A Victorian Renaissance in downtown Dayton
by Mark Luedtke
Most Daytonians know the story of the reclamation of the Oregon District, but St. Anne’s Hill is a lesser-known, historic Victorian neighborhood being restored by motivated residents. Just a mile east of the Oregon District, St. Anne’s Hill is bounded by Keowee and Dutoit Streets on the west, Fourth Street on the north, McClure Street and Tower Lane on the east, and Josie Street on the south with Fifth Street passing through the heart of the neighborhood.
Susan Gray bought a house in St. Anne’s Hill in 1995, and after renovating it, she and her husband moved in, in 2000. She’s been active in promoting the neighborhood since 1996, and she’s currently president of the St. Anne’s Hill Historic Society.
“St. Anne’s Hill was part of the original platted-out lots of the City of Dayton,” said Gray. “Originally the land comprised the farm of the Bomberger family and the orchard and farm owned by Eugene Dutoit. The original Dutoit farmhouse, built in 1833, still stands and is occupied by a wonderful family on Dutoit Street. Most of the homes in St. Anne’s Hill were built in the 1870s and 1880s, but building continued until the 1920s.”
The residents of St. Anne’s Hill provided valuable service to their fellow Daytonians during the 1913 flood.
“During the 1913 flood, St. Anne’s became ‘waterfront property,’” said Gray. “On land too high to flood, many boats delivered refugees from downtown to our ‘shores’ along what is now Fifth and Keowee, and residents opened their homes to people needing a place to stay until their homes could be repaired or rebuilt.”
After the 1920s, St. Anne’s Hill was largely forgotten. Then, in the late 1960s, the beautiful homes here were rediscovered.
“Restorations began and the area was saved from the kind of Urban Renewal popular at the time, razing existing properties and building high rise apartment buildings,” Gray explained. “St. Anne’s Hill was designated a historic district in 1974 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.”
Today Stivers School for the Arts and Bomberger Park serve as gates from downtown. Banners identify the neighborhood, and planters decorate Fifth Street in front of small businesses with an emphasis on the arts like St. Anne’s Hill Violins and G Strickland Guitar Maker.
“St. Anne’s Hill has been home to the Dayton Society of Painters and Sculptors (in their High Street Gallery) and the Liederkranz-Turner German Club for many years,” she said of the abundant arts businesses in the neighborhood. “Joining those creative outlets, Missing Peace Art Space moved into a renovated carriage house next to the home of its director in 2009.”
Improving Fifth Street is a priority for the St. Anne’s Hill Historical Society.
“A lot of effort has been placed on improving the appearance of Fifth Street. Even in a neighborhood with a real can-do attitude like St. Anne’s Hill, we know we can’t do it all ourselves,” said Gray. “Volunteers tire out and funding is always an issue, too. But we believe that by improving the appearance of Fifth Street and making it as inviting as possible, we can attract small businesses and residents back to the area.”
Big, beautifully restored old houses, many with a distinctive German character, including three churches that have been converted into residences, dominate the residential area. Ladders and workers can be seen on every block as owners renovate additional historic homes. A number of homes still need an owner to renovate them.
Every odd year, volunteers organize “A Dickens of a Christmas in St. Anne’s Hill” to showcase their neighborhood.
“We call it a ‘Dickens of A Christmas’ to help paint a picture of a beautiful Victorian neighborhood filled with interesting characters,” said St. Anne’s Hill Historical Society trustee Keith Klein.
But this isn’t a Charles Dickens dress-up event. The characters Klein refers to are the modern-day residents of St. Anne’s Hill.
“A Dickens of a Christmas in St. Anne’s Hill, our biennial holiday home tour, will be held December 9, 10 and 11 this year,” explained Gray. “This tour regularly draws close to 1,000 people to our community. It is an important fundraising event for us, as well as an opportunity to show off our community and market it to potential new neighbors. The tour, through nine homes, ends at the Bossler Mansion, where guests are served dessert and given an opportunity to shop in our tour gift shop, which features handmade gifts created by neighbors and friends of St. Anne’s Hill. We limit the size of each tour to insure the enjoyment of all our guests, and therefore we ask guests to make reservations.”
But visitors might enjoy more than the Victorian architecture.
“The architecture of the homes, and the romance of the Victorian era, draw us to the area, but it’s the people that make us want to stay,” said Gray. “One thing about St. Anne’s Hill — we use the words ‘neighbor’ and ‘friend’ interchangeably. We hold monthly socials to foster a sense of community. When you know your neighbors you tend to look out for them, and they for you.” This is a great opportunity for Daytonians to experience part of the revival of downtown Dayton.
For more information on the St. Anne’s Hill restoration and the upcoming A Dickens of a Christmas in St. Anne’s Hill event, go to the St. Anne’s Hill website www.stanneshill.org or call (937) 224-HILL (4455).
Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at MarkLuedtke@DaytonCityPaper.com.