Why Seely’s Ditch?

The land purchased by Seely overlaid today’s East Dayton. The Ditch is in red.

The land purchased by Seely overlaid today’s East Dayton. The Ditch is in red.

The first question people ask me when talking about the prelim plans for a new small kitchen and bar (who don’t follow me blabbing on Twitter) is why Seely’s Ditch?

Seely’s Ditch is in homage to Morris Seely’s canal project from 1830 that still impacts Dayton today, including the layout of streets, the storm sewer system, and even the new Warren Flats building in South Park.

To me the story of Morris Seely is a perfect tragedy. He came to Dayton looking to make his mark. He reached levels many would call a success; Ohio House Representative, Ohio Senator, and only the 8th Mayor of Dayton, but he would never live up to the expectations of his in-laws (the Huffman family). His biggest failure would be what carries on his name (even though he got a little screwed, or was just very unlucky).

The Story

Little is known about Morris Seely’s early life, but in the early 1800s he came to Dayton from New York. In 1825 he married Catherine Huffman - whose father William Huffman was an important businessman, and owner of real estate in Dayton. Catherine’s brother William P. Huffman would develop modern day Huffman Historic District which happens to be where my building is. These were big in-laws to impress.

In 1827 he would do some work on the Miami Canal in Dayton, a project he led, but mismanaged due to unforeseen hardships with the excavation. None-the-less he would complete it, and then serve in the Ohio Senate from 1829-1830.

In 1830 Seely pursued a new idea: a new canal through the undeveloped part of East Dayton, roughly from the Miami Canal near Salvation Army Donation Center at Patterson and Apple, the old Garden Station, where it would meet up back up with the Miami Canal where it’s fed from Mad River.

Seely was a dreamer and he planned for the future too. On top of digging the new canal, he purchased more land around where his canal would flow, which he had platted into almost 300 small lots which he believed would be ideal for water powered industrial and commercial use.

At the top near the Miami Canal and Mad River feeder he wanted to sell land back to the state for a mill, so he could use the tail race (the leftover water from the mill wheel) to provide water for his new canal.

A typical tail race from a mill

A typical tail race from a mill

Due to family Illness, Seely called in sick his first day as Mayor, March 8, 1841.

Due to family Illness, Seely called in sick his first day as Mayor, March 8, 1841.

One small problem, the estate of Daniel Cooper, the original developer of Dayton had land along the feeder and sued. Seely would lose everything. The canal was dug - but about one-third a mile short, ending near modern day Bomberger Park at 5th and Keowee. The ditch would would lay open for almost 70 years and become known as Seely’s Ditch, Seely's Basin, or sometimes Seely’s Folly.

Seely would spend the rest of his life in court, trying to get back the money he had invested.

He would go on to still serve as a State Senator for a term, and even as the mayor of Dayton in 1841, but one month after his inauguration, he would resign. In 1842 he would file for bankruptcy.

In 1843 the Ohio Supreme Court would finally rule in his favor, awarding him what in today’s dollars would be around $275k. It would be too late to do him much good, his wife Catherine would pass in 1845 and he himself in 1847.

Even in his death - there was tragedy. No marked Morris Seely gravestone exists - but a gravesite was purchased by his son, across from his wife's gravestone with the Huffman family, where many in the family believe his body rests. It’s said the Huffman family refused to have him buried there, most likely from embarassment.

If you're interested in a colorful version of the story, the late Robert Nevin wrote an entertaining and masterfully written account for the Montgomery County Historical Society in 1969 you can read here.

The Concept

Knowing the inspiration for the name is great, but what will Seely’s Ditch be about? At its heart The Ditch will be a cozy craft kitchen and bar, featuring a good amount of beer on tap, craft cocktails and small bites. A marriage of a hole-in-the-wall neighborhood bar, with a touch of upscale.

New food offerings in Dayton are always something to get excited about for those of us who call it home, but one piece I’m most excited about is the theme and corresponding decor, telling Dayton’s story.

All the decor in the building will be memorabilia, advertisements, art paying homage to stories in Dayton's past, or inspired by Dayton people, products, and culture.