Neighborhood taverns may not be as common as they once were but they are hardly extinct. Traditional beer towns like Cincinnati, Saint Louis, and Milwaukee have them and I’m sure they’re not alone. Once upon a time, some of the neighborhoods in those beer towns had a neighborhood brewery. A precious few do so today. One that does is the Saint Anne’s Hill Historic District in Dayton, Ohio. That’s the neighborhood brewery at right. It’s the Fifth Street Brewpub, the first co-op brewery in Ohio and the second in the nation. Today patrons come from near and far and even the owner/members are a widespread bunch but the founders who had the idea and made it happen are neighbors. They did it to save a little history and to put some more life back into their neighborhood. The rest of the Saint Anne’s Hill pictures are posted in sequence but this was taken at the end of the evening as I approached the brewpub for a little R&R after a guided walk around the neighborhood. There’s something of a “bonus” in the photo. The contraption at the very top is part of the rigging for the overhead wires that power Dayton’s electric trolley buses. Dayton is one of only five US cities operating electric trolley buses. The others are Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Saint Anne’s Hill was hardly lifeless even before the brewpub opened in 2013. A downward slide that had started with the Great Depression and World War II was halted in the early 1970s as a modern sort of pioneer started restoring some of the elegant old houses in the area. A some point, residents began offering tours of homes decorated for Christmas to raise funds for community projects. The biennial tours continue to be offered in odd numbered years. They begin at this 1869 house which is now the High Street Art Gallery operated by the Dayton Society of Painters and Sculptors.
The area’s original heyday was in the early twentieth century and tour guides dress in the height of period fashion. That’s our tour guide, Jack, under the top-hat. There were eight homes on the tour and Jack told us about each one before we entered. In the picture we are learning about a house on High Street built by a family named Bennington in 1890.
The tour’s appeal comes from the wonderfully restored historic homes themselves as well as beautiful Christmas decorations both inside and out. Two, three, or more trees are a big part of each home’s charm which meant there were many great looking trees to chose from. The trees shown here were chosen largely because their photos came out OK and I won’t attempt to identify the houses they were in. In addition to the Bennington house this year’s tour included a 1902 house also on High Street, an 1886 house on McLain Street, 1900 and 1853 houses on LaBelle Street, and 1855 and 1865 houses on Detoit Street.
In addition to telling us about each home we entered, Jack provided information on several other houses as we passed. This house, on what is now Detoit Street, was built by Eugene Detoit in 1838. It is the oldest house in Saint Anne’s Hill and one of the oldest in Dayton.
Different homes participate in each year’s tour with one exception. The 1869 Bossler Mansion is always the final stop and that is where we were treated to some incredible bread pudding as were all the tour groups in previous years. The mansion’s thirty rooms were once divided into thirteen apartments. During tour weekend, the second floor holds a gift shop filled largely with items made by local craftsmen. The last photo is the view from the cupula atop the mansion.
This was the second time I’ve taken a tour of decorated historic homes. The first was in 2012 in Morristown on the National Road.
Saint Anne’s Hill is something over thirty crow miles from where I live. A holiday display that has been getting a lot of press is much closer. The World’s First Zombie Nativity Scene, which has been covered by the New York Times, CNN, and the BBC among others, is about a half dozen miles from my door. Most of the big time coverage was triggered by threats by the township to fine the owner up to $500 per day. Officials have always claimed that the threats were because of zoning violations and it seems they were even if that might not be what initially caught their attention. A day or two before I took these pictures on Friday, the display had been made smaller and a roof that extended upward a few feet removed. The township says it’s now good to stay.
Even though it was the threatened fines that brought the world wide attention, most reports focused on the “non-traditional” nature of the display. Fair and balanced Lou Dobbs called it an “obscenity” and said “I think if you’re going to mock a religion, I’m thinking they should have chosen the Islamic religion to see what would happen.” Lou and company notwithstanding, my sense is that defenders out number those who are upset and that, after two years of what some would call oppression, a new local Christmas tradition has been established.