Dayton Celebration Events

Two old farmhouses at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) stand as silent witnesses to early aviation history that occurred at nearby Huffman Prairie. Now known as the Arnold House and Foulois House, they were named after famous Air Force generals Henry A. “Hap” Arnold and Benjamin D. Foulois, who lived in those houses while serving at WPAFB. Both were taught to fly by Orville Wright.

It was my great-great grandfather Henry E. Hebble who built the houses. He was a bridge and house builder. Two covered bridges he also built in the 1800s are still standing. One spans the Yellow Springs Creek at Glen Haven, the nature preserve at Antioch College. The other spans Massies Creek near Xenia, Ohio

After he migrated from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1841, Henry E. Hebble built the house now known as the Arnold house (building 8) to be used as the family homestead. It is the oldest building on WPAFB.

The Foulois house (building 88) was built in 1874. None of the Hebble family lived in the house; it was rented out.

Both houses were eventually sold to the Miami Conservancy District and the land became a part of the Flood Plain for the Huffman Dam that was built after the great Dayton Flood in 1913.

In 1917, The Miami Conservancy District leased Huffman Prairie and the adjacent land (2,074 acres) to the Army creating Wilbur Wright Field. The area east of the Arnold and Foulois houses became Fairfield Aviation General Supply Depot.

The Springfield Pike that once ran by the two houses was relocated to its present site further east. The houses are located within a block of each other on Wright Ave. a little over a mile from Huffman Prairie.

Residents in the area traveled to and from Dayton using the Dayton-Springfield-Urbana (DSU) electric railway. They boarded the train at Simms Station adjacent to Huffman Prairie. Passengers sometimes referred to the letters “DSU” as meaning “dammed slow and uncertain.”

There is a group in Dayton that is raising money and working on plans to restore the railway from near the Dunbar house in Dayton to Huffman Prairie using a combination of trolleys and buses.

After the Army leased the land, twenty-four airplane hangers were constructed on a flight line close to the Foulois House.

In the mid 1920’s the Army started to look for a location to relocate because McCook Field, the engineering center located just north of downtown Dayton, was becoming too small for their needs. Dayton businessmen headed by NCR president Frederick Patterson quickly went into action to keep the Army in Dayton. They formed the Air Service Committee in 1924 to find a place locally for the Army.

The committee raised the money to purchase 4,500 acres of land that included Wilbur Wright Field (including the Arnold and Foulois houses) and Huffman Prairie. They sold the land to the army for $1.00. The Army named the acreage Wright Field.

In 1931 all of the land east of Huffman Dam (which included the Arnold and Foulois houses) was renamed Patterson Field in memory of Lt. Frank Stuart Patterson who died in a test flight in a DH-4 airplane over Wilbur Wright Field in 1918. He was the son of Frederick Patterson who had succeeded his father John H. Patterson as president of the NCR.

From 1929-1931, Major “Hap” Arnold lived in the first house that Hebble built. The house at the time was used to house the base commander. Orville was Arnold’s houseguest at his residence on the base on a number of occasions.

Arnold, a West Point graduate, learned to fly at the Wright Brothers flying school at Huffman Prairie. He soloed in 10 days after 28 flights totaling 3 hours and 48 minutes.

He went on to command the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II and became a five-star general.

When the Wright Memorial in Dayton was dedicated on August 19, 1940, Orville’s birthday, Arnold flew into Dayton for the occasion. In his comments he said, “This monument would stand as a shrine to aviation as the Plymouth Rock is to America.”

The Hebble house was dedicated as the Arnold house in honor of General “Hap” Arnold on May 16, 1986.

General Foulois played a critical role in the Wright Brothers’ history. He flew with Orville in 1909 as an official observer for a speed trial on July 30 to fulfill an Army requirement to qualify the Wright airplane.

The requirement was for the airplane to carry two people aloft for one hour at 40 mph. There was a $2500 bonus over the base price of $25,000 for each one mph the speed exceeded 40 mph. There was also a $2500 deduction to the base price for each one mph under 40 mph.

The route was from the parade ground at Ft. Myer, Va. to Shooters Hill five miles away at Alexandria, Va. and return. Shouters Hill is where the Masonic Temple now stands. The facility was under construction at the time of the flight.

