The trip south from Toledo was a longer haul than average, nearly 3 hours, because I wanted to position us between Dayton and Cincinnati as there were National Historic Sites at both. Thankfully, most of the trip was along I-75 so there were multiple rest areas along the way. We have learned that when we are pulling the RV, it is very nice to stop every hour or so along the way and the Interstates make this easy. When we got off of our exit on I-71 for the Olive Branch Campground, our GPS decided to play a trick on us. It had us immediately turn back along the Interstate and then turn again into a residential street. We should have known there was a problem as we saw no signs for a campground, but we followed the directions on the GPS. Thankfully the cul-de-sac that this street turned into had a wide turn around at the end as there was certainly no campground down there!! We got out the computer and found the address for the campground and tried it instead of the stored location in the GPS for the campground. Thankfully, the location for the address was a bit different and we proceeded back to the exit from the Interstate. We turned back on the highway and had to go no more than a 1000 yards to the entrance to the campground. We were that close!! We did inform the owners of the campground about their GPS location and found we were not the first to have this problem. I dread the day when our GPS takes us to a location deep in the woods somewhere to a dead end with no way to turn the RV around. The truck alone would be bad enough, but pulling the RV would be a nightmare. They had a very nice pull-through site set aside for us and even treated us to an ice cream sandwich while we waited for the current occupants to move to another site. We quickly got unhooked and set up for the week.
As I hinted previously, we had a busy week planned with two National Historic Sites, so we got started right on Tuesday. We drove to downtown Cincinnati to the boyhood home of President Taft. Of the next 12 Presidents following the Civil War, 5 of them were from Ohio. Our 27th President, William Howard Taft, was one of these serving as President from 1909-1913. However, Taft was more noteworthy serving as both President and then later as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a position he always aspired to. Taft always considered himself more of a judge than a politician, which started early in his career in Cincinnati. The William Howard Taft National Historical Historic Site is located at his boyhood home on Auburn Street in Cincinnati. His father, Alfonso Taft, was a well respected lawyer in his own right even serving as Secretary of War and Attorney General for President Grant. So William was born following in the footsteps of his father, even attending Yale Law School and becoming a member of the Skull and Bones secret society. While serving as the judge for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, he approached President McKinley in 1990 for a seat on the Supreme Court. However, the United States had acquired the Philippines as part of the Spanish-American War and McKinley asked Taft to be the Governor-General of the Philippines with a promise to nominate him for the Supreme Court at the next opening. Taft turned out to be an excellent choice as he did a lot over the next 4 years as to lead them towards self government. Twice he was offered a seat on the Supreme Court but turned them down because his work in the Philippines was not finished. However, when President Theodore Roosevelt asked him to be his Secretary of War in 1904, he accepted and moved back to Washington D.C. Theodore Roosevelt turned down the opportunity for a third term as President, naming Taft as his successor. Taft easily won the Presidency, however, he did not fulfill Theodore’s hope that he would continue his Progressive policies. Therefore, Theodore ran again for the Presidency in 1912 as a third party candidate for the Bull Moose Party. This split the Republican vote and Woodrow Wilson was elected President. Taft retired from the political scene returning to a professorship at Yale, but he remained active on the national scene. In 1920, President Harding nominated Taft to the Supreme Court where he served with distinction until his retirement and death in 1930. The most significant change he made was to free up the Supreme Court by changing the rules whereby it was the Supreme Court that decided which cases to hear instead of every appeal from the lower courts.
Their success in renovating his childhood home has been nothing short of miraculous. It turns out that his grandfather, detailed all the changes they made to the home in detail in his journals. He also cataloged all the furnishings down to recording the serial number and location of the mark of everything they owned. If it did not have a serial number he would stamp his own mark along with the location of the mark. This has made it very easy to positively identify the original furnishings as they appear from whomever may have purchased them in the years since. In addition, his wife recorded the catalog number and a description of all the wallpaper, rugs, and drapes throughout the house. So with a little research they have been able to reproduce the main rooms of the house. The other rooms of the house on both floors are devoted to exhibits about his life and career. I found this to be surprising to have the exhibits here instead of in the Visitor Center next door, but it also means the Visitor Center could be very small. In any case, we spent a couple of enjoyable hours learning more about President William Taft then I ever knew before.
