Dayton’s oldest building: Built for 75 cents a day and one deer a week

The building served as the first church, jail and temporary courthouse

When George Newcom and his wife arrived in Dayton, they needed a roof over their heads.

They had been on the trail from Cincinnati for more than two weeks before arriving in April 1796.

As one of the first families in Dayton, they erected Newcom Tavern, now the oldest existing building in the city named after Jonathan Dayton, the youngest signer of the United States Constitution.

George Newcom sold the tavern in 1815 and the building transferred numerous times before it was purchased by Joseph Shaffer in 1838 who used it for a general store until 1894. DAYTON METRO LIBRARY

Newcom selected lot No. 13 on the southwest corner of Main and Water (now Monument) Streets, according to Dayton History research. He hired Robert Edgar, a millwright, to build the “best house in Dayton.”

Edgar’s construction skills earned him about 75 cents a day. He was given room and board in the Newcom’s temporary one-room cabin for the price of one deer a week and was allowed to keep the hides.

A view of Newcom Tavern at its Van Cleve Park location along the Great Miami River. The structure was moved and restored and converted into a museum. It was the centerpiece of Dayton's 1896 Centennial celebration. DAYTON METRO LIBRARY

When completed, the Newcoms had a two-story home with rough-hewn timber floors, a ladder to climb to the upstairs room and a front door that opened to Water Street.

To earn extra income, an addition for a tavern was added to the home two years later. The Newcoms lived on the right side of the structure, and the tavern, a sort of early bar, hotel and restaurant, was on the left.

For 65 cents, according to Dayton History, travelers received a place to bed their horses, a warm meal and a place to sleep upstairs, though they had to provide their own bedding.

An interior view of the west end of the living room shows the corner cupboard, fireplace, and part of the stairway in Newcom Tavern. This photograph was taken by Ralph Bowersox when the structure was open to the public for the Dayton Centennial in 1896. DAYTON METRO LIBRARY

The building served as Dayton’s first jail, church, general store and Montgomery County’s first temporary courthouse, according to Dayton History. It was also home to the first child born in Dayton, Jane Newcom.

Newcom sold the tavern in 1815, and ownership transferred numerous times before it was purchased by Joseph Shaffer in 1838. He used it for a general store until 1894.

The appearance of the building changed over the years. The original cabin, made of squared logs, was covered with clapboard siding. The exterior transformation, combined with the plastering of the interior walls, disguised the building.

The tavern’s historical significance was lost until plans were made to raze it to make room for a new apartment building and the original logs were uncovered.

Dayton’s oldest standing building remained upright during the Great Flood of 1913 though artifacts were lost in the rising water. DAYTON METRO LIBRARY

The owner donated the historic building to the city, and John H. Patterson, founder of the National Cash Register Company, paid to move the tavern to the levee at Van Cleve Park (now RiverScape MetroPark) along the Great Miami River.

The structure was restored, and the interior was recreated to resemble how many believed it originally looked. In 1896, it opened as a museum and was the centerpiece of Dayton’s 1896 Centennial celebration.

Dayton’s oldest standing building remained upright during the Great Flood of 1913, though artifacts were lost in the rising water.

Newcom Tavern opened as a museum along the levee at Van Cleve Park (now RiverScape) and was the centerpiece of Dayton’s 1896 Centennial celebration. DAYTON METRO LIBRARY
Photo: HANDOUT

The tavern was moved once again in 1964 to its current home at Carillon Park. In 2014, Dayton History took on a four-month exterior restoration project returning its appearance to the way it looked when the Newcom family lived there.

Today at Carillon Park, a visit to Newcom Tavern is a popular trip back in time and the site of spring and fall “Tavern Dinners.” The dinners recreate the city’s early history with hearth-cooked meals and historical entertainment in Dayton’s oldest building.

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