusses the Wrights’ early lives and careers.
Just six blocks further west from the cycle shop and interpretive center stands the Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site. After attending high school with Orville Wright, and briefly working with the brothers to print a newspaper for Dayton’s African-American community, Dunbar went on to national recognition as a poet and novelist. He lived in this house for two years before his death, but his mother continued to live there until her death in 1934. Just two years later, it became a state memorial and has been preserved and operated as a museum ever since.
Eight miles east of the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center and the Wright Cycle Company building, stands the Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center and the Huffman Prairie Flying Field. After the Wrights’ successful first flights in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina they sought to improve their system of control. They decided to save time and money and experiment closer to home. The brothers used this 84-acre cow pasture to test their flyer throughout 1904 and 1905, and later to teach the world’s first 119 pilots how to fly.
The aircraft in which they perfected their control system, the 1905 Wright Flyer III, is on display in the Wright Brothers Aviation Center at Carillon Historical Park, another of our partner organizations. The park is lucky to have such great relationships with fellow history organizations in the Dayton area! The fifth site of Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park is Hawthorn Hill. This beautiful mansion is where Orville and Wilbur intended to spend the rest of their lives accompanied by their father, Milton, and sister, Katharine. Unfortunately, Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912 before construction finished in 1914, but Orville lived there until his death in 1948.
Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park is a network of sites that allows park staff to share history where it actually happened. Sense of place is an important part of connecting people with history by engaging them with the material in a more meaningful way! #