A History of the Hill

St. Anne’s Hill is a remarkable and diverse neighborhood. It has gone the full cycle from agricultural out-land, to an ethnic core, to a flourishing streetcar community and presently, a re-gentrified historic district. It has a history of hosting diverse social and economic groups and its architecture reflects this diversity.

The area now known as St. Anne’s Hill was part of the original out-lots of the City of Dayton which were plotted in 1815 by Daniel C. Cooper. Although not settled for several decades, by the 1830’s the first documented use of the name “St. Anne’s Hill” for the area is found in newspaper advertisements promoting the sale of nursery stock from a greenhouse in the area. Unfortunately, no explanation for the origin of the name has been discovered.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, several farmsteads were built on the hill. Swiss immigrant and botanist, Eugene Dutoit, erected the area’s first residence, a farm mansion, on a 111 acre tract of land in 1838. He built his home and farm with orchard, vineyard and nursery on the north side of Fifth Street. That part of the hill eventually became known as “Vinegar Hill” because of the smell of ripening fruit from his orchard. His beautifully restored home, one of the oldest residential structures in the city of Dayton, still stands at 222 S. Dutoit Street.

Another prominent resident of St. Anne’s at that time was William Bomberger, a German immigrant and lumber business operator who became Treasurer for the City of Dayton. He built his estate on the south side of Fifth Street. That side of the hill appropriately became known as “Bomberger Hill.” His estate was later demolished in 1908 to make way for Bomberger Park, a large recreation-oriented park at the corner of Fifth and Keowee.

With the opening of the Miami-Erie Canal in 1845, housing demand substantially increased due to the influx of immigrants, primarily of German origin. This promoted platting of the area which began in 1845 by T.J.S. Smith, a noted attorney, banker and teacher. This German influence is evident in the building that houses the Dayton Liederkranz-Turner Society, still located in the neighborhood at Fifth & High Street.

In the 1850’s, real estate tycoon Albert McClure built the original part of the house now called “The Steamboat House,” located at 6 Josie Street. Additional prominent homes followed in the 1860’s such as “The Sister Houses,” 204 and 208 S. Dutoit Street, (vernacular Gothic and Romanesque influences), and the “Bossler Mansion”, 136 S. Dutoit Street (French Second Empire style).

From the late 1860’s to the 1880’s, additional working-class homes were built in the neighborhood to serve the demands of the ever-increasing German immigrant population who came to serve Dayton industries associated with the building and industrial trades, canal trade, railroad trade, and the domestic needs of the large estate homes on The Hill. These working-class homes (typically two-story, wood-frame, vernacular, Victorian, single-family homes on narrow lots with detached carriage houses) reflect progressive improvement in the social and economic stature of the neighborhood during those years. The homes built during the 1860’s are modest, but those built in the 1870’s have more interesting architectural detail, and those built during the 1880’s were quite ornate and more expensive.

In the 1870’s, 1880’s and 1890’s, more prominent homes were again being built in the neighborhood, primarily by German tradesmen who had become economic successes. They were typically of brick construction, rather than wood-frame. Examples of the more prominent homes include those of Wesley Boren, (builder), 48 High Street (now the “High Street Gallery,” 1870, Italianate style); Conrad Herman (builder), 104 High Street (1881, Italianate style), and Thomas H. Cridland (industrialist, Joyce-Cridland Co.), 601 McLain Street (1887, vernacular Queen Anne style). During this “heyday,” many of the pre-existing homes, both prominent and working-class, were architecturally “Victorianized,” including the Dutoit Farmhouse and The Steamboat House. Also, during this era, other support structures began to evolve in the neighborhood. East Fifth Street became lined with storefront shops where the proprietor typically lived on the second floor and operated his business on the first. Typical businesses included saloons (e.g., The Stockert Saloon, 1878, Italianate, now The Baroque Violin Shop at 1500 E. Fifth Street), grocery shops, meat shops, and bakeries. During this time, the portion of Fifth Street passing through St. Anne’s Hill became the first paved street in the city of Dayton and East Fifth Street became one of the city’s primary thoroughfares as planned by Daniel C. Cooper in 1802.

As the neighborhood flourished, social support institutions began to abound. The neighborhood developed a strong family orientation, and numerous churches, clubs, societies and schools sprang up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Fortunately, due to its hill location, the buildings in St. Anne’s Hill were spared from damage during The Great Flood of 1913. In fact, many of its buildings served as flood victims’ havens. The Bomberger Center at East Fifth and High Streets, which replaced the Bomberger estate in 1908, became Ohio’s first public recreation center (the original building and pool were Romanesque Revival). Stivers High School (1909 – 14) became Ohio’s first vocational high school, and the Odd Fellows Hall (1911 – Romanesque Revival) housed a social/benevolence society which provided social support during pre-public welfare days.

During the Great Depression of the 1930’s and following World War II, St. Anne’s became very densely populated, with many of the prominent homes being divided up into rental units. Many of the homes of St. Anne’s architecturally suffered from over-use and abuse during the post-war housing shortage. Then, in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, suburban flight began to occur. An increasing absentee landlord rate left many residents without the resources or motivation to maintain or improve properties. Many of the “improvements” made during this time were not sympathetic with the architectural integrity of the neighborhood. By the 1970’s, St. Anne’s Hill was losing many architecturally significant structures. This got the attention of some long-term residents and a small group of preservationists, and local historic designation for the neighborhood was petitioned for and achieved in 1974. Entry into the National Register of Historic Places was later gained in 1986.

Since that time, historic preservation has been the mainstay of the neighborhood. Today, St. Anne’s Hill has one of Dayton’s strongest and most active historic societies with a commitment to continued revitalization.

Additional Resources

Skyscraper City: forum post with maps and photos describing the historic composition of St. Anne’s Hill.
National Register Documents: filed with the City of Dayton
Property construction dates: filed with the City of Dayton

For additional historical photographs, click HERE to look back in time.