Hills & Dales became a MetroPark in 1999. As part of their 2000 levy commitment, the district promised the community that they would take on and restore the neglected but historic park back to its former glory.After years of construction and master planning, $4 million in improvements were unveiled to park goers in 2009, including new shelters in the Adirondack style of the original park, new restrooms, a restored Patterson monument, boardwalk, restored pond, extensive honeysuckle removal, playgrounds and increased monitoring and law enforcement. The park now feels like a ramble through a thickly wooded upstate New York forest, a visit to a bygone era when Adirondack architecture was all the rage, a place and mind-set where visitors became part of the landscape and weren’t there as intruders. It’s ideally suited for casual strolls and photography. The reservable shelters are among the most popular in the district.
Before it was a MetroPark
John H. Patterson, chairman of National Cash Register Company, believed that education and outdoor exercise were the pillars of good health for not only himself, but also his employees. In the early 1900s, John H. Patterson, founder of the National Cash Register Co., owned hundreds of acres south of Dayton. He knew the community could benefit from planned green space for leisure activities. Patterson hired world famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect responsible for Central Park in New York City to work his magic on the natural terrain. He had begun a relationship with the Olmsted Brothers in 1894 after developing a strong appreciation for their “natural school” of landscaping gardening.
The result of their work at Hills and Dales was picturesque creeks, trails for riding and walking, sugar maples, wild flowers and the fragrance of honeysuckle.
Hills & Dales Park must have been a novel experience for most Daytonians when it opened in 1907. With its carefully designed meadows, water and woods, it was meant to recreate in gardens the perfection found in nature. It was intended to provide a place for city dwellers to conveniently enjoy beautiful natural scenery and obtain relief from the nervous strain of urban life.
In its early days, park goers could take a short ride from the city and be immersed in nature. They strolled walking paths on foot or horse. They picked blackberries, wild strawberries, May apples, walnuts and hickory nuts and ate them on the grounds. They lingered near wading pools and picnicked in Adirondack camps.
In 1918, confident that the city of Dayton could care for it, Patterson deeded the park to the public, although the property was outside the city limits.
Families were attracted to Hills and Dales in the 1920s, as a welcome change from city living. The Old Barn Club, located along Patterson Boulevard just north of West Dorothy Lane, was the hub of the social and cultural life of the people of the Miami Valley – as was it a most desirable place to use for wedding receptions, organization meetings and family gatherings. It had brown, stained clapboard siding and resembled a Swiss chalet with porches on several sides. A series of steps from the road turned into a large sitting room two stories in height around which ran a balcony. Wicker furniture, rockers and high-backed chairs faced an alcove with a large fireplace and a player piano. There was a natural amphitheater for Sunday afternoon concerts by local artists, and Sunday meals were open to the public.
The Old Barn Club was destroyed by fire in the late 1920s. By the early 1930s, the park lands started to be chipped away. The series of open meadows, polo fields and open air theatre were converted to golf course; eastern sections were subdivided for housing development. This left only a small sliver of natural park along the ridgeline directly east of the golf course.
Known by a number of names, including Frankenstein’s Castle, Patterson’s Castle, and the Witch’s Tower, the tower at the park was constructed of stone salvaged from condemned buildings by the National Youth Administration (NYA) as a project during the Great Depression and finished in 1941.
By 1990′s, the original character of what was left of the site had been transformed by years of vegetation growth and the addition of new park features, including a Patterson John H. Patterson monument, with the inventor mounted on his horse, Spinner, overlooking Community Golf Course. Two side pieces of the monument represent industry and agriculture, both important to the Miami Valley. Almost 90 percent of the natural areas were overgrown with Siberian honeysuckle. In 1993, the City of Dayton completed a study of the historic property in conjunction with Ball State University and published a document entitled “Hills and Dales Park Historic Landscape Preservation Master Plan.”
A group of concerned citizens named “Friends of Hills & Dales Park” started a cleanup effort in the late 1980′s, anchored around cleanup days where volunteers cleared huge amounts of honeysuckle, painted shelters, planted bulbs and performed general clean up. The group, led by Dayton Garden Club member and MetroParks commissioner Jean Woodhull, continued with cleanups and bulb planting well into the 1990′s. Woodhull’s passion for Hills & Dales had a significant impact on the MetroParks decision to assume operations and maintenance in 1999.