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Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Gem City Ice Cream Building and the 1st Wright Cycle Shop

(Revised January 12, 2020) The Wright Brothers Cycle Shop formally located at 1127 West Third Street in Dayton Ohio is currently preserved at the Henry Ford Museum Greenfield Village in Dearborn Michigan, purchased by Henry Ford in 1936, relocated there in 1937, and opened to the public in 1938 with the blessing of Orville Wright. The brothers relocated their business numerous times through the 1890's, and 1127 West Third was their last location. (The reason this location was of major significance is of course that this is where their aviation experiments took place; where they performed their wind tunnel experiments, where Charlie Taylor constructed the engine, where the gliders and flyers were constructed.)
In Fred Fisk's and Marlin Todd's book "The Wright Brothers from Bicycle to Biplane", the authors document six locations (there were likely actually only five) for the Wright Cycle Shop. The first location indicated was at 1005 West Third Street, opened in November or December of 1892. They remained here till May of 1893. Per Fisk and Todd, 1015 West Third was identified as the second location, but the evidence for this appears to have been due to a typo or an address deviation for the same location (1). The shop moved from 1005 to the second location at 1034 West Third per Orville Wright in a 1936 interview.(2) The authors write "The building that housed the first Wright brother's bicycle shop was torn down in 1927 and the former Gem City Ice Cream Company building now stands on this property. We believe this shop was called 'Wright Cycle Exchange'" However, in lieu of being torn down, the building that housed the Wright brother's bicycle shop was actually preserved during expansion 16-17 years prior. The existing structure of 1005 was expanded in 1910-1912 to include 1005/1007 including major expansion to the north. The structure was expanded further westward in 1920/21 and listed as 1005/1007/1009/1011 in 1921. Then, in 1929 (in lieu of 1927), additional expansion behind to the north was constructed.This structure was described as "A modern garage building at the rear of the plant...The new garage building will enable the Gem City Ice Cream increase its delivery facilities by adding other trucks which can be housed in the new building." (6) Today, this truck building no longer stands.

Artwork from company 1928 letterhead (from author's collection) depicting Gem City Ice Cream Building. The drawing shows the Garage Building behind which was constructed in 1929. The original front section just behind the portion of the sign that reads Cream Co. was the Wright Cycle Exchange location.

3D view of Gem City Ice Cream Building as it stands in 2019 showing original structure 1005/1007, and 1911 plant expansion behind this structure. The 1920/21 plant expansion is shown behind 1009/1011. The 1929 Gem City Garage Building to the north is now an empty lot. Courtesy of Google Earth, created by author.

One of the many ice cream treats offered by Gem City Ice Cream. From page 21 of "The Modern Hostess Book" publication of the company

New addition constructed in 1910-1911, Architect E. J. Mountstephen. From The Dayton Herald, Saturday December 31, 1910 issue.

The Gem City Ice Cream Company was established in 1901 with Louis E. Ellis as president, and Chas. Dugdale as treasurer, and located at 1005 West Third Street. George D. Antrim joined the company and in late 1910 through 1912 the company expanded, occupying both 1005 and 1007, with major expansion to the north as pictured above. Poor timing, as the 1913 flood would have caused major damage on the recently expanded business. "The new building will enable the company to triple its output.....the building...has to be completed ready for occupancy within forty working days." (5)

As pictured in Dayton Daily News, Sunday, February 22, 1914 issue.

In 1927, Lewis E. Ellis was president, George D. Antrim was vice president, Herbert R. Ellis was secretary, and Guy L. Antrim was treasurer. Lewis died suddenly on September 24th of 1928 at the age of 58, and George Antrim became president of the company, Guy L. Antrim vice-president, and Herbert R. Ellis secretary and treasurer. George remained president of the company until the late 1940's. In 1950, Herbert Ellis was president, and Guy Antrim vice-president, with John T. Smith secretary, treasurer. George was Chairman of the Board. George Antrim died in 1958. Both Guy Antrim and Herbert Ellis died in 1978. 

Comments by Bob Ellis on The Ohio registered name of Gem City Ice Cream was cancelled August 7, 1978. If comments are correct, George retained 50% ownership after retirement. Guy Antrim did more than just work in the manufacturing and lab departments in the 1950's; Guy was vice-president from the 1930's on.

