This past summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Andrew Walsh and his book, Lost Dayton, Ohio, at an event sponsored by the Woodbourne Library in Centerville, Ohio. Andrew is a librarian at Sinclair Community College here in Dayton, and the book is chock full of interesting historical details and photographs from sites “that represent larger themes in Dayton’s history and involve some of its notable figures.” Looking at this book led me to one of Andrew’s websites, Dayton Vistas, which holds a plethora of information, from Dayton culture to new developments to a catalog of Dayton Historic buildings! The Gem City is lucky to have such an attentive historian bringing life to its stories, and I’m especially grateful to Andrew for finding the time to answer my questions.
Christina: Being a librarian is a useful career for writing a book like Lost Dayton, Ohio. On the other hand, having all that information at your fingertips might involve falling down multiple rabbit holes. How do you stay focused on the task at hand?
Andrew: You’re absolutely right that it can be a bit of a double-edged sword. For example, I got a lot of tidbits by searching old newspaper databases, and when the results would display full pages, I’d sometimes find myself reading completely unrelated stories that just happened to be next to one I’d searched for. Similarly, when I needed to consult archival materials, I’d always want to see what was in the other folders of the boxes that had been retrieved. Or when I ordered a book through OhioLINK for a specific fact, I’d always want to see what else was in there. When these kinds of things happen, I first try to remember that rabbit holes aren’t an entirely unproductive use of time: I identified quite a few interesting stories in this manner and set them aside for later. Some ended up in the book, and others I’ll include in a future work. But I always try hard to stick to my original topic of investigation first, usually trying to hit a certain target of time spent on it before branching out to any other things that catch my eye. Since I’m so fascinated by these historic sites and landmarks, I’m usually able to keep my attention somewhat focused.
Christina: Did you unearth any surprising stories about the Dayton area?
Andrew: Quite a few! Some surprising stories included long-lost red light districts, lesser-known but interesting Dayton inventions, and zany John H. Patterson antics. Beyond that, the process also included unearthing what I’d call surprising larger trends, like entire functioning neighborhoods leveled in the name of urban renewal in the 50s and 60s. Or that single acts of civil unrest have had such a profound impact on Dayton that we still are experiencing their effects today. Overall though, I was surprised to learn how much Dayton has lost, in terms of architecture, industry, and culture, but also how much we still have that is worth protecting and often forgotten by a majority of residents.
Christina: On your website, Dayton Vistas, you write that your interest in local history began after having moved to the area. Has history in general always interested you? What have you learned from studying it, and what do you think we should all learn from it?
Andrew: History has always interested me in a general sense, but it was the history of Dayton specifically that got me to pursue it in a more serious manner. Dayton is a very different city than Madison, Wisconsin, where I grew up, and I wasn’t so familiar with some things I saw here, like rows of buildings sitting vacant or a community reeling from the departure of its most important places of employment. But at the same time, I recognized what a powerhouse of a city Dayton has been, and what an impact we had on the world due to our innovation and industry. Overall, I think history gives us an understanding of how we’ve arrived at our present day, not only to avoid making mistakes in the future but also to recognize and appreciate the people and events that have shaped our community in different ways. Many of these stories are connected to places that still exist but often in an endangered state, and I hope my work can help more people recognize that they are worth saving.
Christina: Writing a book and publishing a book are two different beasts, although both require fortitude and patience. Do you think that you’ll change your writing process in any way based on what you’ve learned on your publishing journey?
Andrew: I think my writing process will remain similar, but my experience with publishing this book will definitely make it go smoother the next time around. For example, with this type of research, obtaining historic images is crucial, and I’ll want to focus on that more at an earlier stage so I can be sure I have images for everything I want to write about. In some cases, there simply aren’t any images left or they’re very expensive, which I discovered a bit late in a few cases for Lost Dayton. Beyond that, I do a lot of work on organization and structure early on, and I’m always editing and revising throughout, so by the time I finish the manuscript I hope it won’t be too tough of a road to the finish line.
Christina: If you could be any historical figure from the Dayton area, who would you be and why?
Andrew: That’s an interesting question! Being a Wright brother would be a clear choice just for the thrill of being the first to conquer the skies, but I think in general that whole period around the turn of the century would be a fascinating time to be a Dayton businessperson. Our “city of a thousand factories” was really starting to boom and it must’ve seemed like anything was possible. Candidates include people like Charles Kettering, but another interesting figure from my book is John W. Stoddard, one of those Daytonians who took a small operation and turned it into a major, nationally significant company while completely pivoting the actual business along the way. Finally, to take the question another direction, it’d be great to be a city official in the mid 1950s because I’d have a chance to put a stop to some of the urban renewal projects that destroyed so much of our city.
Christina: What is next for you?
Andrew: I have a few different ideas for future books, but nothing is imminent on that front right now. I’d like to focus more on Dayton neighborhoods, and I also have at least one idea for a book that would look at multiple cities. For now I’ve been focusing mainly on writing articles on history and urban development for my website Dayton Vistas and working to build readership through social media and an email newsletter.
Thanks to Andrew for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.