Dayton, Indiana, is a small town with a long history. Native peoples preceded the white settlers, building a town called the Wyandott village at a site a few miles to the south in the center of Richardville Reserve.
European settlement began in the early 1820s. At the time of white settlement, a trading post was located at the Wyandott village. After a mill was built, a settlement sprang up that was eventually platted as Wyandott.
The first settlers came to Dayton from the Connorsville-Noblesville-Strawtown area of Indiana in 1825. William Bush divided part of his land into lots about 1827. Bush and Dr. Timothy Horram filed adjoining town plats on the same day in 1829. Then a few years later David Gregory filed a third plat, and the combined town took the name of Dayton after the principal town in the area of southern Ohio from which many of the settlers came. Gregory donated a lot for a town school.
The town probably began as a market place for the people on the surrounding farms. Storekeepers were among the earliest settlers. Very quickly, however, the town acquired a number of small industries. A sawmill and then a gristmill were built. Coopers, broommakers, and chairmakers settled here. Wagon makers set up shop. After the Civil War, artisans arrived from Pennsylvania who set up a carriage factory that became one of the principal employers in town. The business carried on until the early 1900s, and for a time a car dealership operated. Then in the 1970s in the fields west of town a car plant was built, the modern incarnation of the transportation industry that has made its home in the town all these years. Today most people work in Lafayette or elsewhere.
There were four churches in town: Presbyterian, Methodist, United Brethren, and Universalist. For a time the Baptists met in the Presbyterian church building. Two churches remain: the United Methodist church south of town and the Presbyterian church on Walnut Street.
Education was important to the early settlers, who soon opened schools in their homes. In the 1820s and 1830s one-room district schools began to operate. In 1859, Dayton Union Seminary (later Dayton ME Academy) opened its doors. It closed in 1872 when the township high school was built. In 1966 that school became an elementary school, and high school students and, later, junior high students were bused to the schools of Tippecanoe County School Corporation south of town.
One of the first undertakers in the state began an undertaking business in Dayton about 1850. There were two hotels and a livery stable in town, and several restaurants at various times. Folks from Lafayette used to travel to Dayton to spend a day in the country. In the winter they could come in a sleigh known as the Red Bird.
At the time of Civil War, many of the men joined the 72nd Rgt. Ind. Vol. Inf. (later part of Wilder's Lightning Brigade of Mounted Infantry). Others fought with Company A of the 40th Rgt. Ind. Vol. Inf., and several died at Kennesaw Mountain. Still others formed part of the 10th, 86th, 150th, and other regiments of infantry, and the 10th and 18th Batteries Light Artillery. Many of those left at home rushed to Indianapolis when word of Morgan's raid across southern Indiana came, leaving the women and neighbors to harvest their crops. One day townsfolk whispered a rumor that Morgan had reached Romney and was headed this way, but it turned out to be only that.
Transportation to the area in the earliest days was by overland trail or water. Later, roads were built and gradually improved. In 1875 the railroad came to town with a flourish, welcomed by the townsfolk with a parade, a band, and a community dinner. The town has always been near the north-south route from Chicago to Cincinnati or Louisville and points south. The exact location has shifted as new roads were built, but the direction has remained the same. In 1823 the north-south route was the trail that would eventually be named the Newcastle Road, leading from Strawtown to Lafayette. Then it was the Indianapolis-Lafayette Pike, which was eventually paved and named US 52. Now it is Interstate 65, which arrived in the 1970s and passes through the west edge of town on its way from Indianapolis to Chicago.The Wildcat Valley to the east and Wildcat Prairie to the west provided all the necessities for a town to grow. When eventually a church with a steeple was built, the sound of the bell could be heard far out across the prairie. The cardinal, the state bird, is a frequent visitor at backyard feeders in town. It must have been here to greet the first settlers, whether Native Americans or Europeans. The grove of walnut trees on the site of Dayton would have been as welcome a refuge in 1825 as it is today.
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