Dayton history: How the Dayton Art Institute landed at its iconic location

The Dayton Art Institute sits on a beautiful part of the area, on a hill overlooking the Great Miami River. Here’s the story of how it ended up there.

The DAI’s first home

The Dayton Art Institute was originally located in a converted house at the corner of East Monument Avenue and St. Clair Street. It was there from 1919-30, when it moved to its current location.

The building became known as the “Kemper Home” after James S. Kemper, who bought the house around 1842.

Two generations of the Kemper family lived in the home over many years. Joseph Light and his family rented the home when the Kempers moved out, and they were there at the time of the 1913 flood. Shortly after, it passed into the hands of the Dayton Art Institute.

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A Dayton Daily News article from 1919 gives details about the sale: “It was also explained that the total cost of the property which is desired for the site of the proposed institute is $16,000. This includes a large brick house and commodious yard.”

Multiple donors helped with he purchase. A membership drive was started to raise funds for other expenses and to acquire artwork. A lifetime membership could be purchased for $100.

It became the first permanent home for art in Dayton.

A 1923 Dayton Daily News column said: “After many years of hard work in establishing art in Dayton the outlook at present is all the trustees of the Art Institute can hope; the school is a great success; the exhibitions bring hundreds, and one may say truly of art in Dayton — it has arrived!”



The DAI’s current home

The area where the Dayton Art Institute is now was first settled around 1819 by residents who called it Pierceton. However, the settlement soon failed and became the property of Judge James Steele and his brother, Samuel. It became known as Dayton View or Steele’s Hill. The wooded area was known as a great place for picnics with a view of the Great Miami River and downtown Dayton.

Steele’s Hill developed into what is now Grafton Hill, a locally designated historic district. It became known in the 1870s as an affluent residential area, home to many of the early Dayton upper class.

As for the exact spot of the Dayton Art Institute, according to a 1930 Dayton Daily News article, residents at that time remembered a huge red brick house known as “The Hawes Homestead.”

The building was said to be “one of the most pretentious dwellings in or near Dayton.” Its place up on a hill overlooking the Great Miami River made it an instant landmark.

The house was built by Calvin Luther Hawes, one of Dayton’s earliest paper manufacturers, whose factory was located in North Dayton.

The land was bought from John Stoddard, whose homestead was nearby in an area later known as Stoddard’s woods.

The Hawes house was completed in 1875. Each pressed red brick came wrapped separately in tissue paper.

After both Hawes and his wife died, the site was maintained for several years with only a caretaker living there. The property at the intersection of Forest and Riverview Avenues was eventually acquired by Julia Shaw Patterson Carnell, who wanted it to be used for the Dayton Art Institute.

Carnell contributed $2 million for its construction and hired architect Edward B. Green to design the building. On Jan. 7, 1930, several hundred guests attended the gala opening.

“I feel as if I were giving into your hands a child of my own,” she said. “Be good to it.”





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