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Prehistory & Barn Gang

By Mark Martel

A (pre) historic site
Dayton settlement began in 1796 almost precisely where the present-day Engineers Club now sits. The very first boat traveling up from Cincinnati landed here. Some accounts claim the first person to step on dry land was Catherine Van Cleve Thompson, destined to be the great-great-grandmother to the Wright brothers. One piroque, or flat-bottomed boat, was “re-engineered” to become the first temporary shelter at St. Clair and Water Street, now Monument Avenue, at the other end of the block from today’s Engineers Club of Dayton.

The rich river bottomland had attracted farming centuries before whites arrived, as archaeologists have relearned at the nearby Sunwatch Indian Village site. Long before GPS, this juncture of five rivers proved an easy-to-locate strategic point of navigation.

Two of the first ten cabins in Dayton rose on this same spot. Pioneer resident Daniel Cooper homesteaded the east half of the present club’s site. That’s only fitting, as he also happened to be an engineer who surveyed the settlement and later built water-powered mills and distilleries. The western half of the site was a men’s dorm owned by a General Brown, retired from the war of 1812. The Engineers Club stands on lots 5-8 of Daniel Cooper’s original platting.

Dayton was wilderness to begin with, a collision of cultures. East of Cooper stood the Van Cleve cabin on their “in lot.” The father farmed his nearby “out lot”; until he was scalped there. When the suspected Indian perpetrator was caught, his hand was cut off. Some time later Indians gathered in front of the house in a menacing manner. A daughter escaped out the back of the cabin to alert men at Newcom’s tavern on west Main.

Starting from zero
At the dawn of the 20th century, the city of Dayton was much like today’s Silicon Valley—a confluence of engineering talent, Progressive politics, and strong individuals. The “city of a thousands factories” led the US in patents. It pioneered the City Commission style of government, with a civil engineer as city manager, invested with greater powers than the actual mayor.

Then the worst local disaster ever struck. The Great Flood of 1913 killed over 360 residents, and caused over $2 billion in damages (in today’s dollars). Many lost everything.

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The Engineers Club Through the Years. View a photo gallery >>



Engineering in Dayton’s Past (newsletter reprint) – PDF

First Meeting of the Engineers Club – PDF

Club History prior to the current building’s construction


External Links

The 1913 Dayton Flood

A Pictorial History of the Great Dayton Flood

Miami Conservancy District

Dayton History

Ohio History Central


Posterity, who are to reap the blessings, will scarcely be able to conceive the hardships and sufferings of their ancestors.
—Abigail Adams

The view from the future Engineers Club showed the pioneer Newcom’s Tavern—and the converging rivers that would inundate the city and prompt a technocratic rebirth.

Image courtesy of Dayton Metro Library.