Where is Orville’s Laboratory?

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Dayton Celebration Events

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.

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