Possum Creek MetroPark’s Hidden History
As Spring hurtles uncontrollably into Summer, my mind reaches out to find the activities I can do outside. My own definition of “outdoor activities,” however, has little or nothing to do with being active at all. More to the point, I like to try and find places where it can appear that I’m doing some sort of activity, while remaining completely inactive. Fishing usually fits this bill. I will confess here that I have rarely ever caught a fish (which would go against my goal of being inert) and sometimes, to insure that some fish with either a death wish or a very slow mental acuity won’t inadvertently leap onto my baited hook, I usually fish with no bait. This serves a twofold purpose: one, a fish will generally avoid my barren hook in search of a more agreeable dinner, thereby allowing me to remain in a seated position and two, it makes it so that I don’t have to put my hands near any icky worms which, on especially humid days, feel much like a semi-solidified string of undulating snot. I guess that while I’m confessing things here, I might as well add that, even if I had the misfortune of catching a fish, I would throw it back as I can’t stand to eat fish and I can assure you that a mounted fish on my wall would definitely clash with my rather eclectic form of interior design. Moving on…
On one of my excursions, I was trying not to fish on the shore of one of the lakes, but my wife insisted that I bait my hook so that I could catch her a catfish to fry up that evening. Not wanting to exert that much energy trying to reel in a catfish, let alone the potential injuries I may sustain from the stinging barbels, I convinced her that all the good catfish were in the middle of the lake. I got out my trusty inflatable raft and, utilizing the convenient foot pump, filled it with air and pushed off from the shore. Now I could actually lie down in public without seeming as if I were a lazy ne’er-do-well. This was pure genius. Well, while I was floating about on the water, I noticed some splashing and activity nearby. I didn’t even dare to have a hook on for fear that a catfish might be attracted to the shiny metal and hook it’s stupid self, so I just kept casting sinker in the general vicinity of the splashing, which seemed to create more splashing. From the shore, I’m sure that it must have looked impressive. Well, the splashing began to come closer to where I was floating and, after a few more casts, seemed to make a beeline directly for me. Now, I’ve seen Jaws I and II, so a tremor of fear trickled down my back until I remembered that the Great Whites were destined for deeper waters than those found at Possum Creek. I was rather shocked, however, when the splashing got really, really close and I found it to be caused by a very pissed off beaver that I had apparently conked in the head several times with my sinker. Apparently there are a literal ton of these flat tailed rodents gnawing about Possum Creek and, thankfully, I was able to extricate myself from the situation unscathed.
The walking trails are incredibly intriguing as well. You can explore areas that range from lakeside trails to wildflower fields to farmland and then into a beech tree forest, full of loamy trails and deep ravines. This is where I found some things that struck me as odd and made me explore the history of the park further. I came across a massive trestle, a large square expanse of concrete and several rusted out trolley car frames sitting inexplicably in the middle of the woods. The name of the woods also intrigued me: Argonne Forest. While it may sound like something out of Lord of the Rings, history’s most famous forest of the same name was a deadly battle site during World War I. Why would someone name a forest in Dayton after the site of such an epic battle?
In the late eighteen-hundreds, a boy was born named Null M. Hodapp. His boyhood friend was a boy named Ralph Clemons with whom he shared many adventures. They grew into adulthood together and enlisted in the Army to fight the Germans in World War I. In a sadly ironic twist of fate, Ralph was killed mere hours before the Armistice Treaty was signed. Ralph’s death was devastating to Hodapp as he returned to Dayton to resume his life. He eventually married LoRean D. Hodapp and became a widely regarded judge in the Dayton area. In the 1930s, Hodapp purchased 400 acres around Germantown Pike and dubbed the land Argonne Forest Park, in memory of his friend and the place in which he had died. The first building that was constructed was a clubhouse for veterans. Eventually, the park consisted of a dance pavilion, a horse track, a car racetrack, a shooting range and a swimming hole with a diving platform. “Swimming hole” is more than a slight misnomer as the “hole” was actually constructed by building a huge wall to block the Possum Creek, which created a massive swimming area replete with diving platforms, the remnants of which can still be seen today. Hodapp also bought several streetcars from the Oakwood-Dayton lines to be used as impromptu cabins and for the children to play in. Hodapp would also perform the Battle of Argonne Forest every Fourth of July, in memory of 322nd Field Artillery Unit who had fought there during World War I.
As the world moved into the next War, rationing and depletion of money contributed to the eventual demise of the park. Some sections were sold off, but the bulk of the park remained and was made into what is now known as Possum Creek MetroPark. Walking amongst the paths and seeing the relics of a bygone era, one can almost squint and see the shrieking children cannonballing off the diving platform or hear the music and the shuffling feet scrape over the dance hall floor. The grandeur is gone, but the memory remains indelibly etched into the sodden trails and the swaying branches of the forest.