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Guest Jeff

Dayton Expressway Prehistory.

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Since this year marks the 50th anniversarly of the Interstate System here is a thread exploring the "prehistory" of some of the urban expressways of Dayton through the early and mid 20th century.


1920s and 1930s


The story starts in the 1920s, with a proposal to develop crosstown highways as a way of relieving congestion in downtown.


"The Relief Plan for Traffic Congestion in the Central Buisness District by means of a Riverside Boulevard System"




...which was sort of interesting as it connected with highways leading into town, such as Troy Pike and Springfield Street, and used the river system as a crosstown traffic alignement.


This system of boulevards was not limited access, but more like parkways.  Yet it was the first comprehensive plan to deal with the growth of auto traffic through the cityThe plan was under implementation by 1939, when this progress map was made...."The Proposed Marginal River Bouelevards":




It is interesting looking at the above map and seeing some familiar roads..Deweese Parkway, probably the closest Dayton had to a true parkway, proposed to connect to Shoup Mill Road.  Edwin Moses.  Riverside Drive.  And a boulevard connecting downtown to Troy Pike along the Greet Miami, which was partially built, but is nothing more than an access road to the ballfields and Deeds Point nowadays (with part of it actually abandonded).


Here is a cross section illustrating that the vision was to have true tree lined bouelevards.....with a median.




And the downtown portion of the system actually proposed relocation of the Miami River northward somewhat, reuslting in a park area for the boulevard to pass through as it swung by the CBD.






The above Marginal River Bouelevard map also shows Patterson Bouelvard, which also functioned as a crosstown route, especially when it was connected from Stewart Street past the (then new) Carillon Park to South Dixie Drive (the old Cinncinnati Pike).  This was the route of the cross-country US Route 25, the eastern leg of the old Dixie Higway.. .(hence north and south Dixie Drives)....the Dixie Beeline from the old Dave Macon song....




..before the US Highway numbered system this road used a special marker, painted on telephone poles and such.




...so as early as the 1920s a cross country auto highway was passing through Dayton.


Yet, even in 1939, a true limited access divided highway was not to be found in or into Dayton.  And it appears the city was planning on its riverside boulevards as its crosstown traffic system as I did not see any evidence of an expressway system being proposed. 


Dayton also missed the WPA era construction of four lane divided highways that where sometimes built on the periphery of cities like Louisville and Chicago.  That was to change with the coming of WWII and the massive expansion of defense industry in Dayton.


World War II Era


The first quasi-limited access divided highways with four lanes and a median where built in response to the war effort. 

These would have been Daytonians first experience, locally, with fairly high-speed highways purpose built for auto traffic.  They where not true limited access as major intersections where at grade, though there was access control.


The most intact example of this preliminary form of an expressway was the OH Route 4 connection between the Army Air Corps Patterson Field depot mainteance/logistics activity at Fairfield/Osborne with Wright Field and Dayton (via Springfield Street).  This highway was designed with a generous median and, since it passed through a military reservation, had de-facto access control due the installation perimeter bounding it on both sides. 




The highway remains mostly intact today....








The second quasi-limited access highway was a relocation of a portion of US 25 to avoid the early suburban development on the narrow North Dixie Drive.


US 25 was relocated to a divided highway, running from US 40 (a major cross-country highway) to a traffic circle at Wagoner Ford Road and North Dixie.  This highway connected a defense plant and airfield at Vandalia to Dayton.  The best I can tell is that there was at-grade intersections, but some limited access control via frontage roads.  Unfortunatly I couldn't find good documenation of this highway...aside from old maps and grainy aerial photos.






This traffic circle existed into modern times, even after this stretch of US 25 was incorporated into I-75 and made true limited access.  A remanant exists today....




This stretch. 1940s-era US 25 was pretty radically altered over the years by grade seperation interchanges and widening projects related to I-75, though the alingment is the same.


Although I don't have the documentation I think a safe assumption could be made that US 25 south of town was also improved by the transforming the old Dayton and Suburban Railroad (formerly the C&LE interurban) ROW in Southern Hills into a northbound lane for US25




Also in the 1940s the very first study for a limited access highway through Dayton was made, by the predecessor to ODOT.


The copy at the library did not xerox well, but it was a study of various alingments of a true limited acess expressway with medians and interchanges, running from the Traffic Circle to Stewart Street, where it connected with Patterson Boulevard.


The study considered routing this expressway along the alignment of Patterson Boulevard, east of downtown, but rejected this due to too much industrial and buisness relocation being necessar. Of course now there is not much industry at all along Patterson Blvd downtown!


Here is a xerox of an old van dyke print showing the proposed relocation through the center of the city (this is a 'dot map' showing population density).  Apparently the vision here was still to efficiently conduct through traffic through the city, connecting to divided highway and quasi-limited access roads north and south.  Yet, the study mentions that this was done with an interregional system in mind, referencing 1941 and 1944 federal highway legislation (predecessors of the interstate system?)...and the study did contain some fascinating statewide flow diagrams, showing that the traffic planners where thinking of this as part of a future long-distance system.


