West Third Street Historic District Cultural Landscape

View down a block of the West Third Street Historic District, where 2 and 3-story brick buildings line a wide street
A block of West Third Street Historic District in Dayton

Carol Highsmith, Library of Congress


The West Third Street Historic District, a historic designed landscape in Montgomery County, Ohio, occupies 10.1 acres along Third Street, Dayton’s main east-west thoroughfare. Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park manages four structures within the district. The district, composed of two- and three-story brick buildings of varying architectural styles, is characterized as a suburban streetcar commercial block with a period of significance from 1885 to 1924. Visitors can observe examples and elements of architectural styles including Romanesque Revival, Italianate, and Classical Revival, among others.
Two-story brick building with awnings says "Gem City Ice Cream Co." across the top of the facade, 1910
Gem City Ice Cream Building in 1916

NPS / Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park Archives

The first building at the southeast end of the district is the Gem City Ice Cream Building, which offered the first manufactured ice cream in Dayton.

In addition to the architectural variety, the district is historically significant for its connection to Orville and Wilbur Wright, inventors of the first mechanically powered airplane, and Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of the first world-renowned black American poets.


The south side of West Third Street has an important late nineteenth century collection of commercial Romanesque buildings. Buildings that represent the Romanesque Revival style include Mory’s Block, Gunkel Block, Webbert Flats, the Setzer Building, the Booth Building, the Enterprise Building, the Needham Building, and Hoover Block. The Hoover Block, constructed in 1890, was the location of the Wright Brothers’ printing business. The National Park Service rehabilitated this building in 2003 as an aviation museum.
An intersection of West Third Street Historic District of Dayton, with 2 to 3 story brick structures lining a street
West Third Street and South Williams Street looking east in the West Third Street Historic District, where the Wright Brothers operated a print shop and later a cycle shop.

Carol Highsmith, Library of Congress

The Gunkel Building and Walters Block are examples of the Victorian Italianate style, while the Midget Theater and West Side Building and Loan Building exhibit the Neoclassical Revival style. Gunkel Building, built in 1898, is contibutes to the district for both its architectural and historical significance. It housed the Hamburger Hardware Store for many years and also served as Dayton’s first branch post office.

Despite a variety of architectural styles, structures within the District display visual cohesion through repeated materials and forms. These include metal cornices, brick, and the overall rhythm of the facades. Original building materials exist for some structures and the stabilization or full restoration of others allowed for sustained historic integrity. In total, the district contains 26 structures that contribute to its significance, primary organized in a grid pattern along the linear West Third Street. The structures, and the district itself, resemble the 1885 to 1924 appearance through the retention of their original location, design, building materials, and workmanship.
Site plan of historic district shows West Third Street and intersections, contributing buildings, and non-contributing buildings
A site plan in the Cultural Landscape Inventory shows the contributing structures, street layout, and organization of the West Third Street Historic District

NPS / MWRO Cultural Landscapes Program, 2008

However, modernity and urban decay somewhat compromise the setting and feeling of the period of significance. Modern features, traffic congestion, deteriorated structures, vacant lots, and demolition sites erode the landscape character. Impacts to the district over time include the flooding and fires in 1913 and race riots of 1966. Both events caused damage to Dayton's structures and economy. Restoration and rehabilitation efforts in the late nineteenth century helped to mitigate the damage.

Historic Use

The district is historically significant for its association with the development and expansion of the city and for its association with people significant to American history. The Dayton Street Railway served as Dayton’s first source of public transportation in 1869. Financiers intended to encourage real estate development on remote farmland. In response to the increased accessibility and potential patronage, commercial buildings were added along the line to the West End in the late nineteenth century, with residential areas growing up behind it. It stands apart from other streetcar commercial blocks in Dayton for being more urban, compact, architecturally distinguished, and dominated by two and three story buildings.
A two-story brick house with shutters stands on a corner of a brick street. A sign on the buildings says "The Wright Cycle Co."
Wright Cycle Company, 2018

NPS / Leah Edwards

The Wright Brothers operated out of several of these commercial buildings. The West Third District housed their printing and bicycle businesses, as well as their aviation experiments. The printing shop, originally located at 1210 West Third Street, was moved to the second floor of Hoover Block one year later in 1890. Wilbur Wright started the Wright Cycle Exchange at 1005 West Third Street in 1892. The Wright Brothers decided to merge the printing and bicycle business in 1895 and moved to 22 South Williams Street — the space eventually utilized for developing their airplane design.

Another historically significant individual, Paul Laurence Dunbar, called Dayton home at the turn of the 20th century. Dunbar wrote poems, as well as novels, songs, short stories, and essays critically acclaimed for their dialectic style and representation of black life in America. The Paul Laurence Dunbar house, which Dunbar originally purchased for his mother in 1904, serves to commemorate his legacy. He spent the last two years of his life in the house finishing his last works before succumbing to tuberculosis in 1906. The Paul Laurence Dunbar home is part of Dayton Aviation Heritage Park and is located six blocks from the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center.
A neat yard of lawn and shrubs surrounds a brick house with a porch opening up to the left side
Paul Laurence Dunbar House, 2018

NPS / Leah Edwards

West Third Street Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. It remains an excellent example of a suburban street car district containing a variety of distinctive architectural styles. These structures are also affiliated with significant individuals and relate to rest of the park development of the aviation industry.

Quick Facts

  • Cultural Landscape Type: Historic designed landscape
  • National Register Significance Level: National
  • National Register Significance Criteria: B, C
  • Period of Significance: 1885-1924

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park

Last updated: January 31, 2024