In Timothy Gaffney's book "The Dayton Flight Factory", the author writes "The first bicycle shop location later became the Gem City Ice Cream Company. The company put its name on the building's facade...In the years after the Wright Cycle Exchange occupied it, the building underwent many modifications, and most of the architecture associated with the bicycle business was lost. Its facade remained a part of the West Third streetscape in 2014, but the structure was in sad shape and at risk of collapse."
Per a Dayton Daily News article written February 8, 2012 by Jeremy Kelly, the author writes "City Planner Roane Smothers confirmed that three walls of the original two-story bicycle shop that the Wrights ran in 1892 are still standing inside the current structure. But Assistant City Manager Shelly Dickstein said that when the building was reviewed for inclusion on the National Register years ago, there wasn't enough 'historic integrity' to get it designated as a Wright site."
Gem City Ice Cream Company building prior to the 1921 and 1929 expansion, Dayton, Ohio.

1949 GIS aerial view showing the Gem City Ice Cream Company in full operation, with Orville's Lab at 15 North Broadway still standing. The 1127 Wright Cycle Shop and 7 Hawthorn Wright home had been located to Dearborn Michigan and empty lots can be seen in this view.
2016 Aerial view, courtesy of Google Earth edited by author to indicate location of first Wright Cycle shop at 1005 West Third Street, Dayton, Ohio in 1892/3. The location was occupied by The Gem City Ice Cream Company in 1901. Former location of 1127 West Third Wright Cycle Shop is shown to the west, and former location of Orville's Lab on North Broadway is also indicated.

Location of Wright Brother's first Cycle Shop, Author's collection
Period photo from author's collection of Gem City Ice Cream Building. Note address of 1005 to right, footprint of location of Wright's first Cycle Shop. George Antrim is likely one of the men pictured, but I'm not sure which. My guess is second from rear of truck. See more detail in the photo below. Lew E. Ellis is furthest to the right as identified by his great-grand daughter Karen Mays (see reader's comments).  Can anyone identify the others?

From Matt Yanney archives.

Gem City Ice Cream Building as pictured in The Dayton Herald, March 6, 1929.

Location of first Wright Brother Cycle Shop
The Gem City Ice Cream Building as it appears today; photo taken by author June 27, 2017.

Gem City Ice Cream "The Modern Hostess Book"

December 2014 view of east side of Gem City Ice Cream Company front original section. White concrete structure building to rear is 1927 addition. Facade at front south end facing West Third street replaced the original facade shown in top picture. 1927 facade across original and 1927 addition shown below, also dated December 2014. Photos by author.

 It does seem a shame to lose this structure, but preservation would be costly. One alternative would be to preserve the original southeast section, and demolish the 1927 structure. This would require structural work of course, which could be accomplished, but funding would need to be available. Even beyond preserving and renovation of this portion of the structure, the expenses would continue in maintaining and staffing the site. The portion that housed the first Wright Cycle Shop has a basement, first, and second floor level. Below shows the first floor level with proposed new stairwell to basement and second floor level (floor plan prepared by Moody Nolan in 2002). West Third Street is to the top of the sheet.

The buildings west of this site, north side of West Third Street, at the corner of West Third and Williams were preserved in 2002. Those structures were in such bad condition, the interior second floor of the two story structure had been removed, and the exterior walls had been shored up with cross bracing prior to 2002 until the buildings could be renovated. Below, before picture from 2001, and after renovation, photos by author.
Near Wright Brothers Cycle Shop

Just to the west of those buildings is the empty lot where the last Wright Cycle Shop was located, now in Michigan. See below.

Further west at North Broadway is the empty lot where Orville Wright's Lab building used to be located before it was demolished in 1976. 
From George Doyle Antrim's book "The Tale of Two Dogs and other short tales", copyright 1950, the Gem City Ice Cream Company president at that time wrote "It was in 1901 that Lewis E. Ellis came to Dayton and started this company. Two years later, young George D. Antrim joined him in the partnership that was to continue until the present corporation was formed in 1927. Such words at 'panic', 'depression', 'flood', 'war', 'boom', 'recession', have been on the lips of the people through most of these past fifty years. Under the leadership of Mr. Ellis and Mr. Antrim our company has gathered size, strength, and reputation through good times and bad."