Orville chose Lt. Foulois to fly with him as the official Army observer. He selected him because he liked Foulois for his avid interest in aviation. It also helped that he weighted less than 130 pounds and was an experienced map reader.

Foulois arrived for the flight with two stopwatches hung around his neck, a box compass strapped to his left thigh, an aneroid barometer strapped to his right thigh and a map on his belt.

The Flight was a success. Orville completed the ten-mile course at an average speed of 42.586 mph and earned a financial bonus of $5,000.

Foulois was eager to take flying lessons and was able to receive three lessons from Wilbur Wright at College Park, Maryland before he was reassigned to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, home of Signal Corps airplane #1. He successfully finished his instruction through correspondence with Wilbur and Orville. He liked to say he was the world’s first correspondence-school pilot. At the time he was the Army’s only active pilot.

He lived in the house that was to carry his name from June 1929 through July 1930 while serving as Chief of the Material Division, Wright Field. He subsequently rose to command of the U.S. Army Air Corps prior to World War II.

Both Foulois and Arnold played major roles in establishing the U.S. Air Force as a separate service and guided the early development of Military Air Power.

The Foulois house underwent a major renovation in 1986 and today serves as the home of the base commander.

Henry Hebble became a prominent citizen in the area and was running for county commissioner when he died from a heart attack. One of his sons, Zebulon Hebble, became mayor of Fairfield. The current Fairborn City building resides on Hebble St.

Residents of the two houses could watch the activities of the Wrights at Huffman Prairie during their development of a practical airplane during 1904-1905 and the further activities of the Wright Flying School, the Wright Exhibition team and the testing of airplanes built by the Wright Co. in 1910-1916.

Hebble Creek and Hebble Creek Rd form the southern boundary of Huffman Prairie, while the houses that Hebble built remain today as silent witnesses to aviation history.

After Orville sold his aircraft business in 1916, he built an office and laboratory at 45 North Broadway St. Located at the corner of Broadway and West Third St., it was not far from the last bicycle shop where the Kitty Hawk Flyer was designed and built. He wanted a place he could do what he liked to do — tinker. He worked there for the next 30 years.

The 39 by 75-foot building was demolished in 1976 to make way for a gasoline station, but the station was never built. Before the demolition, the Standard Oil Co. offered the building plus $1,000 to anyone who would move and preserve the building. Tragically, no one came forward to accept the offer.

The good news is that “Bank One,” who has an ATM at the site, recently donated four parcels of land to establish a memorial to Orville and his lab at the location. So far, a lookalike facade of the lab containing the same plain reddish-brown brick used on the original building has been built. Behind the facade there is a park containing a nice garden with walkways, stone benches, black iron fence, lampposts and a pagoda.

Future plans call for a bronze statute of Orville at a workbench to be placed inside the pagoda whenever additional funds become available. I must say that I don’t understand the connection between a Japanese pagoda and Orville.

I was disturbed to observe that the gardens were full of weeds, some of which were taller than the flowers and planted bushes.

That same day I had the opportunity to talk to Amanda Wright Lane, great-grandnephew of Wilbur and Orville. I told her about the condition of the gardens and I am sure that the problem will be remedied.

One other item I noticed was that there were no plagues describing what the small park represents. There were stands for them, but they were empty. I understand that there are still ongoing discussions over what should be written on the plaques.

I remember when I was attending Oakwood High School, located a few blocks from Hawthorn Hill, the Wrights’ home. I would sometimes see Orville driving by the school each morning on his way to his downtown laboratory. He usually went there six days a week even thought he was retired and well fixed financially.

He liked to drive fast and regularly exceeded the Oakwood speed limits. The police in Oakwood have had a reputation for strictly enforcing the speed limits even to this day. But they never stopped Orville. Since Orville didn’t believe in having auto insurance either, the police kept their fingers crossed.

In 1913 a flood submerged the crates holding the dismantled 1903 Flyer that was stored in a shed behind the Wright cycle shop at 1127 West Third St., a few blocks from 15 N. Broadway. The flood was nearly 12 feet deep.

Prior to building the lab at 15 N. Broadway, a barn was located on the site. After the water receded, Orville moved the crates containing the Flyer to the barn.

The barn was torn down in 1916 to make room to build the lab. The crates containing the flyer, along with all the historic files and photographs stored there, were moved to the Wright Company factory located off West Third at Home Ave. There the Flyer was reassembled for the first time since 1903 for display at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as part of a dedication ceremony.