(as this map isn't too good I drew the alignment in red)




After the war planning began to accelerate.  In this map the city of Dayton proposes an inner city connector or feeder leading to the proposed expressway...this is perhaps the forrunner of the widened Keowee Street.  Also, a bridge across the river at Salem Avenue, and extention of Riverside Drive across the river.  Interchanges shown in red...






The 1944 plan was elaborated four years later in a 1948 study by ODOT to further refine the freeway plan.  Also, an alternative surfaced that would have changed the alingment to the west of the river.  ODOT pretty much followed the path of least resistance along the alignment of one of the proposed riverside boulevards, but the new alternative (developed by consultant Harlan Bartholomew, who was under contract at the time to develope a compreshensive plan for Dayton) would have connected with US 25 in "Moraine City", and passed through Edgemont and quite a bit of the western and northern parts of downtown.


As part of the planning reports a number of traffic studies were presented, based on work done by the city of Dayton. Particularly interesting are these desire line diagrams showing the directin of traffic between "zones" in the city and surroundings.





and through traffic diagrams, which pretty much indicate the need for some high-volume highways to conduct traffic through the city.  The alignements of todays I-75, US-35, and OH-4 are suggested here....




The two alternative routings through Dayton (north is to the right on these maps)






And a band diagram showing future traffic flows on the two alternatives.




ODOTs preferred alternative was the riverside alignement, and a number of aeriel photomontages where prepared showing how this expressway would pass through the city.




The Stewart Street interchange & connection to Patterson Blvd.  Recall that at this time nearby NCR was a major traffic generator as it had 10,000 employees on-site




Washington Street interchange.  Note the dense residential area across the river.  This  neighborhwood would eventually be obliterated by the US35-I75 interchange and St Elizabeth Hospital expansion as well as deterioration and abandonment.




The US 25 Expressway passing through downtown, leaving a little residential "island" next to the river.  Note the below-grade proposal.  According to the text preliminary hydrological studies indicated this would be possible without pumping of groundwater. 






As part of the ongoing highway planning ODOT started to look at other highway needs.  Here is a proposed crosstown highway to conduct US 35 across the city:


Starting out with through traffic flows




Volume of traffic on city streets:




And the desire-line diagrams, showing a some strong east-west travel preferences:






ODOT generated three alternatives, which they overlayed on maps showing employment concentrations (of the late 1940s) and a population dot map.






The preferred alternatve was then developed.  In this early scheme the US 35 Expressway was not that, more of a quasi-expressway with some access control, at grade intersections at minor street, and grade seperation at major iintersections More of a wide four-lane inner city highway rather than a true expressway.  An interesting aspect of this map is that it shows all the buisness/commercial locations on Third out in the neighborhoods, so perhaps this highway was seen as an alternative, quicker way to get to points on Third; a crosstown highway for city people wanting to get from the east to the west sides. 




The ODOT planners did know that a US 25 expressway was being proposed, an "H Interchange" for the US 25- US 35 intersection.  Not a particularly well though-out plan at this point, as the concept here was to justify a crosstown highway and an alignment, no detailed design yet.




Finally the US 35 Expressway (preferred alternative) is shown on the city thoroughfare plan.  The plan also shows an OH 4 highway, but I have not been able to find any information on early planning for OH 4 from the 1940s. 




1953: Pulling it All Togther


In the early 1950s Dayton apparently hired a consulting firm out of NYC, Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendorff, to develope an arterial highway plan for the city.  The consultants pulled together the various ODOT studies and studies conducted by the plan board and their consultant, Harlan Bartholomew, and generated an arterial highway plan with recommended alignments.  This plan was pretty much what was built (with some changes in alignement and design). 


The plan, and as this is a weak xerox, the plan showing the arterials in red






As in the other plans the studies looked at existing traffic volumes, like this one showing traffic in Dayton and suburbs.  Still quite a bit of traffic heading into town back then, but also quite a bit of reverse commuting out to the giant Frigidaire plant in Moraine and to the Air Force Base.  I assume the source is late 40s/very early 50s data, at the very beginnings of the big suburban boom




Traffic to the CBD




And this very ineresting map of major (100 and over) industrial employers (including the Air Force Base)




And a close up of the inner city showing the big industrial employment centers in West Dayton, Edgemont, NCR, and Webster Station.  At that time many of these places where unionized, mostly paying good wages.  Almost all of this is gone today:




Traffic to the Air Force Base (to justify OH 4).  Back then Wright-Patterson had a large urban workforce, with Five Oaks/Grafton Hill/Salem Avenue apparently a particularly popular residential location.




