History Station 7 – Delco Park

Learn more about the history of Delco Park and Plant 11 below. To skip to Plant 11 History, Click Here

Delco Park:
In 1953, Delco Products expanded its operations in Kettering Village; not only did the company build facilities to house their manufacturing and warehousing needs, but created one of the most extensive recreation centers ever provided for its employees.  The first phase had become known as the Delco Sportsman’s Club and would be available to all Delco groups for departmental picnics or similar functions when it was completed in the fall of 1953.  The new Delco Sportsman’s Club recreation facility replaced the Delco Gun Club which was on Philadelphia Dr. in Dayton.

The Delco Sportsman’s Club was located in the southwest corner of the Delco property, approximately one quarter mile from Plant 11.  When the recreation facility was first built, there was a 72 x 48-foot clubhouse that included a 72 x 24-foot porch with removable windows and screens.  Inside the clubhouse was an ultra-modern kitchen and large dining and lounge areas. The new clubhouse provided much more room than the clubhouse at the Dayton Gun Club.  Around the clubhouse was a regulation softball diamond, a small lake for casting, horseshoe and shuffleboard courts, trapshooting facilities, as well as a playground for children.

Located just north of Plant 11 several softball diamonds, a children’s playground and wading pool, and wooded family picnic areas complete with picnic tables were built.  A 56 x 32-foot fieldhouse with approximately 2,000 square feet was also built in the northern location.  The fieldhouse contained restrooms and was used to store athletic and recreation equipment.

In 1954, the company’s annual picnic, which had previously been held at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, was held at the new recreation facility in Kettering Village, adjacent to Plant 11.  The family outing at the new park was more elaborate and offered more events, rides, and exhibits than it had in previous years and drew a crowd of 24,600 – the largest family outing to that point.  Boss Kett himself, Delco founder and General Motors Research Consultant Charles F. Kettering even made an appearance at the picnic in 1954.  Speaking to the crowd, Kettering said “Change is a wonderful thing…put your back to history and your eye to the future!” perhaps hinting of more exciting changes which would be taking place at Delco Products.

Year after year Delco Products transformed its recreation facilities into a carnival type atmosphere for employees and their families. There were pony rides, races, and games for kids of all ages; baseball and softball games; horseshoe matches; square dancing; fishing and golf exhibitions; a midway complete with carnival rides and concessions; and a firework show to end the picnic.  The company seemed to spare no expense to thank employees and their families for their hard work throughout the year.

The Delco 25 Year Club annual meeting was also moved to the new recreational facilities in 1954.  Prior to 1954, the 25 Year Club annual meeting was a dinner meeting held in December, however, with the number of employees in the 25 Year Club reaching almost 800, Delco struggled to find a ballroom large enough to accommodate them and decided to move the annual meeting to the summer and to the wooded picnic area just north of Plant 11.  As with the annual family outing, the 25 Year Club annual meeting continued at the park for many years.

In 1955 the picnic and recreation area were officially open at Plant 11.  Employees and their families could use the facilities daily between 9am and 9pm, all they needed was their employee identification badge.  Family members could obtain their own passes, allowing them access to the recreation facility if needed.  Guest passes were also available but only on a limited basis.  The facilities were available for non-Delco groups or organizations also, but only for special occasions as the facilities were built for the employees and their families to enjoy.

Delco hosted many annual family events at the new recreation facility in Kettering.  On September 24, 1955 191 six to fourteen year-old sons and daughters of Delco employees participated in the first annual fishing tournament held at the Plant 11 recreation facility.  Over the course of the day, 3,822 fish were caught by the youngsters.  Prizes were awarded for the most fish caught, the longest fish, the shortest fish, and the heaviest catch.  The Delco horseshoe league moved to the recreation facilities in Kettering once complete and competed there for many years.  Delco also had volleyball, softball and baseball leagues which utilized the park.  In the winter, the fishing pond was turned into an ice skating rink for those brave enough to venture out onto the ice.

