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Wes Hartshorn grew up on a farm in Centerville, tending to animals and working on tractors

May 01, 2023May 01, 2023

Wes Hartshorn grew up on a farm in Centerville, tending to animals and working on tractors. That sense of industriousness cultivated a desire to work with hands-on projects, and after a film production stint in Los Angeles, Hartshorn began purchasing abandoned houses in Dayton and rehabbing them as rentals. Fifteen years and 30 properties later, Hartshorn's next project is his biggest yet — the old grain silos near Downtown Dayton's Second Street Market are to be turned into a community gathering place with food vendors and a bar inside shipping containers.

Hartshorn, 43, lives in Dayton's Walnut Hills neighborhood with his wife Kathleen, a video producer, and their 5-year-old daughter, Eleanor.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed


Hartshorn's morning starts at 7:30. "Eleanor will come in our room. It's just really cool to see her face. She kind of saunters in. She's a really keen observer. I can almost sense her coming in before I hear her."


"One thing I’m doing now is talking with folks in India. 7:30 in the morning America is 5 p.m., there so it's a good time for me to get up." Hartshorn is sourcing wood carvings directly from India to be used in the design at the Silos. Hartshorn sees the Silos as "a chance to develop a piece of Dayton history right along the B&O railroad and create something with ample outdoor space and a place for the community to gather."


He can figure out how to get a container to a port from South Asia but doubts his coffee brewing skills. "You’ve got the coffee grounds-to-water thing worked out?? That's really difficult!" He drives to Ghostlight in South Park where he gets a hot coffee for himself and a cold brew for Kathleen. "Her cold brew aligns with the pool opening schedule."

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed


After the coffee run, "I’ll take Eleanor to school. I drive her in my 1999 Jeep Cherokee I’ve had for 18 years. I hold her hand and we walk up and I love it." He tears up a little. "It doesn't last forever. It's wonderful. Yes, I’m crying, so what?"


"I go home with my coffee. That's when I work on the Silos. There's engineering, architecture, utilities — all the fundamental elements that need to go in place in order to start building. I’ll work on that in front of a computer, which is my least favorite thing to do. I don't play on my phone, I don't go on social media, I don't text people. Texting to me is not real."


"After that I will tend to rental properties, whether it's making sure I’ve paid all my bills, or mowing grass. I love to be the one taking care of the things." Hartshorn is currently renovating a 1912 duplex on Xenia Avenue in the Twin Towers neighborhood of East Dayton. "My dad taught me from the time I was 10 years old how to work. My family are a part of that Christian Puritan industrious people that came over in the 1800s. My great-great-grandfather grew up on Park Drive in South Park."


After a couple of hours, he goes home to meditate. He then returns to properties for another couple of hours and has a strawberry smoothie for lunch.

"Every house that I’ve bought has been abandoned. There was a government program called the Real Estate Acquisition Program (formerly known as Lot Links) that I used to acquire 20 houses. It took 10 years to fix them all up."

On whether people have been welcoming when he comes into neighborhoods, he says, "That is an art that I have been crafting for 15 years. I come over with paint all over me, a working person, cause that's what these neighborhoods are filled with — working people. It's a way of thinking."


The Hartshorns count among their properties two Airbnb's. People stay in them for "weddings, getting tattoos, surgeries, funerals or ‘hey, we just heard Dayton is really cool and want to come there.’" One house, nicknamed "The Gemini," is in Belmont, and the other, "The Surf Shack," is in South Park. The Surf Shack is inspired by Surf Dayton, a surf gear rental business owned by Hartshorn's friend and Silos business partner, Shannon Thomas. On Tuesday afternoons, Hartshorn will surf one of two waves on the Miami River, at Riverscape or by the Dayton Art Institute.


Hartshorn picks up Eleanor from summer school at 4 and they head home. Eleanor loves to be pushed in her tree swing in the backyard while they play games. "She’ll swing out and when she swings in, I’ll say a word like ‘pretzel!’ and when she comes back, she’ll say ‘mustard!’ and I’ll say ‘hot dog!’."


Kathleen gets home around 5and they’ll cook dinner. In the evening, Hartshorn brings his daughter to a renovation site. "I want her to know that her dad works with his hands. So I’ll bring her over here and show her what I’ve done for the day. ‘Eleanor, this is why there's paint on my hands.’ I’ll pick her up and there will be paint on her hands, so it's a relatable thing."


"Eleanor will brush her teeth, and we’ll read a book every night. Then she goes to bed, then she gets out of bed, then she goes back to bed, and then she gets out and then she goes back. I have pretty clear boundaries. It's bedtime, you must rest in order to be awake. It's healthy, very simple."


"Now that it's porch season, me and Kathleen love to have a glass of wine or a beer from a local brewery like Branch & Bone or Little Fish. We’re on the front porch looking at the plants and the jungle that we’re creating. We have a drink or just sit there and talk."

They’ll hang out with neighbor friends outside. Playing acoustic guitar is also a part of the evening routine. He’ll play a chord progression and layer it with a looper. "Me and one of Eleanor's teachers, my friend, we made a song together out on my front porch. Her name is Julie Lovingshimer. She sang the National Anthem at a UD basketball game and she won the Dublin Pub Celtic Toast competition, so she gets a free Guinness every day."


The day wraps up by 11. "We live in the modern world. There's so much to do, which is the blessing and the curse. You have to make decisions and be able to say no in order to say yes. You start to plant seeds instead of tilling so much."

You can reach this writer at [email protected].

About the Author

Hannah Kasper Levinson holds a BFA in Painting from the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and an MFA from Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. She is an art educator in Dayton, Ohio for toddler age through middle school. Her column "A Day in the Life" runs weekly in the Dayton Daily News. More info at