Dayton is perhaps best-known for its contributions to planes, trains and automobiles. From the original 1905 Wright Flyer III to the 1835 John Quincy Adams to the first automobile self-starter, Dayton’s place in our national narrative is inextricably linked to vehicles. And, any parent will tell you that kids generally love all things that go. Which is just one of the reasons to visit Dayton’s Carillon Historical Park.
Carillon Historical Park is a 65-acre open-air history museum just south of Dayton. Like most area museums, Carillon Historical Park shut down this spring in response to COVID-19. The museum reopened June 15 with increased safety measures and practices (read more here). However, as much of Carillon Historical Park is outdoors, this museum is a wonderful place you can feel safe about visiting with your family this fall.
Here are the top must-see attractions at Carillon Historical Park:
Located at the top of rolling hills and greenery, the eponymous carillon is truly a sight to behold. This 151-foot-tall carillon and its 57 bells chime every 15 minutes. It’s named for Colonel Edward Deeds, a Dayton industrialist and innovator. It’s the largest carillon in Ohio — and it’s breathtaking.
Heritage Center of Dayton Manufacturing and Entrepreneurship
You could easily spend all afternoon exploring every nook and cranny of this transportation museum. From car assembly lines to bicycles, soap box derby cars to vintage toy displays, there’s so much to see! (There are This area also includes the Carousel of Dayton Innovation, which is a big hit with kids. This carousel features 31 figures and a 38 foot hand-painted mural illustrating the turn of events in the Wright brothers’ flying experiments. Hand-carved figures depict various Dayton icons (Orville Wright’s dog, Esther Price candies, soap box derby car), much like Carol Ann‘s showcases iconic Cincy figures.
This open-air museum is beyond cool. Think Heritage Village, but bigger. The covered bridges, old-fashioned water mill, gas station and historic demonstrations make this space so much fun to explore. And — again, letting them wander around outside is so wonderful right now.
This building — the John W. Berry, Sr. Wright Brothers National Museum — was specially designed to house the Wright Flyer III. The room itself feels very special and almost sacred, with the plane fitted into a expansive, dropped floor. The Wright Flyer III is the world’s first practical airplane and the only plane designated a National Historic Landmark. In fact, Carillon Historical Park has more Wright Brothers artifacts on display than in any other place in the world.
James F. Dicke Family Transportation Center
Easily one of the highlights from our visit, the James F. Dicke Family Transportation Center was all about things that go! The Transportation Center boasts five rail cars and a half dozen other historical modes of transportation. Many of them are open for your kids to explore. Most notably, the Transportation Center houses the oldest American made locomotive in the U.S., the 1835 “John Quincy Adams,” built by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and used until the 1890s.
The Carillon Park Rail and Steam Society is a must for train-loving kids. This 1/8th scale railroad was built to give kids the full railroad experience, complete with the sights and sounds of the railroad industry from its earliest days to the present. The train only runs select days and special events — so be sure to check the schedule before you go.
As summer wanes and we look toward fall, definitely make the trip to Carillon Historical Park. There’s so much to take in, and you and your kids will learn so much about Dayton — and this humble city’s big contributions to history.