On May 5, 1892, Paul Laurence Dunbar borrowed nearly a thousand dollars from a Dayton lending institution. He was never able to pay back the loan during his lifetime.
$950.00 Received of the Gem City Building and Loan Association, of Dayton, Ohio. I agree to pay said association weekly, not less than Two and 50/100 Dollars. Should I fail for eight weeks to make said payments, then the whole amount of said loan shall at once become due and payable.
Loan agreement No. 444, Gem City Building and Loan Association, May 5, 1892. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).
Paul used the money to purchase a house at 140 Zeigler Street in Dayton. The previous owner of the property, Mary Garst, died in August 1891, and Charles W. Dustin became executor of her estate.
The double brick house on Ludlow Street, the lot occupied by Raper's Livery Stable, and a small house on Zeigler Street are offered at private sale by the executors of the late Mary E. Garst. Apply to C. W. Dustin or D. A. Garst, Office No. 4, Callahan Block.
"Valuable Property at Executor's Sale." The Dayton Evening Herald (Dayton, Ohio). November 14, 1891. Page 7.
The house on Zeigler Street was one-and-a-half stories, and it no longer exists today. This was not the home that Paul and his mother Matilda occupied in the final years of his life (and which is now the Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site).
Map showing 140 Zeigler Street. Detail from Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Dayton, Ohio. 1897-1898. Volume 1, page 23. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division (Washington, D.C.).
When he signed the loan agreement, Paul was 19 years old and earning only $4 a week as an elevator operator. He was expected to pay $2.50 every week toward the loan, but inevitably fell behind on his payments. In addition to his role as executor of the Garst estate, Charles Dustin was also an attorney and board secretary for the Gem City Building and Loan Association. If a client failed to pay back a loan, Dustin was likely to file a lawsuit.
Gem City Building and Loan Association vs. Jeremiah T. Barnes to recover $157.25 on a note, and foreclosure of mortgage. C. W. Dustin.
"New Suits." The Dayton Evening Herald (Dayton, Ohio). August 21, 1893. Page 2.
The Gem City Building and Loan Association vs. William J. Hart and others; to recover $83.10 by foreclosure. C. W. Dustin.
"New Suits." The Dayton Evening Herald (Dayton, Ohio). October 30, 1893. Page 2.
In 1895, Dustin wrote to Paul urging him to keep up with his loan payments.
Yours of 14th with $5.00 received and same applied to your loan. Amount yet due in interest to July 1st = 23.14. Amount of taxes to this date = $41.16. I will scale that tax claim somewhat when time comes for payment. Please raise the $23.14 before July 1st.
C. W. Dustin to Paul Laurence Dunbar, June 17, 1895. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).
Please don't fail us for another day. The books must be closed up tomorrow.
C. W. Dustin to Paul Laurence Dunbar, July 3, 1895. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).
After Paul presented a literary recital in Richmond, Indiana, a judge from that area offered to help Paul with his house payments.
I have thought much about you and your prospects since the very enjoyable evening your entertainment has enabled me to pass, and I have felt all the time, that we ought in this good "Quaker City" to have a new remuneration over to you financially and am at all times ready to cooperate in any direction to that end, which may promise success. I most sincerely hope we may mature a plan which will materially aid in removing the cloud which overhangs the title of your home, and of course shadows your heart.
L. C. Abbott to Paul Laurence Dunbar, May 18, 1894. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).
In 1897, Paul left Dayton and began working at the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C., where his annual salary was $720. Though his income was higher, he still struggled to make payments on the loan. Paul's uncle Robert Burton contributed $30 toward the debt in September 1898, and Paul made a payment two months later.
$30 Sept 20 1898
Received of Robt Burton
on a/c Paul Dunbar, Loan #444
The Gem City Bldg. & Loan Ass'n
Receipt from Gem City Building and Loan Association, September 20, 1898. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 9).
$12 Dayton O. Nov. 22 1898
Received of Paul Dunbar
The Gem City Bldg. & Loan Ass'n
Receipt from Gem City Building and Loan Association, November 22, 1898. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 9).
Paul worked strenuously because of his constant debt, and it ultimately cost him more than money. Hoping to increase his income, he resigned from the Library and became a traveling speaker, but this lifestyle was harmful to his health and marriage. After contracting tuberculosis and separating from his wife, Paul returned to Dayton in the fall of 1903. His financial records show that he continued to make small payments toward the loan.
Dayton, O 12-3-1904
Received of Paul Dunbar
Gem City B & L
Receipt from Gem City Building & Loan Association. December 3, 1904. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).
Dayton, O. 8/23 1905 No. 286
Winters National Bank
Pay to the order of Gem City Bldg Assn $10.00
Paul L. Dunbar
Check to Gem City Building & Loan Association. August 23, 1905. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).
Paul died in February 1906, and the executor of his estate, Charles D. Higgins, reported that the debt was yet to be paid.
Certain property consisting of a house on Zeigler Street, whereas there is an encumbrance of about Nine Hundred and Fifty ($950) dollars on said property in favor of the Gem City Building & Loan Association, of Dayton, Ohio; if property were to be forced to sale at the present time in order to pay off said encumbrance, it would not bring anything in excess of said encumbrance, but after the payment of the same together with interest, taxes and court costs, would probably leave a deficit, which would be chargeable against the estate of said Paul Laurence Dunbar, deceased.
Memorandum of agreement, June 1906. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).
This memorandum authorized Higgins to rent the property and use the income to pay off the debt. When Higgins filed his executor's report two years later, the house had been sold and the loan, with interest, was finally paid off. The original loan agreement from 1892 is stamped "CANCELLED Aug 20 1907."
Probate Court of Montgomery County, Ohio.
In the Matter of the Estate of Paul Laurence Dunbar, deceased.
First & Final Account of Charles D. Higgins, Executor.
Aug. 1907, Sale of real estate $1150.00
Charles D. Higgins being duly sworn, says that the foregoing is a true, full and correct statement and account of all moneys coming into his hands as Executor of the last will of Paul Laurence Dunbar, deceased, and that the disbursements and distributions were made as therein shown.
Final account of Dunbar estate, August 1908. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).
The house on Zeigler Street, where Paul had done most of his writing, was sold for $1,100, and after paying off the mortgage, $300 was realized.
"Summary of Mrs. Dunbar's Life," by Rev. Charles D. Higgins. The Dayton Journal (Dayton, Ohio). March 18, 1934.