Dayton writer's home added to National Register of Historic Places

Mar 25, 2015

Erma Bombeck at home with her children.
Credit Provided / Wright State University Archives

Popular humorist and columnist Erma Bombeck went about her life living in a modest 1959 ranch-style house in Centerville, Ohio. Now, that home is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Martha Boice, who helped found the Landmarks Foundation of Centerville-Washington Twp., says she thought it was just a pipe dream at first. At a University of Dayton writing conference last year, she asked Bombeck's children if they'd be okay with her pursing the designation. She was delighted when they said yes.

"Few communities can claim so cherished a person," says Boice.

The home's current owners agreed as well. In December, The Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board recommended the site. And this month, it was added to the National Register.

In a release from the University of Dayton, Bombeck's son Matt, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, writes, "It's a nice honor for my mom. It was a great place to grow up and we really have fond memories of our neighbors and the neighborhood. The nice thing about the neighborhood is that it really hasn't changed that much since we were there -- except the trees are bigger."

This house in Centerville "turned out to be a perfect setting for Bombeck's humorous musings about family foibles that appealed universally, especially to housewives," according to the University of Dayton.
Credit Provided / Nathalie Wright

According to UD, the Bombeck's built the house in 1959 and lived there until Bombeck's career took off in in the mid 60s when her column became nationally syndicated and her first book, At Wit's End, was published. The family moved in 1968.

The house will remain a private residence.

More from the University of Dayton:

"Erma frequently referred to those years of occupancy as our family's maturity. She would always include our hamster and dog, Harry," quipped husband Bill Bombeck, who taught at Centerville High School.

Typing on an IBM Selectric, Erma wrote her columns in a cramped bedroom on a makeshift desk-- a plank between cinder blocks. Phil Donahue, who became a legendary TV talk show host, lived across the street.

"We would entertain each other in our homes," Donahue eulogized at Erma's memorial service in 1996. "We all had the same house. It was a plat house -- $15,500 -- three bedrooms, two bathrooms and the fireplace was $700 extra. …The Bombecks had beams in the ceiling. I mean real wood Early American beams, perfectly mitered. You kept looking for Martha Washington. Bill Bombeck made those beams all by himself. I envied those beams so much."