Carillon Historical Park in Dayton

Melissa Kossler Dutton
Carousel of Dayton Innovation

When I learned that Carillon Historical Park in Dayton had a carousel, I wondered whether my sons Nick, 10, and Alex, 9, would ride it or decide they were too mature.

Once they saw how unusual the carousel figures were, they didn't hesitate.

In addition to traditional horses, the "Carousel of Dayton Innovation" features replicas of local products. Alex quickly claimed the bag of Iams dog food while Nick leaped onto a bag of Mikesell's potato chips.

The ride perfectly illustrates the museum's mission: to educate visitors about the contributions of the city of Dayton and its residents. Col. Edward Deeds and his wife Edith started the park decades ago to preserve artifacts of the city's history. Today, the 65-acre campus features the Heritage Center of Dayton Manufacturing and Entrepreneurship, numerous historical buildings and the original 1905 Wright Flyer III.

The carousel is just one way the park makes Dayton's history appealing to children. Visitors are greeted by a lifelike, animatronic Edith Deeds. With the push of a button, she will share why she and her husband, who was an executive at National Cash Register, commissioned the Deeds Carillon, which is a set of bells in a tower that can be played using a keyboard. The 151-foot carillon, which was the first in the United States to have all of its bells exposed for view, was added to the Register of Historic Places in 2005. The bells are engraved with the names of Deeds family members.

Animatronic versions of Col. Deeds, the Wright brothers and inventor Charles Kettering speak about their contributions and important events in Dayton history in a "4-D" theater, where visitors get a some sensory help - gusts of air, rocking seats and a bit of mist - that harkens the experience of the Great Dayton Flood of 1913.

The Heritage Center devotes a generous amount of space to a National Cash Register display, which the kids also appreciated. Many of the antique cash registers are so ornate they look like works of art.

"They're not like anything you see today," Alex said as he read the backstory of one of the cash registers. "They're fancy. They don't have technology but they're made of gold and bronze."

The company, which sold millions of cash registers, was headquartered in Dayton from 1884 to 2009.

The boys also enjoyed learning about Kettering and how his inventions contributed to advancements in automobiles. Visitors climb up stairs to peer into the window of a replica of Kettering's workshop where he tinkered on car engines and developed the first electric starter. Interspersed among the more educational exhibits were plenty of kid-friendly displays like old toys and a working model railroad. The interactive train set allows kids to push a button to dispatch a fire engine, lift gates along the track and make an American flag flutter in the breeze.

After touring the Heritage Center, we were eager to check out the Wright Flyer III, which is displayed in an exhibit space that Orville Wright helped design. The building also includes a replica of the bicycle shop where he and his brother Wilbur designed their aircrafts. Visitors can watch video footage of some of the Wrights' historic flights.

The Wright Flyer III, which the brothers flew at Huffman Prairie Flying Field outside of Dayton, is the only airplane designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Another building on the campus features vehicles from the 1800s, including a Conestoga wagon and a surrey, which is a type of four-wheeled carriage. The exhibit also features a luxury rail car and an interurban car that used to run along Lake Erie.

The kids enjoyed wandering in and out of the various historical buildings in the park and were particularly intrigued by the print shop, where a docent explained early printing techniques.

The park's newest building houses the Carillon Brewing Co., which makes beer, ginger ale and root beer using brewing methods from the 1850s. Our waitress explained the process while we enjoyed a lunch of soup, sandwiches and German sausages. The restaurant and its focus on German and Irish food - similar to what 19th-century brewers and early Dayton settlers would have eaten - is another example of Carillon Park's efforts to make history palatable to children. Prices range from $4.95 for a frankfurter to $12 for fish and chips.