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 and Site 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?

The National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA), a Dayton-based non-profit and Ohio History Connection, a statewide nonprofit, partnered to restore the House and site. Ohio History Connection owns the Paul Laurence Dunbar House and is overseeing its restoration.

The Paul Laurence Dunbar House is also a part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park (National Park Service). The National Park Service provides staffing and regular operations at the house.


Who is paying for this restoration and how?

This project is being funded through the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures grant program. The National Aviation Heritage Alliance was named as the recipient of this funding. Save America’s Treasures grants require a 1:1 non-federal match to every federal dollar. The Ohio History Connection is matching the $350,000 grant funding with State of Ohio Capital Funds. 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.


What work is being completed?

All work will be on the exterior of the house and site. The work includes addressing long-standing water issues that are damaging the house and site. Gutters and downspouts will be repaired and connected to the storm sewer system. The brick and mortar on the Paul Laurence Dunbar House is in need of restoration as large portions of the brick and mortar are flaking and chipping (called spalling). There will be some minor chimney repair.


Will you salvage the bricks or building with all new?

We will salvage as many bricks as possible. There may be a need to use historic brick salvaged from another project to address structural problems at the Paul Laurence Dunbar House. There is a lot of damaged brick on the House that are split, cracked, or missing chucks or faces. Some bricks are expected to crumble when restoration begins. Whenever new brick is needed, we use salvaged or reproduction brick that matches the historic in size, color, and texture as much as possible.


Are you cleaning the bricks?

Yes! Our contractor will be cleaning the bricks throughout the restoration process.


Are you repairing the foundation?

There will be some work on the foundation including the basement window wells to address water intrusion issues.


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?

This answer is to be determined following the bid process.


When will it be done?

This project will start in summer 2024 and be completed in 3-4 months.


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 us directly at [email protected]. Please include the subject line – Dunbar House.


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.