Escape from “Venice”

Did you know that Dayton, Ohio, was almost named “Venice”?

Neither did I, until today. One of the great things about being a local history reference librarian: I swear I learn something new almost every day.

From Early Dayton (Dayton: Shuey, 1896) by Robert W. Steele and Mary Davies Steele, page 20:

In 1789 Major Benjamin Stites, John Stites Gano, and William Goforth formed plans for a settlement to be named Venice, at the mouth of the Tiber, as they called Mad River.  The site of the proposed city lay within the seventh range of townships, which they agreed to purchase from John Cleves Symmes for eighty-three cents an acre.  The deed was executed and recorded, and the town of Venice, with its two principal streets crossing each other at right angles and the position of houses and squares indicated in the four quarters outlined by the streets, was laid out on paper.  But Indian troubles and Symmes’s misunderstanding with the Government forced the to abandon the project, and “we escaped being Venetians.”

First off, I do my Classics professors a disservice if I don’t complain about the idea of a city called “Venice” on a river called “Tiber”. They could have at least picked a river that is anywhere near Venice. Although, I guess in the grand scheme, the Tiber (which runs through Rome) is technically closer to Venice than, say, Ohio.

But I can definitely see why they would have thought “Venice” an appropriate name for a city surrounded by so much water. After all, just look at it:

The Great Miami River runs right through the city. The Mad River dumps into the Great Miami here also. It was quite an excellent spot to build a settlement, for purposes of transportation and commerce, so the effort was certainly was not abandoned.

After the Treaty of Greenville was signed in 1795, a different group of investors purchased the land that was to become Dayton. These men were (also according to Steele, pg. 20): General Arthur St. Clair, Governor of the Northwest Territory; General Jonathan Dayton, afterward Senator from New Jersey; General James Wilkinson, of [Anthony] Wayne’s army, and Colonel Israel Ludlow, from Long Hill, Morris County, New Jersey.

And so Dayton was instead named for Jonathan Dayton, who, as I understand it, never stepped foot in the city.

If you would like to read more of Steele’s Early Dayton, you can read the entire text of the book (but no pictures) at Dayton History Books Online. Or, visit the Main branch of the Dayton Metro Library to read it in original book format.

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