Poet’s shrine: Historic Paul Laurence Dunbar home reopens to the public

The Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton is a museum to the poet. In 1936 it became the first state memorial to honor an African American. LISA POWELL / STAFF
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The Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton is a museum to the poet. In 1936 it became the first state memorial to honor an African American. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Free tours of the National Historic Landmark begin June 18

The Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site — the final home of one of the first nationally known African-American writers — will reopen Friday, June 18.

Dunbar purchased the two-story brick house at 219 N. Summit St. in Dayton in 1904 for his mother, Matilda.

Besides composing poems and literature, Paul Laurence Dunbar used a Remington Standard typewriter to write his work, editorials for newspapers and for correspondence. LISA POWELL / STAFF
Caption
Besides composing poems and literature, Paul Laurence Dunbar used a Remington Standard typewriter to write his work, editorials for newspapers and for correspondence. LISA POWELL / STAFF

The home, a National Historic Landmark, seems frozen in time as if the writer has just stepped out.

The desk in his study is covered with mementos from his travels. In fact, the Remington Standard typewriter he used to compose poems, letters and newspaper editorials sits on a small table in his bedroom.

Dunbar, who was chronically ill and had tuberculosis, spent his final years at the house and died in 1906 at age 33.

ExplorePaul Laurence Dunbar’s prose, poetry are a treasured legacy

Matilda continued to live in the house until her death in 1934. In 1936, the home became the first state memorial to honor an African-American.

Dunbar was a prolific writer from an early age. At age 6, he wrote his first poem, “An Easter Ode.”

Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of the first nationally-known African-American writers, purchased a two-story brick house at 219 N. Summit St. in Dayton in 1904 for his mother, Matilda (left). Dunbar lived in the home until his death in 1906. His mother lived there until her death in 1934. PHOTO: THE OHIO HISTORY CONNECTION
Caption
Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of the first nationally-known African-American writers, purchased a two-story brick house at 219 N. Summit St. in Dayton in 1904 for his mother, Matilda (left). Dunbar lived in the home until his death in 1906. His mother lived there until her death in 1934. PHOTO: THE OHIO HISTORY CONNECTION

He attended the Tenth Street Elementary School and went on to attend Central High School, where he edited the “Dayton Tattler,” an African-American newspaper published by his classmate Orville Wright.

ExploreJust as he left it, Dunbar house a frozen view of poet’s treasures

After high school he found work as an elevator operator in the Callahan Building in downtown Dayton, where he scribbled down bits of poetry between calls and studied the dialects of the riders. That work eventually led to his first self-published book, “Oak and Ivy,” which he sold for $1 to the people who rode his elevator.

Dunbar produced more than 400 works including 12 books of poetry, four novels, four books of short stories and the lyrics to many popular songs during his short career, according to the National Park Service.

A formal parlor (left) is at the front of the Paul Laurence Dunbar House. A portrait of the poet, painted in 1904, hangs in a room used as an informal living area. LISA POWELL / STAFF
Caption
A formal parlor (left) is at the front of the Paul Laurence Dunbar House. A portrait of the poet, painted in 1904, hangs in a room used as an informal living area. LISA POWELL / STAFF

The historic home will be open Friday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

The tours will be held once an hour, on the half hour, beginning at 10:30 a.m. The last tour of the day will begin at 3:30 p.m.

Reservations are encouraged. To schedule a tour, e-mail Brad Sauls at: bradley_sauls@nps.gov.

More information about the historic site can be found here.