Historic horse barn shares stories of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds

A stable built in 1901, which has been residing at Carillon Historical Park since 2021, tells the stories of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds and the historic events that occurred there.

Horse Barn No. 17 was originally built with stalls for more than 75 show horses. The numerical name originated because it was building 17 of the fairground’s 27 buildings.

The barn, the second oldest building on the property after the Roundhouse, is part of the fairground history spanning 161 years. Many historic moments in sports, aviation and politics happened on the Main Street site.

“I like to call it a silent witness to so many events that occurred in the 20th century,” said Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History.

The fairgrounds were safe harbor for Daytonians during the 1913 flood and James M. Cox and Franklin Delano Roosevelt kicked off their 1920 presidential campaign in the grandstands.

Orville and Wilbur Wright first met Glenn Curtiss at the fairgrounds in 1906, a man who later infringed on their airplane patent and disputed they were the first to fly.

In the late 1940s, the Dayton Rens, the first all-Black professional basketball team in the country, played a season in the coliseum at the fairgrounds.

Credit: Jim Witmer

Credit: Jim Witmer

“It’s the unique stories that we wanted to tell in this building,” Kress said. “Nobody else can claim the 1920 campaign, nobody else can claim the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss meeting. Nobody else can claim the relief station after the 1913 flood. Those are the stories we really concentrate on in there.”

The Montgomery County Fair relocated to Jefferson Township in 2017. The 38-acre former site will be redeveloped by onMain, a partnership formed by Premiere Health and the University of Dayton.

The $1 million project was funded by the James and Mary Houtz Family Foundation. The general contractor, Brackett Builders, took on relocation and rebuilding with the Wilcon Corporation.

Disassembling and moving the horse barn began in 2019. It took more than two years to deconstruct and rebuild the barn using the original timber framing.

Each piece was numbered so it would fit back together using the original mortise and tenon joints with wood pegs. Truckloads of the original limestone foundation were hauled to the park’s campus to reconstruct the base.

The barn had deteriorated with more than a century of use and some of the timbers throughout the structure were replaced.

“If you take a good look you can see some pretty amazing bite marks and wear marks where 100 years of horses were gnawing at a particular beam,” Kress said.

The barn is filled with historic photographs taken at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, vintage farm implements and a 1924 Model T truck.

Life-size animatronic displays bring life and a little whimsy to the stable. A horse munches hay and swishes its tail in a stall while a sleeping stable boy snores in the rafters.

The barn will serve a dual purpose. When the park’s new rail line is completed in the fall of 2022, the building will be used to house a replica 1851 locomotive, tender and two carriages each night.

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

At the barn recent dedication, June Lockhart of Huber Heights walked through the stable and reminisced about competing with her horse 50 years earlier.

She and her friends in the E-Z Riders 4-H Club would camp out in the stalls of Horse Barn No. 17 “dusty and dirty” along with their equine companions.

She said the stable — bigger than she remembered — brought back memories of being a teenager, first horses and childhood friendships.

“You could be with the horses all day and walk around the fairgrounds with your friends,” she said. “We’d spend the whole day from sunup until 11 at night.”


What: Horse Barn No. 17

Where: Carillon Historical Park, 1000 Carillon Blvd., Dayton

Hours: Mondays through Saturdays: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays: Noon to 5 p.m.

Admission: $14 per adult (ages 18-59), $12 per senior, $10 per child (3-17), children under 3 and Dayton History members free.

For more information: www.daytonhistory.org

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