PIQUA — With a year-long survey project tackled, Americorps worker and researcher Dana Bogart Cress presented her findings of the West End Piqua historic buildings and what the history of those buildings teach people about Piqua.
As part of the Americorps, Cress completed work for the Ohio History Service, which was established in 2010. With the survey complete, the information collected will be added to the Ohio History Connection’s I-form database, available for use by researchers and historians. Hard copies of each house’s report will be kept at the Piqua Library in the Local History Department.
The survey boundaries for the project included Park Avenue to the north, North College Street to the east, Water Street to the south, and the hydraulic canal and River’s Edge Trail to the west. For the 100 historic structures that she surveyed, Cress researched their history — such as the original construction dates and owners — in order to see the larger narrative of that area and create a comprehensive report.
“It’s a research process,” Cress said.
Quiet beginnings to the rise of industry
For the entire area itself, the original owner was Matthew Caldwell. During her presentation, Cress showed a picture of the original deed of land that Caldwell purchased from Thomas Jefferson in the 1850s. Caldwell then left the land of that survey area to his son, Matthew Caldwell Jr. When Caldwell Jr. passed away in 1863, he left it to his children, Virginia, James, and Elizabeth. Caldwell Jr.’s intentions for the land were left open in his will, saying they could continue using it for farming or for platting and development.
Cress then showed an atlas of the area from 1871, which showed that some residences had popped up and there were streets going north and south.
The area became further developed after the addition of the hydraulic canal, which provided an energy source or pressurized water to local industries, such as mills. Cress said it was unknown if the hydraulic canal was brought to the area because of industry, but the canal did inspire more development in the area.
“I think it certainly drew industries to the area,” Cress said, citing French Oil Mill Machinery Company as an example.
These developments correlated with the overall trend of the Industrial Revolution in the United States.
Learning from past residents
“So what can we learn from houses?” Cress said.
Through her research, she found that approximately 95 percent of the homes were constructed between 1880-1920, going along with the rise in industry in the area during that time frame.
From looking into the original ownership of the homes, Cress found that the owners of the majority of the homes surveyed were U.S.-born citizens. Around seven of the homes surveyed were built and owned by immigrants, which included Irish and German immigrants, as well as one Italian immigrant.
Of the U.S.-born citizens, the majority were born in Ohio, with others coming from Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
The occupations of the residents in this area revealed that there was a diverse amount socioeconomic statuses. According to Cress, professional workers — such as physicians, dentists, business owners, and carpenters — lived to the east end of the survey district while “laborers of industry” lived toward the west end of the survey area.
The west end of the survey area also revealed more practical homes, such as one on Park Avenue that was built by two Irish immigrant brothers. Cress said it was originally built as a duplex. As another example, Cress showed a home on the 900 block of Greene Street built and owned by German immigrants William and Elizabeth Heater, who were bakers.
For examples on the east end of the area, Cress showed the home of William Snyder that was built in 1893 on Ash Street. Cress said Snyder was the owner of Snyder and Son Company, a wood and coal construction industry. Cress said the style of the home was very indicative of the late 19th century Queen Anne, Victorian styles.
Cress also showed a home on the 800 block of Ash Street that was built between 1886-1887 and was a stick style, which went along with the Victorian style. Other styles included shingle style homes and Italianate styles.
Homes built around 1910 and 1915 showed more of the craftsman style. Some were bungalows with wide, deep porches that were about getting back to nature.
Converted homes bearing a different past
“Most of what I surveyed were residences,” Cress said. French Oil was an exception, as well as some homes that were once businesses back when they were built.
One example was the former segregated school house for African-American children that was built in 1872. Cress said it was used as a one-room schoolhouse until around 1885, when the city ran out of funding for it.
There is also a former firehouse on Park Avenue that was built between 1908-1909.
“They didn’t have fire trucks. They had had horse-drawn carriages,” Cress said. She explained that it was decommissioned in the 1920s after the city got its first motorized fire trucks. The building was then used for city storage in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. It has since been converted into a home.
Cress also showed a home that was once a corner grocery story that was built in 1903. “In the early 20th century, corner grocery stores were the norm,” she said, explaining that this was due to the fact that people did not have much access to motorized vehicles to travel longer distances for grocery shopping.
Where to now?
Cress’s next survey project will encompass all of Park Avenue from Downing Street to Sunset Drive.
“I’m going to have a broad span of history to cover,” Cress said.
The area includes ranch style homes of the 1950s and 1960s, but also other Canal Era homes built in the 1840s.
Cress received her bachelor’s degree in history from Bowling Green State University and her master’s degree in history from Miami University. For her master’s, she focused on environmental history.
Reach Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336