Our GPS had some more fun with us that night when we went looking for a local sports bar to watch the US Men soccer team. The sports bar was in downtown Lebanon and either the GPS did not know what it was talking about, or it had changed owners as all we found was a ice cream establishment. We reset the GPS to a close by Buffalo Wild Wings and got there just before the game started. We split an appetizer for dinner and enjoyed the game.
On Wednesday it was off to Dayton this time to find out more about the Wright Brothers. What we found at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Site was more than just the Wright Brothers, although it was mostly about the brothers. The Visitor Center in downtown Dayton has a very nice movie about the life of the brothers and an excellent museum. We learned a lot about their early life starting a printing business straight out of high school, even though neither one got a diploma. Oliver actually dropped out in his junior year to start the business. They published a newspaper for a while before turning to commercial printing. When the bicycle craze swept American, the Wright brothers opened a shop to repair and eventually build their own model. It was the small success of this bicycle business that provided the resources and experience to fuel their work in aviation. Beginning with kites and then gliders they designed their plane using wing warping to correct the direction of the aircraft. To test their design they needed a location with consistent winds in a single direction and one remote from reporters. They choose Kitty Hawk and in 1900 began testing their designs. By the fall of 1901 they suspected there was a problem with the standard lift coefficients since they were not able to achieve the predicted lift from the calculations. So when they returned to Dayton they spent the winter conducting a series of experiments to determine the correct coefficients. They started with a horizontal bicycle wheel mounted on the front of a bicycle. This was their first crude wind tunnel as they would use the bicycle to generate a constant wind. They then built a 6 foot wind tunnel to continue their scientific work. Over the fall of 1902, their new glider set all kinds of time and distance records so they were ready to add an engine. They approached a number of car manufactures about building a light weight engine with no success, so they turned to their bicycle mechanic, Charlie Taylor, to build a light weight engine out of aluminum. They once again turned to their wind tunnel to design an efficient propeller, which was attached using heavy duty bicycle chain. Talk about cobbling together a plane in your backyard!! They probably spent less than a $1000 creating the first powered airplane versus the hundred of thousands the government would have spent for the same result. In 1903 they returned again to Kitty Hawk and by December had achieved the first powered flight. As historic as this achievement was, there was still a lot of work to be done. Their goal was to create a practical airplane, which meant you had to be able to steer it. The Wright Flyer I was designed to travel in a straight line. Their wing warping technique was only meant to correct the direction. However, traveling every year to Kitty Hawk was just too expensive and limited the time they had for field testing. So they located a pasture at the end of the city’s trolley line owned by a banker named Huffman who agreed to let them use his pasture for free. There was one problem, however. Whereas Kitty Hawk had consistent winds from a single direction, the winds in Dayton are erratic and can change directions at any moment. In order to achieve the necessary speeds they built a catapult to launch the plane. This was nothing more than a small derrick with a stone weight attached to the front of the flyer through a pulley. This allowed for a number of test flights over the summer of 1904 with the Wright Flyer II successfully making their first circle of the field. However, steering was still a problem as the plane would sometimes not level out following a turn. To correct this they added a third control to the plane, separating the wing warping from the rudder and along with other improvements, created the Wright Flyer III. These changes were the key. In 1905 they successfully flew in circles around the field only landing when they ran out of fuel. They had built the first practical flying machine. In order to protect their accomplishments, they packed up the plane and spent the next two years securing patents and searching for government contracts. Initially the US was not interested, but the French definitely were. in 1908, the Wright Brothers had a contract with a French consortium and entered a bid to the US Army Signal Corps for their plane. Both contracts required them to modify their design to carry two seated passengers instead of a single reclining pilot, so they returned to Kitty Hawk to test their new design. Their public demonstrations in both France and Washington D.C. were huge successes making them international heroes and their return to Dayton was met with a huge public celebration. To build their airplanes they formed the Wright Company and started the Wright Brothers Flying School to train new pilots. While Orville continued to focus on design improvements, Wilbur became more of the businessman securing contracts and fighting legal battles over patents. The constant travel wore heavily on Wilbur and in 1912 he contracted typhoid fever while on a business trip to Boston, dying at age 45. Orville took over the company, but did not have the executive skills and sold the company in 1915. In the spring of 1914, he and their sister Katherine moved to a new home called Hawthorn Hill which the brothers and their sister had designed. Katherine married in 1926 and moved away, but Hawthorn Hill was often filled with nieces and nephews and their families. Orville died in 1948 seeing the beginning of the supersonic age of flight.
