Last week, history and African American studies professor Faheem Curtis-Khidr presented a piece of local history, the neighborhood of Hog Bottom, to the Sinclair community.
The story of Hog Bottom starts following the Civil War and lasting into the 1940s when the Great African American Migration occurred. It was the largest movement of a singular people in U.S. history.
Freed slaves in the south at the time still had to contend with barriers being put up that excluded them from the same rights as white men. These were initiatives such as the poll tax, grandfather clause and biased literacy tests.
This group of black people migrated straight to northern states to escape these restrictions and have a right to vote.
Sometime around 1830, the first documented presence of African Americans in Dayton was reported around Springboro.
Throughout the next few decades, migrants would stay in the outskirts of the city next to the Miami River and work odd jobs.
A population explosion materialized in the 1860s and 70s and Dayton became a landing point, as it was a free state and was the first state past the Mason-Dixon line.
Hog Bottom was formed roughly around this time and was made up in a small quadrant of West Dayton (Mainly the area surrounding present day Dunbar High School). Many of the schools and businesses residents frequented are no longer around.
Miami Chapel School was one such establishment. Curtis-Khidr recounted stories he was told by elders of the community who would walk to school:
“…because Hog Bottom was where the poorest of the poor lived, [kids] were often jeered or made fun of because they would have to wear the same clothes for a week straight, cause they only had two pairs,” Curtis-Khidr said.
“…even the teachers had lowered expectations for the students because there was an explicit understanding that they were not going to get their three hot meals every day,” Curtis-Khidr said. “…your public education lunch may have been the only thing you’d eat for that 24 hours.”
Hog Bottom got its name from the tall hill at its center. Jake Bennet was the owner of the land where the neighborhood sits, and was a hog farmer. The hogs would travel to the bottom of the hill, eating whatever assorted food/trash they could find.
At the end of the day, children from the community would feed leftover Mike Sells potato chips (sometimes the only meal they would have during the day) to the hogs, and this became its namesake.
As Bennet aged, more and more people moved to Hog Bottom. They lived in shantytowns and other crude accommodations they made by hand. The living conditions were poor, as there were no street lights, street signs or functional plumbing.
The area was not recognized as a neighborhood by the zoning office until 1940, 10 years before its demolition.
The area was populated by squatters, labor workers and destitute persons (those who due to mental illnesses or addictions could not hold a job). These people were forced into the outskirts of Dayton, only a half mile away from the Miami River.
One of the few establishments that kept records of Hog Bottom was the Wayman Chapel African American Church, which still stands today. The leaders kept notes of who attended the church and where they lived.
Since the 1870s, the overwhelming majority of Montgomery county’s black population has lived in West Dayton.
However, industry was booming in the West side. There were over 26 factories/businesses in Hog Bottom and its surrounding areas. This was due to the land and the un-unionized labor force being cheap.
In the 1950s, Hog Bottom was razed by the Federal Housing Authority. It published a report that said the neighborhood was the worst slum in North America.
During that decade the Maddon Hills renewal project, a campaign designed to restore the area, turned a chunk of Hog-Bottom land into a golf course.
A point of pride for the neighborhood was their dominance in athletics. Area schools such as Dunbar and Dayton Boys Prep (the former Roosevelt High School) achieved a number of postseasons accolades in football, baseball and basketball.
Another notable aspect of Hog Bottom was its nightlife. Despite the decrepit nature of the West side, this was where Daytonians went to have a good time with at least five clubs.
Some famous musicians that played and tested out new material in the area were blues legends B.B. King and John Lee Hooker. This was another ripple in the long standing relationship Dayton has had with popular music.
In 2019, the average real estate value around Hog Bottom is $45,000. This is high for West Dayton, but low compared to the rest of the country and Ohio itself, where it currently sits in the lower 4 percent value.
The vacancy rate of the community is on an upward trend and is currently sitting at 16.5 percent. It is higher than roughly 80 percent of western American neighborhoods.
Contributing factors to the vacancy cited by Curtis-Khidr include the closing of crucial Dayton businesses such as National Cash Register (NCR) and General Motors (GM).
Brain drain, the phenomenon of citizens getting college degrees and completely moving out of the area, was cited as well.
The rate of single parent homes is higher than 99.8 percent of American neighborhoods with most of them being single mother households. Seventy-eight percent of children in the area live in poverty.
In addition, 1 out of 3 Daytonians live in poverty. Comparatively, in Hog Bottom 8 out of 10 people live in poverty.
The story of this insolvent and neglected neighborhood (with many like it throughout the U.S.) stands as a lesser known piece of Dayton history and an additional record of the degradation of the West side of the city.