What if Dayton had been named Cooperstown?
Seventeen days after the Treaty of Greenville, Judge Cleves Symmes of New Jersey, sold the seventh and eight ranges of his vast land holdings, between the Great Miami and Mad Rivers on one side and the little Miami on the other to Governor Arthur St. Clair, General Jonathan Dayton, General James Wilkinson, and Colonel Israel Ludlow. Jonathan Dayton was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence but he never saw or visited his name-sake city. Gen. St. Clair employed Benjamin VanCleve and Daniel C. Cooper, a surveyor, to be their agent. Cooper blazed the trail from Fort Hamilton up the east bank of the Miami River to the mouth of the Mad River. The next expedition was conducted personally by Colonel Ludlow on November 4, 1795.
During the winter of 1795, forty six men in Cincinnati agreed to settle in the new town but when the time came, only nineteen responded. William Hamer and George Newcom were in charge of the two overland parties, which would follow the trail laid out previously by Cooper. Newcom’s party, walked the distance of 55 miles, taking two weeks to make the journey. The Samuel Thompson party made the journey in ten days, by pirogue. Benjamin VanCleve was one that helped propel the boat. It was a long narrow boat which had boards running along each side which walked those who would propel the boat. They would hold their poles against the bottom of the river near the head of the boat and bringing the ends of the poles to their shoulders and then walked slowly down the running board to the stern, returning at a quick pace to the bow for a new set. VanCleve, who surveyed with Daniel Cooper, was so impressed with the Dayton area, that it was his enthusiasm which enticed the settlers to make the journey.
Newcom’s Tavern was the first cabin erected, and soon the town was well under way, but trouble soon erupted in 1800, and the town nearly folded. Judge Cleves Symmes had not made good on his government land contract. The U. S. Government decided to increase their demand for payment from the original 68 cents per acre to 2 dollars per acre. Some of the Dayton settlers left town in disgust. In 1802, only five families remained in Dayton.
It was Daniel C. Cooper who came to the aid of the settlers. Most of all it was Cooper’s utmost faith in Dayton which moved him to action. Therefore a petition from his own hand was dispatched to Congress telling them what a hard time the Dayton people were having, how faithfully they had worked and how cruel it would be to dispossess them after such a good start. Cooper then took over on his own responsibility the title risk and bought outright from each settler his holdings, until practically the whole of Dayton was his. Because of Cooper’s generosity, the town was forever free of invalid titles and all future arrivals had their titles secured. Cooper donated land areas for churches, schools and businesses and even two cemeteries.
Daniel Cooper was the first surveyor, he also donated the land for the first graveyard located at Third and Main streets in 1805 and again donated land about 10 years later to establish the Fifth Street Graveyard located between Ludlow and Wilkinson streets. It was at his mill in 1799, that the first death was recorded, that of John Davis, and due to the death of Mr. Davis, the first fire department was established. Mr. Cooper also had the first distillery which was located on his farm in 1799, and he ran the first carriage in 1817.
“In no way did Daniel Cooper confer a greater benefit upon his town,” wrote Robert W. Steele in his history, “than by inducing a number of men of
superior education, character and business capacity to come here from his native New Jersey and other places between 1804 and 1808.” Charles Russell Greene, Joseph Pierce and Horatio Gates Phillips were among those men.
From the Roz Young series of articles written about Cooper and published in the Dayton Daily News in 1994, she writes:
On the morning of July 13, 1818, Phillips walked to Cooper’s house. “The church bell was delivered to my place this morning,” he said.
Cooper looked at his pocket watch. “There’s time to take it to the church before lunch,” he told Phillips. “I’ll pick it up directly.”
He fetched a wheelbarrow from his barn and pushed it to the store on the southeast corner of Second and Main. He set the wheelbarrow down by the bell where it rested on the gravel street. It never occurred to him to ask Phillips to help him load the bell on the wagon. It was heavy, and he tugged and pulled and strained to hoist it into the barrow. The veins on his forehead head stood out as the blood rushed through them as he struggled. Finally with the bell in the wheelbarrow, he started for the church.
He started down Second Street, but before he had gone very far, his hands lost their grasp on the barrow handles and he fell over in the street.
Daniel Cooper was dead. A blood vessel in his brain had burst.
When he died, Cooper was 45, the leading citizen of Dayton. He had a beautiful wife and a 6-year-old son. He had recently begun building a new home, which was planned to be the most imposing, elegant house in Dayton.
His death stunned the community.
Of all the land that Cooper gave to the city, only the plot he gave “for a public walk forever” still remains. The Montgomery County Public Library was built on the land, and for a few years the surrounding area was called Library Park. But finally the city fathers passed a resolution that it should be called Cooper Park.
Near the rear entrance of the library the Montgomery County Historical Society erected a marker in 1974, which reads:
Daniel C. Cooper (1773-1818) perhaps more than any other deserves to be called the founder of Dayton. A surveyor with Israel Ludlow, Cooper settled in Dayton in the summer of 1796 and became the titular owner of the town when the original proprietors defaulted. He platted the city, laying out broad streets “four poles wide” and built most of the early mills. Cooper served as Dayton’s first justice of the peace and as a member of the state legislature. He donated ground for a graveyard, lots for churches, schools and public buildings, as well as the land for this park.
Daniel Cooper died on July 13, 1818. He was the 28th interment at Woodland Cemetery having been removed from the old 5th Street Cemetery to Woodland on May 4, 1844. He is located in Section 55 Lot 1.
July 13, 2018 marks the 200th Anniversary of the death of Daniel Cooper. We hope you will come out to pay a visit to the “Father of Dayton” and thank him for putting the Gem City on the map.