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American History Echoes Across the Heartland

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park

Dayton, Ohio

Aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright invented the airplane in Ohio at what is now the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. The airplane’s invention is one story that takes place in two locations. Until 1903, the Wright brothers researched and engineered their flying machines in Dayton before taking them to be tested on the beaches at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Within the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park are five National Historic Landmarks and a National Register Historic District. Groups will want to start at the Wright-Dunbar Interpretative Center in downtown Dayton. It’s in the neighborhood where the Wrights lived when they invented the plane. Tours also visit the nearby Wright Cycle Company building and the Hoover Block, where Wilbur and Orville Wright operated their printing company.

Tours then head to the Huffman Prairie Flying Field, where the Wrights tested their planes in 1904 and 1905. A replica of their hangar and catapult are on-site, along with a walking trail through the prairie with exhibits that detail how the brothers perfected their invention. One mile away, the Wright Brothers Aviation Center displays the 1905 Wright Flyer III that they flew at Huffman Prairie.

“Other than their 1903 plane, the 1905 plane is the Wright’s most important airplane,” said Dean Alexander, superintendent of Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. “The original 1902 glider doesn’t exist anymore.”

Other sites are the Georgian Revival, mansion Hawthorn Hill, where the Wrights lived. In west Dayton, the Paul Laurence Dunbar State Memorial, the house where the African-American poet lived, commemorates Dunbar, who was a high school classmate of Orville Wright. Dunbar was famous before the Wrights became well known, and his first poetry collection was published by the Wrights’ printing house.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.