George Antrim wrote to his grandson in August of 1928, sending the letter by U.S. Airmail. He writes:
"This evening at 6 P.M. the first U.S. Airmail Plane operating on regular 'skedule' over a regular route will land, leave and take on mail and take off at the Wilbur Wright Field. It will come from Louisville Ky. via Cincinnati, stopping here only long enough to exchange mail and take off for Cleveland where it makes direct connection with the N. Y. to California Route.......So I am writing this to you for a sort of souvenir. It will be no doubt the first letter you ever got by air mail, also it will be the first one I ever sent by air and it will leave here on the first mail service air ship operating over this route." 
The original letter from my collection is shown below, and below that, a page from a Gem City Ice Cream product brochure.

"A Pig Tale And a Few Others" was published in 1940 in which George Antrim wrote the following poem to Orville Wright for Orville's 68th birthday-

From A Pig Tale, by George Antrim

George Antrim wrote the following poem to Orville Wright for Orville's 75th birthday, August 19, 1946. Per George, "Some friends of Orv gave an 11:00 A.M. breakfast in his honor at the Van Cleve Hotel. I was invited and asked to write some verses for him.....Ed Smith of N.C.R. had photostatic copies made and framed for each one present. All of us then signed it." (3)

Dear Orville:
Some folks would spend their dough and time
And buy for you a shop made rhyme;
A neat, a decorated card
With verses by a Birthday Bard,
But we prefer to pick our lyre
And save our dough to buy a tire
Or shoes and shirts and spuds and meat.
The things we need to wear or eat.

And yet, on this your natal day
The words won't come, we'd like to say:

Orv, you and Wilbur sowed the seed
That revolutionizes speed.
The first to sail and chart the sky
You taught the whole World how to fly.
The bomber and the giant plane
Are but the children of your brain.

You've heard your name and praises sung
By every nation, race and tongue
While we, who've known you through the years
And heard the echo of their cheers
Today, in you we only see
The Orville Wright that used to be.
Unspoiled, unchanged. The same old lid
Still fits no tighter than it did.

Thou wizard of the skies and winds,
Though far beyond "Where life begins,"
We wish you many, many more
Each happier than the one before

Very Sincerely, 
Geo. Antrim
(Original copy shared by Melissa Stephenson of New Hampshire.)

Orville Wright passed away January 30th, 1948. During a tribute to Orville the following week, George Antrim had this to say about his good friend-

"For over 50 years, I have known Orville Wright, probably as well as any person, except those who went to school with him. I would like to tell two stories about Orville that sum up his character."
"Claud Protsman, a salesman who always patronized the Wright Brother's bicycle shop, received a Canadian quarter (worth twenty cents) and thought he could pass it off on the Wright Brothers. He decided on Orville because he thought he would be an easier mark than Wilbur. The short lecture Orville gave him for lying and trying to cheat emphasized Orville's high regard for truth and honesty."
"Then I'd like to relate an incident that had to do with Orville's character as a neighbor. That is, when he helped Frank Hamburger boost a half carload of nails up out of his cellar of his hardware store on the morning of March 25, 1913, because he hated to see Frank lose a few nails because it looked like the river was coming over the levees, and it was predicted that before noon everybody on the West Side would have a cellar full of water. Orville got his helper, Charles Taylor and, together with Frank and his clerk, they boosted the nails onto the ground floor. Frank, in telling me about it, said, 'We worked like beavers, and when I offered to pay him, he wouldn't take a cent. Then you know what happened? By 3 o'clock that afternoon the water had taken the paper off the ceiling and soaked the carpets on the apartments above the store."
"When I was president, in 1928, and we had a meeting in honor of Orville, I told those two stories that had never been told before. Just to make Orville feel at home, I had Charlie Webbert, from whom he rented the shop; Frank Hamburger, the hardware man; Jessie Gilbert, who ran the coal business in the next block, and Charlie Monback, the barber, who had given Orville more close shaves than he ever got in an airplane, on the platform."
"When I told that nail story, I said that a lot of fellows didn't like to set a price for their work when they had offered their services, but many of them would accept a tip should it be offered to them; and since Orville had refused to set a price, it might not yet be too late for him to accept a tip. Thereupon, Frank reached into his pocket and handed Orv a quarter. I promptly fined Orville a quarter for accepting a tip for such little service, as being un-Rotarian. Doc Lewis, sergeant-at-arms, collected the quarter and kept it. And he still has that quarter!"(The Dayton Herald, Saturday, February 7 1948, Rotary Club Speakers Pay High Tribute to Memory of Member, Orville Wright)

Gem City Ice Cream offered quite a variety of ice cream treats. One of Orville Wright's favorite holidays was St. Valentine's Day, and pictured here are two Valentine ice cream treats. From the company's "The Modern Hostess Book", author's copy.