Orville shared his office in the lab with his long time secretary Mabel Beck who occupied the reception area. Mabel, a forceful and protective secretary, was Orville’s gatekeeper. Anyone who wanted to see Orville had to get through Mabel first. It is rumored that even the Bishop had to go through Mabel.

As you might surmise, Mabel was not a favorite with the Wright family. But, she was totally devoted to Orville and was doing just what Orville wanted her to do. Orville, who had a reputation for playing practical jokes, seemed to be amused that others had problems dealing with Mabel.

Orville had his second and fatal heart attack while working at the Lab. Mabel called a physician from across the street. He died at Miami Valley Hospital three days later on January 30, 1948.

In 1899 Wilbur flew a kite in a park near his home to test his idea of wing warping. The success of this experiment led to further experimentation at Kitty Hawk and the invention of the airplane.

While I was in Dayton for the Inventing Flight celebration I decided to find the location of this park. It is not marked on the map and there is no marker at the location. Ed, a good friend of mine who lives in Dayton, and I took on the challenge.

Before I proceed further with the search, let’s review what occurred in 1899.

Wilbur for some time had been “afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man.” He knew that the German, Otto Lilienthal and Englishman, Percy Pilcher had died because they couldn’t control their gliders by shifting the weight of their bodies.

Wilbur looked for a better way to achieve control by watching how birds obtained control. He observed that they did it by changing the lift on one side and then the other by twisting their wings.

Orville thought about the possibility of building a mechanical mechanism into a flying machine to twist the wings. The brothers gave up on this idea because they couldn’t figure out to build such a mechanism strong enough, but also light enough to be practical.

The breakthrough came one day when Wilbur was talking to a customer in their bicycle shop and was absentmindedly twisting a bicycle tube box. It immediately occurred to him that they could build a box kite type glider with similar structure that would be sturdy but also have flexible wing tips.

Orville tells how it worked. “He (Wilbur) demonstrated the method by means of a small pasteboard box, which had two of the opposite ends removed. By holding the top forward corner and rear lower corner of one end of the box between his thumb and forefinger and the rear upper corner and the lower forward corner of the other end of the box in like manner, and by pressing the corners together the upper and lower surface of the box were given a helicoidal twist, presenting the top and bottom surfaces of the box at different angles on the right and left sides.”

Wilbur proceeded to build a large box kite. It consisted of two 5-foot wings, 13-inches wide constructed in a biplane configuration. The wings were trussed and braced in such a way that they could be twisted in the desired way by four control lines connected to two sticks, one in each hand. A fixed elevator was attached to the trailing edge.

Wilbur ventured to a local field with a group of neighborhood boys to try it out. It worked. He could make it turn left or right and dive or climb.

Orville, who was not present during the demonstration, said later, “We felt that the model demonstrated the efficiency of our system of control.”

The brothers now thought of bigger experiments involving man-carrying machines. The following year they made their first trip to Kitty Hawk.

Back to the search for the location of where Wilbur flew the kite.

I initially thought the location might be Riverside Park that is along the Miami River and not far from the Wrights’ home. But on further research the location was said to be near a seminary near Euclid Ave and First St. At that location there were homes and a small business building. The seminary was long gone.

I found out later that Bishop Milton Wright had recommended that the seminary be established.

A short block north of there was a large school building next to a park known as John Ahlers Park in West Dayton. The park looked like a good place to fly a kite. We went in the school and found a teacher who was packing school supplies. He knew nothing about what we were looking for. He did tell us the school was about to be torn down.

We went outside and walked around the park and in so doing noticed that the Paul Laurence Dunbar House was just down the street (Edison St.). We decided to walk down to the Dunbar House to see if they knew anything about Wilbur flying his kite in the neighborhood. At the house we were fortunate to be greeted by Ms La Verne Sci, the director. She was waiting for a group of visitors to arrive. We popped the question to her. She was quick to respond that the Ahlers Park was the place.

In hindsight it makes sense that Wilbur would fly his kite in open field near the seminary that his father had help establish.

We also learned from Ms Sci that Dunbar had chosen this location for his house because the seminary in the neighborhood had attracted an intellectual community at the turn of the century.