This is quite a story and one unfolded for us through many locations. Three years ago we visited Kitty Hawk and learned that part of the story. However, in Dayton you get to learn much more of the story. At the main Visitor Center in downtown Dayton you learn about their childhood and their start in the printing business and building bicycles. In fact, on the second floor of the Visitor Center is the final location of the printing business. Unfortunately, the printing press they built has been lost over the years, but they do a good job of showing you what a small printing company would look like. Next door is the location of the third bicycle shop they owned. From pictures of the exterior they have renovated it back to the turn of the century, however, there were no pictures of the interior. This is not the last bicycle shop which was located about a block away, however, this shop was bought by Henry Ford and moved to his Greenville Village at the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Once I found out about all the historical buildings Ford had moved to Greenville, including Edison’s Menlo Park, I wished we had spent another day at the museum last month. I had thought Greenville Village was nothing more than some working farms and craftsmen. Now I want to go back someday.
This is only one of the locations that make up the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Site. Other locations include the site of the Wright Company factory, but this is not open to the public yet and Hawthorn Hill, which is only opened two days a week that were not going to work for us. There is also the Wright Flyer III at Carillon Historical Park and the home of Paul Laurence Dunbar, both of which would have to wait until later in the week. The final locations are the Wright Memorial and Interpretive Center and Huffman Prairie Flying Field on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. So we got in the truck and headed over to explore these locations. The Memorial is just a stone with plaques on it on top of a bluff overlooking the AFB. The Interpretive Center is a small museum that focuses on the accomplishments and history of the Wright Brothers after 1905. Here is where you learn about the trips to Europe, the huge celebration in Dayton when they returned international stars, the formation of the first aircraft company and flight school, and subsequent court battles. There is also a brief history of Wright-Patterson AFB of which Huffman Prairie is still an important part. From the Interpretive Center it is a couple of miles to Huffman Prairie which is an 84 acre pasture that is essentially the same condition as when the Wright Brothers were there. They have reconstructed their hanger and catapult system on one end of the field and erected flags to show their circular course. Finally in the area next to the field, they are working to reintroduce the native tall grass prairie with a nice mowed loop through the field. Along with the signs identifying some of the grasses and forbs, it was a nice way to end our exploration of the Wright Brothers and end a very full day.
On Thursday we were looking for something a little different that would not take up the entire day and decided to check out Fort Ancient Archeological Park which was less than 10 miles for the campground. We figured it would either be an old fort with an odd name or just some Indian mounds. What we found really surprised us!! Fort Ancient is an immense earthwork of nearly 126 acres, constructed by the Hopewell culture over a 400 year period from the first century BC to the 4th century AD. This culture predates the Mississippian culture by nearly a thousand years. Their mounds and earthworks are scattered all over southern Ohio and Kentucky. There are large earthworks in the river valleys, however, most of these are not lost due to agriculture. There are also about a dozen known hilltop earthworks as well, of which Fort Ancient is the largest. The name, Fort Ancient, is a bit confusing since the Fort Ancient Indian culture was named due to the discovery of a village at this site. However, this village postdated the creation of the earthworks by a thousand years. Also calling it a fort is incorrect. It is most certainly not a defensive structure. The walls that surround the site are 5 to 23 feet tall and even accounting for erosion would not be very good defenses. Especially since the wall was built in sections with multiple breaks in the wall. In addition, the ditch is along the inside of the wall instead of the outside and there is evidence that many of them were either lined with limestone or had pond mud installed, so they were more likely water features in the fort. They have determined that the fort was constructed in three main phases, with