The consultants again addressed the southern extension of the US 25 expressway as a special issue in regards to preferred alignemnet, concurring with Harlan Bartholomews "west of the river" alignment.  The consultants proposed two notional expressways. One followed the ODOT preferred riverside alignment, but extnded this alignement, replacing and paralling South Dixie Drive through Southern Hills.  The other (consultant preferred) alignment passed through open country south of the city, but cut through the Edgemont neighborhood. 


Traffic bands..two funnel clouds of traffic extending south of the city:






And an aerial perspective showing the competing alignments




A blowup showing the Moraine City area.  Note that the consultants had stubbed off the expressway closer to Springboro Pike.




crossing the river into Edgemont, near the present site of Welcome Stadium/UD Arena.




...and then the alignement chopping up Edgemont.  Note that in this illustration the US 35 expressway was really an improved Washington Street.




The consultants did a series of alignment photomontages, showing how the US 25 Expressway would wind its way through the city.  Here are a few.


Starting from the south working north....


Moraine City.  The concept here was that the expressway would eventually extend south, but closer to Springboro Pike than it is now.  That bizarre interchange into West Carollton must have come later in the 1950s.


The present-day alignment of I-75 is also closer to the river than in this scheme.




Passing through downtown and vicinity.




A closeup of the alignment downtown.  Note that once again this is a depressed highway, like Fort Washington Way in Cincinnati or the Dan Ryan just outside of the Loop in Chicago.  Also note that it was fitted in closer to downtown, preserving more the neighborhood to the west, along the river, and on a more right-angles alignment with downtown streets, not the sort of diagonal/curve that was built




In some ways this alignment is similar to that shown in Harlan Bartholomews downtown plan of around the same time:




US 25 Expressway connecting to the WWII-era US 25 divided highway in the vicinity of the traffic circle.  The remnants of the never-completed river boulevard along the Great Miami is also somewhat visible.






US 35.  From west to east.


Connecting to West 3rd in the vicinity of Residence Park and the VA.  The modern US 35 expressway swings south of the VA and connects with US 35 in Drexel, but extends north to Salem Road.  Also note the old minor league baseball diamond.  This is perhaps where the Dayton Ducks played.  There where two ballfields in West Dayton, this one and one run by the Dayton Gym Club near Wolf Creek @ Wolf Creek Pike.  The Gym Club diamond was where the Dayton Marcos played...one of the teams of the 1920s Negro Leagues.




Cutting through West Dayton, interchange with US 25. 




Remarkable photo of the dense urban fabric of West Dayton, showing the interchange and the US 35 alignment right on top of Washington Street (it was built just to the south, and existing interchange is considerably more elaborate)




East Dayton at the edge of town.  The highway dies off into Xenia Road. The four lane US 35 into Xenia apparenlty lay in the future.




....finally, the consultants vision of the future for Dayton motorists via a cross section diagram:




Three years later, 1956, the interstate highway system went under construction. 



























































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Wonderful, as always.


Amazing how residential downtown was before...well...you know...



"You don't just walk into a bar and mix it up by calling a girl fat" - buildingcincinnati speaking about new forumers

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I'll just throw a bunch of outside influences in at once.

Dixie Hwy - History by Mike Buettner (President of the Ohio Lincoln Hwy Association)



There was a Defense Highway Act in 1941

There was a Federal-aid Highway Act in 1944 (forerunner to the 1956 interstate act)

There was a Federal-aid Highway Act in 1954


The 1941 act may well have led to the funding for the highway(s) around Wright-Patt and possibly US 25.

The 1944 act led to the interregional plans (seehttp://www.roadfan.com/intreg.html) and Ohio highlighted their needs in 1946


(from Invertory of Needed Improvements on the State Highway System, located at the state library)


Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendorff were quite popular.  They did highway plans for Columbus, Cleveland, and Toledo, besides Dayton in the 1950s (collection of all is sitting at the Science & Engineering Library at OSU)


And Harlan Bartholomew made a visit to Columbus in 1954 as well (to reiterate what Bergendorff had proposed two years earlier)



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Very interesting.  Thanks for the research!


As a map guy, I'm fascinated by those through traffic diagrams.

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Hey Jeff, I just now seen this thread and I have to say wow! Very nice info indeed! I was wondering if you have anything on the history of Steve Whalen Blvd. and what it was supposed to be (if anything)? I figured it would be closley related to when US-35 was built, but I don't see anything about it up above.

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This is an absolutely fascinating look at some of these old expressway plans. Pre-Interstate freeways always have so many more quirks and oddities that make them more interesting than stuff built later. That massive traffic circle is one of my favorite remnants from that era - I wonder why ODOT never reconfigured that exit lane?


I originally dug up this thread because I was looking for some insight as to where Steve Whalen Boulevard was actually supposed to connect through to. With the size of its original interchange, I can only assume that there were plans to build a north-south expressway on the near east side.

“To an Ohio resident - wherever he lives - some other part of his state seems unreal.”

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