During the latter half of the 19th century, railroad construction zig-zagged across America, and legendary Dayton business Barney & Smith hopped on board. Not only did Barney & Smith precede NCR as the Gem City’s largest employer, but they were also one of the nation’s largest railroad car manufacturers during the 1870s and 1880s.
As Carillon Historical Park’s forthcoming Heritage Center of Regional Leadership nears completion, the organization is paying homage to Barney & Smith inside the reimagined Culp’s Café — a highlight of the new 32,000 square-foot building.
Built in 1903, a Barney & Smith interurban railcar will be the centerpiece of the new Culp’s — offering tabletop seating, an intimate dining area, and providing a fitting symbol for one of the Park’s most popular events: Carillon Park Rail Festival.
“Ohio had a significant impact on the nation’s rail history, and you can learn a lot about it at Rail Fest on June 22 and 23,” says Dayton History Vice President for Museum Operations Alex Heckman.
Known for producing artistic, high-quality railroad cars, Barney & Smith once employed over 2,000 men. But the company’s heyday was short lived. Relatively unconcerned with innovation and patent development, competitors like Chicago’s Pullman Company soon surpassed Barney & Smith. And when the Panic of 1893 gutted the national economy, Barney & Smith knew it had to adapt.
“The #602 interurban offers a unique window into Barney & Smith’s history,” says Heckman. “Built near the turn of the 20th century, it interprets the period when Barney & Smith opted to change its focus to, what was then, the future: electric street railways and interurban lines.”
Unfortunately, the Great 1913 Flood, Ohio’s worst natural disaster, was a death blow for Barney & Smith. “Stockpiles of wood floated downriver,” says Heckman. “Some of it was found as far south as New Orleans. The company went into bankruptcy and went out of business in 1921.”
At the beginning of the 20th century, just as Dayton was starting to have an international impact — recognized for the Wright brothers, NCR, Delco, and numerous other developments — Barney & Smith was writing its final chapter. Today, the company tells a unique tale in our regional and national narrative.
“Behind the model train displays, railroad merchandise, and miniature train rides there is a tremendous story to be told,” says Heckman. “It is a story that comes alive at the Carillon Park Rail Festival.”
The 14th annual Carillon Park Rail Festival is Saturday, June 22, from 9:30 a.m – 5:00 p.m. and Sunday, June 23, from 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Regular park admission fees apply, parking is free, and there is no charge for Dayton History members.