the southern section being the oldest and largest. At the southern gate there was a limestone paved walkway to the Little Miami River 260 feet below suggesting this was not only a ceremonial site but also a major trading post. In the northern section there are four limestone covered mounds that would be used for huge bonfires. These mounds are laid out in a perfect square from which you could sight through breaks in the walls to pinpoint important celestial occurrences such as the summer solstice. Before we explore the fort itself we took in their museum which turned out to be the best Indian museum I have ever seen. It has exhibits that trace the mid-Western Indian cultures from the end of the Ice Age through their removal to Oklahoma in the 1800s. It is an amazing collection of exhibits that include artifacts, videos, interactive displays, and manikins. It really helped me tie together all the early history of the midwest together. After spending a couple of hours (literally) in the museum we took a short hike outside the walls to some limestone circles of unknown purpose and scratched our heads along with the experts. We then entered the fort itself for a quick lunch before hiking around the interior of the southern section. The walls are still in amazing condition. My personal theory is that this was not only an important ceremonial location, but also a major trading center as there is no evidence of burial mounds as you find at other Hopewell sites. I can just imagine this place as their version of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, primarily to attract traders. Other Hopewell sites have provided a rich collection of artifacts from the burial mounds that included copper from the Great Lakes, sea shells from the Atlantic and Gulf Coast, and other regions. By the time we were finished we had spent far longer than we had originally thought and returned to the campground after another full day of exploring.
For Friday, it was back to Dayton to check out two more sites of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Site. First, we went to the Paul Laurence Dunbar home, which actually has nothing to do with aviation as Dunbar was an African-American poet and author. He did live at the same time of the Wright brothers, in fact he attended high school as the only African-American with Orville Wright. Dunbar actually graduated from high school, whereas, Orville dropped out during his junior year to start the printing business with Wilbur. Dunbar was the editor of the school’s newspaper and got the Wright brothers to print his short-lived newspaper, The Dayton Tattler, for sale to the African-American community. He asked them to print a collection of his poems, but their printing business was not suited for book publication. Dunbar invested his own money to publish his first collection titled Oak and Ivy in 1893, making his money back by selling copies while he worked as an elevator operator. In 1896 he published his second collection, Majors and Minors which received critical acclaim that launched his career as a writer at the young age of 24. He wrote many poems, books, short stories, essays, song lyrics, and even a successful Broadway play. At the time he was most well known for his work using African-American dialect painting the life of slavery and the struggles during Reconstruction. However, today he is more widely known for the other 2/3 of his work using American prose. He was also active in the Civil Rights movement being a colleague of Frederick Douglas. Although his literary contributions are significant, we can only wonder at the impact he might have had if he had lived longer. At the age of 27 he contracted tuberculosis and although he continued to write his health never really improved and he died 6 years later at the age of 33. Over the past few years we have visited numerous sites dealing with the Civil Rights movement and I am surprised that neither of us were familiar with Paul Dunbar. I suspect we had seen him mentioned at some of the sites, such as Tuskegee Institute where he wrote the School’s song, but never made a connection. This home in Dayton is actually the house he purchased for his mother, but was his final home following his divorce of Alice Ruth Moore until his death in 1906. Since his mother continued to live in the house until her death in 1934 had kept the house in much the condition and it immediately became a state memorial, it has survived today intact. They have replaced the wall paper and upholstery using the same original patterns and the wallpaper is something that has to be seen to be believed. The color schemes and patterns are gaudy and loud, with even the wallpaper on the ceiling getting into the act. I only wish we were allowed to take photographs!!
