“We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries To thee from tortured souls arise. We sing, but oh the clay is vile Beneath our feet, and long the mile; But let the world dream otherwise, We wear the mask!”
From “We Wear the Mask,” Paul Laurence Dunbar
Why is this site important?
Paul Laurence Dunbar is one of America’s greatest poets and he spent almost his entire life in Ohio. He published hundreds of poems, as well as novels, short stories, and song lyrics. He is considered one of the most important figures in African American and American history, in the company of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and his Dayton neighbors Orville and Wilbur Wright. In 1936, the Ohio Legislature dedicated the house as a memorial to Dunbar—the first state memorial in Ohio to honor an African American—and delegated its care to the Ohio Historical Society. In 1938, the home was opened to the public.
What to know about the site:
Born in Dayton, Ohio on June 27, 1872 to parents who were former slaves, Dunbar grew up in a household that struggled financially, especially after his parents separated when he was two years old. Dunbar attended Dayton public schools and was the only African-American student during the years he attended Dayton's Central High School where he was both the editor of the school newspaper and class president, as well as the president of the school literary society. Also in high school, Dunbar became friends with Orville and Wilbur Wright, who helped Dunbar build a bicycle. The three men also published Dayton’s first African American newspaper, The Tattler, together for a brief time.
From 1890 to 1910, Dunbar became recognized as one of the great poets of his day while he continued to work as an elevator operator. He published his first collection of poetry, Oak and Ivy, in 1892. In 1895, he moved to Toledo, Ohio, where he published his second collection, Majors and Minors. His poetry had made him an international success and in 1897 Dunbar traveled to Europe holding readings and visiting literary societies. When Dunbar returned from Europe, he briefly took a position at the Library Congress, but he had to resign due to health problems brought on by tuberculosis. He continued to write until his untimely death due to tuberculosis on February 9, 1906. His mother, Matilda remained in the house until her death in 1934.
The Paul Laurence Dunbar House is an Italianate turn-of-the-century structure and the final home of the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. It exhibits his literary treasures, many of his personal items and his family's furnishings. Among items on display are Dunbar's bicycle built by the Wright brothers; the desk and chair where the poet composed much of his work; his collection of Native American art; and a ceremonial sword presented to Dunbar by President Theodore Roosevelt. As a result of a 2002-2003 capital improvement project, the Dunbar has been completely renovated and restored to furnishings and wallpapers common, and some instances exactly, of the time period when Paul and his mother Matilda lived in the house. A new visitor center was also constructed on site, containing interpretive panels chronicling Dunbar's life.
Key things to see or do while visiting the site:
Paul Laurence Dunbar State Memorial is also a part of the National Park's Service's Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and the Dayton Aviation Trail. The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park commemorates three exceptional men - Wilbur Wright, Orville Wright, and Paul Laurence Dunbar - and their work in the Miami Valley. The Heritage Trail is made up of the National Park and four partners, and it contains four separate sites. In addition to Dunbar State Memorial, they are The Wright Cycle Company building and Wright brothers' print shop building; Huffman Prairie Flying Field; and the John W. Berry, Sr. Wright Brothers Aviation Center.
219 Paul Laurence Dunbar St.
Dayton, OH 45401
The Dunbar House is located in Dayton (Montgomery County), at 219 Paul Laurence Dunbar Street. It is two blocks north of 3rd Street and four blocks east of U.S. Route 35. The entrance to the house and site is just off of Edison Street, around the corner from the house address. Visitors should enter through the Visitors Center on Edison Street by ringing the center's buzzer system, located at the door. It is two blocks north of 3rd Street and four blocks east of U.S. Route 35.
c/o Dayton History
1000 Carillon Boulevard
Dayton, OH 45409
Guided Tours: Year round by reservation. Please call 937/313-2010.
Thursday by advance registration only 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Friday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Holidays: Open Veteran's Day 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Tours available by appointment at other times throughout the year by calling 937/313-2010.
OHS Members Free
Children 6 - 12 $3.00
Children 5 & under Free
School Groups $3.00 per student
AAA and senior discounts given. Military discounts are available to all active military and their dependents.
800-860-0148 (toll free)