We had visited the Dunbar house the day before and didn’t realize that the park was where Wilbur flew his kite just up the street. Which raises the question, why are there no makers identifying this significant location in the history of flight?

Although reporters sometimes are a bit blasé about some of the dignitaries they write about, there are always a few celebrities that are just a little out of the ordinary.

Recently, this reporter had the opportunity to attend a function (courtesy of my husband) that took place in our hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Harrison Ford, famous for acting in films that include Star Wars, the Indiana Jones series and Air Force One, was featured as the master of ceremonies for the National Aviation Hall of Fame 2003 Pioneers of Flight Homecoming.

Considering the event was one that should not be missed, I was eager to go and even more eager to see how close I could get to the actor. Should I have the good fortune to actually speak to the man, what could I say that would be different from the other mundane uttering of all those gorgeous babes lined up to see him?

Doing my homework, I read in the local paper about his passion for flying his own airplanes, which include a restored de Havilland Beaver DHC-C, a Bonanza B36TC, a Gulfstream G1V-SP, a Cessna Grand Caravan and a Bell 407 helicopter.

It was reported that Ford, 61, took flying lessons when he was a student at Ripon College in Wisconsin. At that point, before his star status had been established, he found that flying was too expensive and he was forced to stop until he was in his 50’s and could afford the luxury of time and money necessary to pursue the experience.

On the evening preceding the Harrison Ford Dinner, we met a gentleman who boasted that he could arrange a meeting between Ford and myself. Promises, promises. There were 2,200 guests attending the prestigious Ford Dinner. But nonetheless, I believed the gentleman. His own wife was attending the gala just so that she could meet Ford.

On the night of the dinner, we managed to find the gentleman and his wife and I am sure that they never got any closer than we did. Harrison Ford had a magnificent security system. The president of the United States could not have been more closely guarded. Sitting with some other Ford Fans, I was invited to join a group of ladies that vowed to tackle Ford as a group and subdue him.

He had previously mentioned that he did not think Calista Flockhart would be able to attend, so I knew I would not get to speak to her to tell her to eat, as instructed by our son, Dan. As it turned out, the closest I got to Harrison Ford was to take his photo as he spoke at the podium.

Actually the dinner was not a total loss in spite of my inability to speak to Harrison Ford. The purpose of the black tie event was to salute the 178 men and women enshrined in the Hall of Fame in honor of the Centennial of Powered Flight. Ford solemnly led us through the memories evoked by such names as Ohio Senator John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, James A. Lovell Jr. and Walter M. Schirra Jr., all former astronauts; as well as naval aviator James B. Stockdale.

Altogether, two dozen enshrinees were introduced to the Aviation Hall of Fame that night, with a short history given on each one. Included in the ceremony was a toast to Wilbur and Orville Wright by two members of the Wright family, Amanda Wright Lane and Stephen Wright. So what if I never got close to Harrison Ford. ~ By: Mary Lou Stimson

Tom Crouch received the Dayton Walk of Fame Award in a ceremony hosted by Wright-Dunbar, Inc. on September 29, 2006.

Crouch is senior curator of aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution and author of numerous books on the Wright brothers. His “The Bishop Boys,” is considered the best book about the Wright brothers. Some other great books either authored or co-authored by Crouch include, “A Dream of Wings,” “Wings, A History of Aviation from Kites to the Space Age,” and “Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age.”

The award consists of a plaque that is embedded in the brick sidewalk along West Third Street where several dozen other plaques honor other Daytonians for their contributions both locally and nationally.

The immediate area includes the site of the last bicycle shop where the 1903 flyer was built (1127 West Third St.). Other printing and bicycle locations include a printing shop in the Hoover Block building at 1060 West Third, first printing shop at 1210 West Third, first bicycle shop site at 1005 West Third, and the second bicycle site at 1034 West Third.

Not far away is the Wright Cycle Co. on South Williams St., the Wright family home on Hawthorn St., and Orville’s Laboratory on North Broadway St.

The citation on the plaque states:

“Author, Historian, Museum Curator. His dedication to educating the nation about aviation history has helped to focus attention on the Wright brothers and Dayton. He authored several award winning books and developed national exhibits about aviation history as a senior curator at the Smithsonian Institution.”

Crouch earned a Ph.D. at Ohio State University.