As early as 1819, a small community known as Pearson existed in the vicinity of Riverview, Salem and Central Avenues. The land was acquired by Judge James Steele and his brother, Samuel. Another brother, Dr. John Steele, a Dayton physician, also owned land in the area. His holdings included the hill at the eastern edge of the Grafton Hill Historic District. Known as “Steele’s Hill” or “Steele’s Woods”, it was a favorite picnic spot for pre-Civil War Daytonians. John Steele’s original 1835 Greek Revival farmhouse still exists today on Central Avenue.
After the Civil War, the neighborhood that would become Grafton Hill began to take shape. In 1869, J.O. Arnold platted land along Central Avenue east of Salem Avenue. Subsequent development by Arnold and William A. Barnett was confined to the west side of Salem Avenue until 1875, when John Stoddard, a prominent farm implement manufacturer, platted an exclusive residential area on Steele’s Hill. Naming his new plat Belmonte Park, Stoddard envisioned a neighborhood filled with grand houses in a lovely woodland setting. Stoddard’s mansion sat where the Dayton Masonic Center is today. At the turn of the twentieth century, Grafton Hill was home to Dayton’s wealthiest businessmen, and a gathering place for some of the inventors who put Dayton on the map!
It was on Central Avenue in the famous “Deeds Barn” that Charles Kettering and Col. Edward Deeds invented the automatic start engine that revolutionized the automotive industry and lead to the creation of Delco and the Dayton Engineer’s Club. The streets of Grafton Hill give you a glimpse into the city’s past, as well as into Dayton’s renaissance as a place to work, play and live!