Schlientz & Moore, Westbrock keep Wayne Avenue alive

By Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin

Photo: Present Director Mark Westbrock’s great-grandfather Ben (right) helms Westbrock Funeral Home’s fleet of vehicles, circa 1920

Wayne Avenue is always a thrilling drive for me. Whether I’m southbound heading home to Walnut Hills from downtown or driving north with an incredible view of the city from the top of the hill, I’m perpetually fascinated by the historic homes and businesses that fleck the narrow shoulders of the road. The two that have always done me in also happen to be both historic homes and historic businesses. Neighboring one another on the east side of the street across from Esther Price, the buildings that now house Schlientz & Moore Funeral Home at 1632 Wayne Ave. and Westbrock Funeral Home at 1712, have been watching over the corridor since the mid-1800s.

“There’s a lot of history to the old place,” says Mark Westbrock, fourth generation funeral director of Westbrock Funeral Home. The funeral home was established in 1892 by Ben Westbrock, Mark’s great-grandfather, who had previously trained as an undertaker in the years after the Civil War, and had operated out of storefronts on Wayne Avenue near where US-35 crosses it today. It is the oldest in southwest Ohio. “There’s not a whole lot of businesses in Dayton that have survived four generations, same family, and still doing what they did in the 1800s,” Westbrock says.

The buildings were erected in the 1860s by Samuel D. Edgar as wedding gifts for his daughters. Mariana resided at 1632, Margaret at 1712. Both structures draw from Second Empire and Italianate styles of architecture, notably with the “widow’s watch” atop what is now Westbrock Funeral Home.

“[Edgar] was the bricklayer in town,” Westbrock says of the prominent Dayton citizen who was born in 1806. “Literally they fired the kilns right on the front lawn out here, and that’s where all the brick [for the building] came from.”

Set on land that was purchased by Edgar’s father, Robert, circa 1800 for $2 an acre, the Wayne Avenue Corridor that now serves as a major thoroughfare in south Dayton was once deemed “a farm in the wilderness” in “Pioneer Life in Dayton and Vicinity” (1896). As the city grew, so of course did the network of transportation. Wayne Avenue was named for General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, the Pennsylvanian-born military man who negotiated the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, a peace treaty between the United States and the 12 tribes that then inhabited the region. By sums of the Miami Valley Traffic Count Program, today Wayne Avenue plays host to tens of thousands of vehicles daily.

“This is Dayton’s history, it really is,” Westbrock says. “A lot of the old buildings have been demolished.”

In recognition of the historic significance of Westbrock Funeral Home, the National Park Service placed the building on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Additionally, the building was awarded a Historic Landmark plaque from the city of Dayton in March 2015. The Landmark Plaque Program is the brainchild of Dayton Commissioner Matt Joseph, who wished to not only recognize the historical significance of local structures, but also to ensure that a review by the city’s Landmark Commission and a public conversation took place before any demolition or alteration. Westbrock Funeral Home was honored with this distinction along such other important Dayton landmarks as the Victoria Theatre, the Arcade, and the Southern Ohio Lunatic Asylum, which is now part of 10 Wilmington Place Senior Living, also along Wayne Avenue.

“With the revitalization of downtown Dayton and Wayne Avenue being one of the main arteries into Dayton, it’s kind of nice to see some of these properties holding their own here,” Westbrock says. “It was really dilapidated for a while, so it seems like things are kind of coming back, which I like.”

Westbrock’s desire to stay in the same location his great-grandfather decided on more than 120 years ago has played a huge role in keeping Wayne Avenue from slipping into disrepair. If local business owners like Westbrock, Schlientz & Moore, and Esther Price had shrugged their shoulders and walked away when the area had a dip in its vivacity, the neighborhood would not be where it is today. The investing and re-investing in our community is what’s going to help keep history alive and preserve it for generations to come.

“It has been a labor of love,” Westbrock jokes of the maintenance involved with keeping up the historic structure. “But this is just home to a lot of people. Sometimes we’ll see fifth generation families come back, and not only just from the area, but from all over the world. It’s always been here, since the 1800s. The families have always come back to it. It’s a neat old building.”

For more about Schlientz & Moore Funeral Home, please call 937.253.1441 or visit SchlientzAndMoore.com. For more about Westbrock Funeral Home, please call 937.253.6161 or visit WestbrockFuneralHome.com.

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About Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin

View all posts by Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin
Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin is a writer and amateur cartographer living in Dayton, Ohio. She has been a member of PUSH (Professionals United for Sexual Health) since 2012 and is currently serving as Chair. She can be reached at JenniferHanauerLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com or through her website at jennerlumpkin.com.

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