Sunday, October 01, 2000

Hamilton minds its manors

Tour shows off 25 years of preservation efforts

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Slowly, brick and wood mansions have returned to their exquisite glory.

        With them has grown the Dayton Lane Historic District, home of 19th-century Hamilton's industrial barons, bankers and other prominent people — even their workers.

        “It's a jewel, located within walking distance of downtown,” said David Loeffler, president of Dayton Lane's board of directors.

        On Oct. 14, the group will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a tour of four homes and a dinner party. The public is invited.

        “We formed the group to protect and preserve the integrity of a neighborhood,” Mr. Loeffler said. “Like a lot of urban areas, it was falling into bad times. We had to stop that from continuing.”

        These days, Mr. Loeffler owns the Christian Benninghofen home, 807 Day ton St. Construction started in 1890 and ended in 1892. The industrialist spared little expense: parquet floors, nine fireplaces, a library, numerous stained-glass windows and fine woods.

        “I've always liked the older homes,” Mr. Loeffler said. “My parents had an apartment in an older home, and I liked it. I enjoy the craftsmanship. Some new homes have walls that are paper-thin. When you walk through a door in my house, it takes more than a few seconds. The walls are that thick.”

        In 1985, the neighborhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The area has 210 structures, including homes once occupied by working-class people on nearby Campbell Avenue.

        “Over the last four years, we have installed period street lamps throughout the district,” Mr. Loeffler said. “There has been a revival.”

        Improvements have been paid for with private donations, federal programs and proceeds from the biennial May Promenade Tour.

        “Campbell Avenue Park, once a racetrack for dogs and bicycles, now hosts a path down the center, stone benches, a wrought iron gazebo, cement urns and several garden plots,” Mr. Loeffler added.

        George and Lou Bitner moved into the neighborhood in 1991, after buying industrialist William Shuler's Prairie-style home at 712 Dayton St. Mr. Shuler built his home with bricks fired in Belgium. They arrived individually wrapped in paper.

        The home's interior includes quartered oak molding, ceiling beams made of mahogany, and a Rookwood fireplace.

        “We spent three years renovating the place,” Mrs. Bitner said. “We live here and work here, so we've made a commitment to the neighborhood.”

        Other stops on the tour include 643 Dayton St. The George Adam Rentschler home, designed by Charles Eisel in 1882, features a cherry staircase, parquet floors and eight fireplaces.

        For more information, contact Mr. Loeffler at 874-2400, Ext. 3058.


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