Today Delco Park, located on Dorothy Lane close to Woodman Drive, is owned and maintained by the City of Kettering.  The park offers families picnic areas as well as a BMX bike track; fishing; softball, baseball and soccer fields; a walking path; acres of green space as well as traditional playground equipment for children to enjoy.  Each summer for the City’s Independence Day celebration, Delco park is once again transformed into a carnival type atmosphere as it was in its early days.  Families gather during the day for music, food, games, and fun and stick around for the annual firework display that evening.  The Kettering Independence Day celebration is one of the largest in the area.  The park is the home to many baseball and softball leagues as well as soccer leagues for children and adults.  Each spring there is a Relay for Life rally to honor those who have had cancer, which draws hundreds of people.  To learn more about Delco Park visit the City of Kettering’s Park and Recreation website: http://www.playkettering.org/.

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play ground

Plant 11:

In May 1951 Delco Products was considering moving its operations from downtown Dayton to a more suitable site.  The plan was to design and build an ultra-modern, efficient plant to house the manufacturing of landing gear struts for F-84 and F-86 jet fighters, as well as other defense products that the Air Force needed for national defense.  The plant would be surrounded by lavishly landscaped parkways running through picnic and recreation areas.  The plans also included a spring-fed stream, offering the possibility of an artificial lake which could be used for boating, fishing, swimming, even ice skating in the winter.  A 300-acre tract of land in Van Buren Township, southeast of Dayton (renamed Kettering Village in 1952 and in 1955 the City of Kettering) is where the company decided to build its plant and in November 1951 voters approved the rezoning of the 300-acres of land from agricultural to industrial use.   Work quickly began on the plant due to the deliveries that needed to be made to the Air Force in the latter part of 1952 and early 1953.

Groundbreaking on the 400,000 square foot plant, Plant 11, took place on January 9, 1952.  General Manager Frank Ireland, Delco executive staff members, and Air Force representatives were present for the historic occasion.  Almost immediately following the groundbreaking ceremonies, bulldozers and earth movers started clearing and leveling the land for the first of the four building complex.  Actual construction on the building began on April 15, 1952 with the first delivery of steel.  The existing Delco buildings at the time were multi-storied with floor to ceiling windows on each floor, the new building would be a one-story brick and steel structure, with a mezzanine for offices and a state of the art cafeteria.   Able to house as many as 2,500 employees, the building would also include an enclosed railroad and truck dock facilities, high intensity continuous-strip fluorescent lighting, and positive ventilation as well as safety features, including a smoke control system were also installed in the plant.

The ribbon cutting ceremony for Plant 11 took place on December 22, 1952 and was one of the highlights of the year for Delco.  December 22 was also the first time that the Annual 25 Year Club dinner took place at Plant 11, having been held at the Biltmore Hotel for a number of years prior.  In February 1953 approximately 120 maintenance and plant protection employees had moved into the plant.  By the end of 1953 approximately 800 production workers had moved into the facility.  Because of the magnitude of the move, it took almost six months to move the 3,000 tons of equipment into the new plant.

In addition to the plant, a powerhouse was built to be the center of all utilities for the project.  The powerhouse construction was delayed into 1953 due to a steel strike which took place in late 1952.  The powerhouse opened in the summer of 1953 and provided steam, electricity, air, water, and gas from one location, providing efficiency of operations.  To cut heating costs, the heating was controlled at the powerhouse for all buildings at the Kettering site.  Air compressors, designed by Delco permitted the use of exhaust steam to augment the heating system.  The powerhouse had two 60,000-pound boilers, one for full-time operation, one for backup; as each building was added to the site an extra boiler was installed in the powerhouse.

The powerhouse covered 10,800 square feet, stood 80 feet tall, and was covered in aluminum siding.  The powerhouse was designed to be expanded to the south if necessary; a temporary aluminum wall was installed to permit additional construction.  Located near the powerhouse was a water tower, which held a half-million gallons of water; 125,000 gallons which were held in reserve at all times to be used in case of fire.  69,000 volts of electricity were brought into a Dayton Power and Light sub-station, stepped down to 12,500 volts, then transmitted underground to the powerhouse, providing electrical power to all the facilities at the Kettering site.

