Interior of Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site in Dayton (photo courtesy of National Afro American Museum & Cultural Center)
Ohio Life Travel

Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site, Dayton

Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Dayton home tells the story of the poet, who achieved acclaim around the world.

Paul Laurence Dunbar bought his Dayton home after becoming one of the first African American literary figures to achieve international acclaim. He purchased the house for his mother in 1904 and lived there with her until he died of tuberculosis two years later. Dunbar had been sick for years prior, but he continued to write and completed his last works in the home. 

He wrote 12 books of poetry, as well as four novels and short stories during his 33 years, and his story is shared at the Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site, part of the National Park Service’s Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. 

“There was such great injustice, especially during that time, in the United States, yet his writing brought people together,” says Angela Stewart, park ranger at the Paul Laurence Dunbar House and project manager of the Dunbar 150th celebration. “He was unafraid to speak out about the injustices and he did that in his poetry.” 

Born from formerly enslaved parents, Dunbar was inspired to write in several forms of dialect, a style for which he is acclaimed today. He was a contemporary of prominent African Americans of his time such as Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass and inspired Harlem Renaissance writers as well as poet Maya Angelou, who borrowed the last line from his poem “Sympathy” for the title of her 1969 autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Visitors can take a tour of the home, which has been restored to the era in which Dunbar lived there. A nearby visitor center shows an 18-minute film, and exhibits and artifacts detail the writer’s life, works and relationships.

“He was connected with a lot of different writers who admired his work,” Stewart adds. “There are several books in his house given to him by different prominent writers of that time.”   

219 N. Paul Laurence Dunbar St., Dayton 45402, 937/225-7705, nps.gov/daav