From "The Tale of Two Dogs, and Other Short Tales", by George Antrim, a poem is included honoring the Golden Anniversary of The Gem City Ice Cream Company.

Again, it is a shame that something of the Gem City Ice Cream site can not be preserved for future visitors to Dayton to enjoy.

See also "The 1913 Dayton Flood, and the Wright Family"

              "Index of Topics"

Google+ Comments were discontinued in February of 2019. To preserve prior comments, I took a screen shot and have inserted them below. New comments can be made in the comment box at end of this post.


1. In an interview by Ann Deines with Mary Ann Johnson dated February 21, 1996,  Mary Ann states doubt that 1015 West Third address was actually a location of the Wright Cycle Exchange. She stated that she felt the evidence pointed to the address as being a typo. From the interview:
Ms Johnson: The first printing shop outside the house had been torn down. The second bicycle shop, the 1034 West Third, the building it had been damaged by fire, and I think it had just been torn down maybe in the 70's. It wasn't long before we got there. And 1005, the first one.....Even though Fred thinks there might be a 1015, I will say I have never found any other evidence, so I .....
Ms. Deines: For 1015?
Ms. Johnson: Right. And I've found some evidence where......well, some other evidence that I feel it's a typo. But that has to be decided. So we may or may not include it. I don't include it, other people do. But then we found out that 1005 had been incorporated in the building that's there now.....

Fred Fisk had first come across a newspaper section dated April 5, 1893 which included an ad for the Wright Cycle Exchange and the address of 1015 West Third Street. He contacted Nancy Horlacher with the Dayton and Montgomery County Public Library and asked her to check newspapers for this ad. She found the ad had been printed in the Dayton Evening Press for dates March 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, April 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, for a total of 14 ads. Then another 11 ads were run between April 11 and May 16, all indicating the 1015 address. 

Could the ad have run for a total of 25 times without the Wright's noticing an error in the address? Should 1015 have read instead as 1005? There is a history of addresses changing in this time period, and perhaps this building simply was assigned an address of 1015 for a few years, and then reassigned as 1005.

2. Orville Wright was interviewed November 20, 1936, and per interview notes provided courtesy of The Henry Ford Wright Brother archives, Dearborn Michigan, "their first bicycle shop was located in the middle of the one thousand block on the #1005 north side of Third Street, that they were in this location only four or five months- November or December, 1892 to May 1893. They moved because there wasn't sufficient room. Their next location was on the south side of #1034 Third Street in the same block. In the early part of 1895 they moved again, this time to 22 So. Williams Street where they began building the Van Cleve bicycle in 1896...."

3. In George Antrim's book Gales and Gals and other short tales, 1954, the published poem to Orville Wright on his 75th birthday is a different version than the one quoted in this post. I prefer the expanded version. The published shorter version is per below for comparison. 

Current photo of Gem City Ice Cream Building added June 28, 2017. Unfortunately, the next photo posted may just be an empty lot, and another landmark will be lost to Dayton.

Additional pages from "The Modern Hostess Book" added July 17, 2017.

Hi-res close up of men in front of Gem City Ice Cream truck added Dec 20, 2017.

Minor text revisions, October 25, 2018. 

February 4, 2019- George Antrim's poem for Orville's 68th birthday was added, as was the 1951 Golden Anniversary poem.

March 16, 2019, added removed comments. Added picture from 1921 Dayton Daily News showing expansion of Gem City Ice Cream Building to the west. Made corrections concerning the 1927 expansion. Added 1949 and 2016 aerial maps. Added Bob Ellis comments.

January 11th and 12th, 2020, additional information and corrections made concerning dates of various expansion projects. Added photos of 1910 expansion, 1914 picture of Antrim and Ellis, 1929 picture of Gem City Ice Cream Building, and revised and replaced 3D picture labeling expansion dates.

5. The Dayton Herald, Saturday, December 31, 1910, "New Ice Cream Plant Will Be a Model".

6. "Builds Garage For Trucks",  Dayton Daily News, Wednesday October 23, 1929.

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