Touring the Dunbar house only took about an hour, so we headed over to the Carillon Historical Park, primarily to see the actual Wright Flyer III. As was the style in the 1940s, historical parks were created by physically moving historical structures to a central site, Greenville Village at the Ford Museum being the largest example. The Deeds in Dayton did much the same thing, although at a much smaller scale. Still the park is very impressive and well worth the cost of admission. If you like manufacturing, then Dayton has had a VERY rich history since the late 1800s. It has been the center of more inventions, innovations, and life changing advancements then anywhere else in the US and this includes the number of patents. The Dayton Historical Park is dedicated to this rich history. If you are familiar with the early history of computers, then you are aware of NCR, which stands for the National Cash Register Company. At one time this company had 95% of the market in cash registers and employed over 6000 workers. Due to the world wars the company became involved with secret communication systems, high speed counters and cryptanalytic equipment, becoming the leader in the field. There have been many spin offs of the company including Kettering and Deeds formation of Delco which began by designing the first self starters for cars. In addition to all the historical buildings in the park, the central museum includes some information about all the innovative businesses that grew up in Dayton from automobiles, bicycles, publishing, and of course cash registers. The have the largest collection of NCR cash registers that you could possible imagine and they are displaying just part of the collection. At one time there were 10 automobile manufacturing companies in the city and the number of bicycle shops included the Wright Brothers. The museum was mind blowing all by itself and certainly deserved more than the two hours we had available. For me, we literally flew through the museum catching just the highlights as our main attraction was the Wright Flyer III. On the grounds of the park they have brought in examples of historical buildings from the very beginning of American settlement which includes homes, school houses, and grist mill. There are also a number of buildings devoted to transportation within which you find cars, trolleys, streetcars, trains, and bicycles. The most interesting for me was the collection of bicycles from the very earliest to those built during World War II. They have one early bicycle that is also a motorcycle with a small engine on the back wheel. Another bicycle from World War II would be folded up to be dropped with the paratroopers and even one with a built in radio powered by the bicycle itself. Just to illustrate the extent they went to, they even dug a canal and brought over Lock 17 from the Miami and Erie Canal for display. I could spend a lot more time about all the exhibits were quickly looked at, but I will end this account with the Wright Flyer III. Orville Wright actually assisted in the design of the building housing the flyer and instead of building a reproduction, he obtained the parts to the flyer from its storage at Kitty Hawk. Some of the parts had been sold as souvenirs, but he was able to obtain nearly the entire flyer. They painstakingly rebuilt the flyer and positioned it in a sunken floor instead of suspending it from the ceiling. Consequently, you can get almost close enough to touch it and can examine it from every angle. It is an amazing piece of ingenuity and well worth the time to see this piece of history.
The museum closed at 5:00 pm and we were likely the last visitors to exit the park. However, our day was not yet finished. Instead of heading back to the campgrounds, we drove to Springfield, Ohio for dinner with an old college friend of Kal’s, Terry McGonigle. We have not seen Terry in years and he had recently accepted a position as Theater Manager for the John Legend Theater in Springfield after retiring from teaching drama. We had a great dinner at a local pizza parlor in downtown Springfield, catching up with Terry. I did not have much to add to the conversation, but it was great listening to Kal and Terry reliving old times and renewing their friendship. Of course, they have reconnected through Facebook, but there is nothing like sitting down face to face. After dinner Terry took us on a tour of the John Legend Theater which is the renovated theater of the old high school in town. They have done a wonderful job in the renovation and it is a beautiful venue. The theater is only loosely connected to the local school system and has no theater company associated with it. Terry’s job is to manage the booking of the theater for all kinds of presentations and plays, as well as, dealing with the technical aspects of sound and light. The other parts of the old high school has been renovated for a number of other purposes which include a couple of after school programs which are very innovative. They have one program where they find a “teacher” for a small group of high school students to meet with them a couple of times a week. These programs range all over the board from clothing design to music mixing and by using modern technology their “teachers” can be anywhere in the country. A great idea. Suffice it to say, it was a late night before we finally returned to the campground.
After this very full week, we were both ready for some downtime. We spent Saturday in the campground except for heading into a local Buffalo Wild Wings to watch Auburn lose its football game to Clemson. Sunday was also spent in the campground except for a couple of hours when we drove about 30 miles to the Miami Valley Gaming casino to try our luck. Try is the operative word here, since these were the “tightest” machines we have seen in a long time. Neither of us managed to even break even on a slot machine until Kal won $20 on her last attempt. This casino did have an unusual feature, though. The main casino floor was non-smoking, which is a bit unusual but we have dealt with it before. Instead they had two smoking areas that were actually outside in iron cages!! There were a few slot machines there as well, however, with the bright sunshine it was nearly impossible to see what was happening. I also suspect that during bad weather or the winter these areas would be brutal for the smokers!! For someone who always goes outside to smoke, I don’t feel too sorry for them.