Heritage Area Embarks on Unique Partnership to Restore Paul Laurence Dunbar House

Why would an aviation-themed Heritage Area enter a project to preserve the house of a poet?

The National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA) is the management entity of the National Aviation Heritage Area which has been created, authorized, and appropriated by Congress and administered by the National Park Service. NAHA has nearly 20 years of experience administering this federal grant program to develop, preserve, and promote the assets in the 8-county Heritage Area sharing the nationally significant story of the Wright Brothers, aviation, and aerospace heritage.

NAHA regularly partners with the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park which is a separate entity and a unit of the National Park Service. This National Historical Park was created more than 30 years ago and includes the Wright Brothers, early aviation, and the poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar in their themes.

In 2021, Congress ended a 10-year moratorium on earmarks, now called Congressionally Designated Spending (CDS). In 2022, Senator Sherrod Brown directed $350,000 to the Paul Laurence Dunbar House through the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures grant program. This program required a 501c3 organization to accept and administer the grant. In partnership with the property owner, Ohio History Connection, NAHA was named as the grant recipient. Grant administration is one way NAHA can support the numerous heritage area organizations who receive CDS grants.

Awarded in 2023, NAHA received a $350,000 grant to be matched by Ohio History Connection with $350,000 from the State of Ohio capital budget to complete a $700,000 restoration project at the Paul Laurence Dunbar House. NAHA will provide project management and grant administration. Ohio History Connection will run the construction contracts and oversee the restoration. Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park will continue to provide regular operations at the House during the restoration project.

Construction will start in summer 2024 for the restoration project which will address long-standing water issues and exterior degradation. Observers will see a regrading of the land around the Dunbar House and the Visitor Center. The gutters and downspouts will be connected to the City’s storm sewer system sweeping water away from the house. The House foundation and basement window wells will be rebuilt to protect against future water damage. The brick walls of the house will be restored to address significant spalling (or chipping) and mortar disintegration. The project will also address minor issues with the House chimney and summer kitchen.

The restoration project will last 3-4 months and be completed before the end of 2024. When completed, the House will look the same but be better structurally. It will be stabilized and protected for many generations to come. The Paul Laurence Dunbar House has profound significance as the former residence of the renowned African American poet and writer (1872–1906). In 1936, the Ohio General Assembly dedicated the house as a memorial to Dunbar – the first state memorial in Ohio to honor African American history.

NAHA staff are proud to be able to use their skills to complete this significant project at the Paul Laurence Dunbar House. It is one way NAHA can bring additional federal resources to the Heritage Area and support our community.

More information about the Paul Laurence Dunbar House, and Save America’s Treasures grant can be found in the FAQs below.


Paul Laurence Dunbar House Exterior Restoration: Frequently Asked Questions


What is the significance of the Paul Laurence Dunbar House?
The Paul Laurence Dunbar House is located at 219 N. Paul Laurence Dunbar Street (formerly N. Summit) in Dayton, Ohio. The two-story brick house was built in 1887-1888. In 1904, the house was purchased by Matilda J. Dunbar, the mother of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Paul Laurence Dunbar is generally recognized as the first African American to become widely known for literary accomplishments, and the house has long been celebrated for its association with him. Paul Laurence Dunbar lived a portion of this life in this house with his mother.

Learn more about Paul Laurence Dunbar here.


Who is restoring the site?

Ohio History Connection, a statewide nonprofit, operates the Paul Laurence Dunbar House and is overseeing its restoration. Ohio History Connection’s Restoration Team will be overseeing the work. This team also oversaw the restoration of the Benjamin Lundy House and the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, both NPS Grant recipients.


Who is paying for this restoration and how?

This project is being funded through State of Ohio Capital Funds and a Saving America’s Treasures Grant through the National Park Service. The State Capital Budget provides funding for the repair, reconstruction, or construction of state properties for the benefit of the people of the State of Ohio. Capital funds are not tax dollars and no local funds or taxes are being used in this project.

Grants are issued by agencies, funds, or organizations for a specific purpose, which is defined by the grantor. The National Park Service awards a Saving America’s Treasures Grant “to protect “America’s threatened cultural treasures, including historic structures, collections, works of art, maps, and journals that document and illuminate the history and culture of the United States.” (nps.gov)


What is the scope and how was it determined? Can it be changed?

Saving America’s Treasures Grants must be used for physical improvements and cannot be used for anything other than the approved scope. Their purpose is to secure America’s most important historical buildings, which includes the Paul Laurence Dunbar House. Prior to applying for the Grant, Ohio History Connection’s restoration team made an assessment of the property and its needs. That scope was submitted with the application and was approved.

The base bid, which is guaranteed, is for the masonry restoration of the Dunbar House. The condition of the masonry of the home is worse than it may appear. There are deteriorated, broken and spalling brick that must be replaced with salvaged brick and the chimneys urgently need repair.

There are also several alternates which may be accepted (budget allowing), work covered under these alternates include: site drainage, Dunbar House wood restoration and painting, Dunbar House Kitchen re-roofing, Cole/Mundhee Houses siding repair and painting, Cole/Mundhee Houses flashing replacement, and plaster repair. Alternates allow us to prioritize work.

Poor flashing and site drainage issues are the primary causes for the water infiltration at the site, which aggravates the condition of the siding, invites termites, and is the cause of plaster damage in the Cole House.


What about issues outside the listed scope?

Any other concerns or issues are being passed to our maintenance team, who is actively trying to address the known issues: continuing termite infestation, invasive landscaping, and shutter repair. A pest company has been out to the site before, but did not provide a estimate for treatment, the maintenance team is working to get an updated one. The new shutters will be reinstalled prior to the end of the work. Maintenance work is completed as requested by the site assuming resources are available. Plants are being cut back by both our maintenance staff and the National Park Service.


Did you consult with any other organizations on this restoration plan?

Yes, Ohio’s State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service reviewed the plans for this restoration.


Who is completing this restoration work?

The contractor has yet to be determined, as Ohio History Connection (OHC) is actively bidding for this project. OHC has a Preferred Business Enterprise Program, which was developed by Dayton native and MBE advocate Al Washington. This program is designed to award contractors who work with or are MBE/WBE/EDGE, with a preference to local companies. It is designed to encourage the use of local employees, subcontractors, and suppliers.


When will it be done?

The work should be completed by the end of October 2024.


How will the restoration impact visiting the House and site?

The National Park Service will continue regular operations posted on their website here. If construction will impact regular operations, any disturbance will be posted on the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park Facebook or you can call the park at: (937) 225-7705.


What if I have more questions about the restoration?

You can submit your questions to Ohio History Connection at [email protected].


Can I support this work?

If you’re interested in supporting this project or other local history projects in the National Aviation Heritage Area, consider making a financial donation. Learn more here.


About the National Aviation Heritage Alliance
The National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA) is a private, not-for-profit corporation designated by Congress as the management entity of the Heritage Area. The Heritage Area is an 8-county region in West Central Ohio (Montgomery, Greene, Miami, Clark, Warren, Champaign, Shelby, and Auglaize counties.) NAHA seeks to preserve and develop the assets of the Heritage Area and promotion the heritage and future of aerospace.


About Ohio History Connection
Ohio History Connection, formerly the Ohio Historical Society, is a statewide history organization with the mission to spark discovery of Ohio’s stories. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization chartered in 1885, Ohio History Connection carries out history services for Ohio, and its citizens focused on preserving and sharing the state’s history. This includes housing the state historic preservation office, the official state archives, a local history office, and managing more than 50 historic sites and museums across Ohio. Learn more at ohiohistory.org.