When Delco decided to expand its operations to Van Buren Township, the company made a commitment that the new development would be a benefit to the whole community.  In just three years, local population had increased to the extent that the Kettering Village was renamed the City of Kettering and the company supplied the tax base for schools, streets, and other municipal services.  The company also opened its doors each year to high school seniors on what was known as Senior Day.  In cooperation with other local business and industrial firms, Delco welcomed 53 students from various county and city high schools for the first time at Plant 11 in October 1953, in 1955 as many as 80 seniors attended. Students learned the history of Delco Products and about the products that the company made.  The purpose of Senior Day was to acquaint the students with the availability of work in the community, the types of jobs open, and basic employment requirements/benefits.

As part of the company’s commitment to the community and in an effort to provide as much information as possible to the public, Delco opened its doors in August 1953 to the local volunteer fire-fighters.  The visit included a dinner meeting and plant tour; and Delco representatives provided the firemen with comprehensive charts to show the location of fire extinguishers, water mains, entrances and exits.  The charts were provided to assist the firemen in the event of an emergency.  With each new building that was built the community fire fighters were invited to tour it, to familiarize themselves with the layout.

1954 was a busy year for General Motors and Delco Products; GM produced its 50 millionth vehicle which prompted a nationwide Golden CARnival event in 65 cities around the country, including in Dayton.  Delco Products invited the public to attend an open house and provided a guided, all-inclusive tour of Plant 11 highlighting the products produced there which were used in the production of automobiles.  The thousands that attended the open house received refreshments and a souvenir booklet containing facts about General Motors and the CARnival event.

In 1954 the general services building was also being constructed adjacent to Plant 11.  This building added approximately 60,000 square feet of floor space to the existing facilities in Kettering.  Similar to Plant 11, the general services building was a two-story structure.  The new building was the home to the salvage department, central tool supply and chemical storage, plant protection headquarters, a maintenance and fire truck garage, and a battery charging area as well as miscellaneous storage for the entire Kettering complex.

In 1956 an engineering building was built, providing 85,000 square feet of space for Delco’s engineering activities, including the engineering office, drafting, model shop, and lab set ups for the entire division.  The engineering building, like the other two on site, was a two-story building of steel and brick construction.  The engineering building further consolidated Delco’s operations into one complex in the Dayton area.  The building allowed the company to expand its work in the automotive ride work and dynamometer testing of motors and generators.

By 1971 the Kettering complex had added Plant 14 and a high-rise warehouse, assisting in the production and storage of hermetic motors and permanent magnet blower motors for home appliances until 1976 when the company closed out that business.  From 1976 Plants 11 and 14 designed and produced automobile components and industrial motors.  In 1977 another new plant was built in Kettering to produce shock absorbers which had been produced in downtown Dayton.

The early 1980s brought ten new products for Delco, some of which were produced in Kettering. The products were a low profile electric cooling system for Diesel applications, an electric vacuum pump, a truck engine fan using Delco’s shroud fan, an idle air control component for use in GM’s throttle body injection system, an electric headlamp actuator, a small car windshield wiper, an electric cooling system for small cars, a high efficiency blower motor for European application, engine dampers, and a new 170kw generator.  In 1989 another plant was opened in Kettering to manufacture suspension systems for Japanese cars made in the United States.  An 82,000 square foot facility supplied suspension parts for Toyota Camrys that were manufactured in Georgetown, KY as well as for GM’s Saturn division in Spring Hill, TN.

In 1991, Delco Products was merged with Delco Moraine and in 1994, became part of General Motors’ Automotive Components Group, which was renamed Dephi Automotive Systems in 1995. In the early 2000s Dephi Corporation was involved in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings resulting in many plant closures, including the Kettering facilities.