Dayton History

 Dayton History

Dayton is home to the oldest existing American-built locomotive

By Leo Deluca

During the early 20th century, Edward Deeds spent countless sweltering summer nights in his backyard barn working alongside a group of fervent inventors. Known as the Barn Gang, this innovative assembly built the automobile self-starter and revolutionized the auto industry. The world was never the same.

During his lifetime, Deeds also served as chairman of the board of NCR, president of the Miami Conservancy District and co-founder of Delco. When he died on July 1, 1960, the New York Times ran a long obituary under the headline: “E.A. Deeds, 86, dies; an industrialist.” But Deeds not only made history he preserved it.

Born in 1874 Deeds witnessed transportation change drastically during his life—from horse and buggy to airplanes. Dayton played a pivotal role in these developments and Deeds understood the importance of saving these stories for posterity.

Numerous historical museums were popping up across the country during the first half of the 20th century. Rockefeller had championed Colonial Williamsburg; Henry Ford created Greenfield Village; and Deeds was dreaming up an historical complex all his own—one dedicated to Dayton’s unique contributions to transportation history. Located adjacent to the 151-foot carillon he and his wife, Edith, had gifted to Dayton, he named the museum after the iconic bell tower: Carillon Park.

A collection of transportation-themed artifacts were acquired for the new historical park, including the 1905 Wright Flyer III, the only airplane designated a National Historic Landmark. To celebrate the region’s rail history, Deeds decided to obtain a locomotive; by 1860, Ohio had more railroad track than any state in the nation and it was a key piece to his transportation narrative. In April 1947, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co. offered up the 1835 B&O #1, John Quincy Adams.

“Designed by legendary B&O mechanical engineer, Phineas Davis, the John Quincy Adams was considered one of the greatest engines of its time,” says Alex Heckman, director of education and museum operations at Carillon Historical Park. “It was one of the original items on display when the museum exhibits opened in 1950.”

With its vertical boilers and bobbing driving rods, the B&O #1 was nicknamed “the grasshopper.” Deeds knew the grasshopper was significant, but it wasn’t until May 1947 that he discovered how significant. After sending the John Quincy Adams to Baltimore’s Mt. Clare Shop for restoration he soon discovered that it was not just any railroad engine, but the oldest existing American-built locomotive. It was a tremendous surprise.

“The John Quincy Adams was displayed in an open-sided structure known as South Station from 1950 until 2000,” says Heckman, “at which time it was moved into the brand new James F. Dicke Family Transportation Center.”

Every June, thousands of guests attend Carillon Park Rail Festival, marveling at the model train displays, live steam engines and riding the park’s miniature train. The John Quincy Adams sits distinguished at the back of Carillon Historical Park during the two-day event—the consummate symbol, an icon of American rail history, forever preserved in Dayton.