To be the leading regional destinations where people engage with global natural history, science, and nature.
Some of Our History
The Dayton Museum of Natural History began in 1893 as a part of the Dayton Public Library and Museum. Over the years, collections gathered by prominent Dayton citizens on their trips around the world were contributed to the museum. Local natural history collections were also contributed. In 1952, a group of citizens organized the Dayton Society of Natural History which took responsibility for the collections and transformed them into the Dayton Museum of Natural History. In 1958, the Museum of Natural History's main building on Ridge Avenue was completed. In 1991, a new planetarium and expanded collection and exhibit space were added. The Society remained committed to the ideal of inspiring children to enthusiastically embrace science as a vital aspect of their lives through exhibits and programs that were both entertaining and educational.
Dayton Public Library and Museum
Meanwhile, in 1993 a group of interested community leaders formed a steering committee to explore the idea of creating the Children’s Museum of Dayton. This group believed that a children’s museum could reach children ages two through twelve and instill in them a lifelong love of learning as well as an appreciation for the world around them. To this end, the group formed a governing board, launched a mobile outreach program, displayed model exhibits, and began planning for a permanent home in downtown Dayton.
As the Children's Museum movement gained visibility, the similarity between its philosophy and the Museum of Natural History's mission became very clear. In the summer of 1995, the Children's Museum Board and Board of the Dayton Society of Natural History began discussing ways to collaborate. By January, 1996, these talks resulted in an enthusiastic agreement to fully merge boards under the umbrella of the Dayton Society of Natural History *. As a result of the merger, the Dayton Museum of Discovery was born and assumed all public, educational and programming functions previously associated with the Dayton Museum of Natural History.
The board commissioned a professionally-developed exhibits master plan that would take into account all of the resources and potential brought to the table by both organizations and by May 1999 Phases I and II of an extensive exhibits master plan had been completed. The name change to the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery occurred in January, 1999 in recognition of Oscar Boonshoft, one of the Museum's most dedicated friends.
Model reconstruction of what the SunWatch indian village may have looked like.
Excavation in the 1970’s
Aerial view of the site in 1973
SunWatch Visitor center, museum and education center
SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park
The Dayton Society of Natural History is the parent organization of the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery and its sister organization, SunWatch Indian Village – a museum of the area’s 12th century Fort Ancient Indians.
SunWatch, originally named the Incinerator Site, was first excavated and reported on in the 1960s by amateur archaeologists John Allman and Charles Smith. When news came in the early 1970s that the City of Dayton planned to expand a nearby sewage treatment plant onto the property and impact the site, Allman and Smith contacted James Heilman, the Curator of Anthropology at the Dayton Museum of Natural History, in hopes of recovering as much valuable information from the site as possible. In 1971 the Dayton Museum of Natural History (now the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery) began "salvage" excavations at the site with just this goal in mind.
This initial work was designed to recover as much data from the village as possible prior to the proposed destruction of the site to make way for the sewage treatment plant expansion. As excavations continued, a planned, stockaded village which was estimated to have been occupied for about 20 years and included apparent astronomical alignments was revealed. The roughly 3 acre village site contained many well preserved artifacts, including fragile items such as crayfish pincers, fish scales, turkey egg shell fragments, and even uncharred wood remains. The work at the site exposed many students and adult volunteers to archaeology for the first time and gave them an appreciation of the archaeology and history of the region.
With the cooperation of the City of Dayton the plans for the expansion of the sewage treatment plant were modified, and with the assistance of the city, numerous volunteers, scholars, and supporters the site was saved from destruction. Soon after, planning began to interpret and open the site to the public.
On July 29, 1988, after 17 years of excavation and research by the Dayton Society of Natural History, SunWatch opened to the public. Seasonal excavations continued through 1989. The years of excavation at the site, combined with additional analysis and research, have resulted in a remarkable understanding of the site's original inhabitants. SunWatch currently combines experimental archaeological research, including the reconstruction of the Fort Ancient structures in their original 13th century locations, with an interpretive center that exhibits many of the artifacts that have been recovered from the site. The village reconstruction includes five lath and daub structures with grass thatch roofs, portions of a stockade, and a native garden and prairie with plants typical of the period. Inferred astronomical alignments originate from a complex of posts at the center of the village that have also been replaced. There is also a picnic shelter and picnic tables overlooking the village and are available for visitors to relax.
In June of 2006, the Heilman-Kettering Interpretive Center at SunWatch reopened after an extensive renovation added over 6,000 square feet to the facility. The renovation included a new lecture room that can be divided in two and used for lectures, seminars, receptions, traveling exhibits, and other events. A meeting room that overlooks the reconstructed village, a handicap lift to provide access to the new second floor, and additional restrooms and other amenities provide for the comfort and enjoyment of our guests. Because of its archaeological and historical significance, SunWatch was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1990.
Accreditations & Affiliations
The Museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, affiliated with the Association of Children's Museums, and is a member of the Association of Science-Technology Centers. In addition, the Discovery Zoo, located on the second floor of the Museum, is fully accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Board of Trustees
The Dayton Society of Natural History’s (DSNH) Board of Trustees is led by a distinct and dynamic group of volunteers that promote and support the ongoing programs and overarching educational initiatives of its two entities—the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery and SunWatch IndianVillage/Archaeological Park.
In conjunction with their volunteer leadership, the Board of Trustees is a non-salaried governing group responsible for long-term strategic planning activities of the Society, physical and human assets, its programs and policies, legal operations accountability and ensuring a continuity of leadership and direction over time.
Board of Trustees
|Vice Chair||Janet Wirth|
Adams Taylor, Stephanie
Brathwaite, Debra A., Ph.D.
Ennis , Cheryl A.
Posey, Terry W., Jr.
Judge Spells, Mia Wortham
Trzeciak , Jeffrey
Wilcoxson II, C. Ralph
SunWatch Accreditations & Affiliations
The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is a list that recognizes historic places worthy of preservation. It is administered by the National Park Service, a part of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The NRHP was first authorized under the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, and its mission is to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect cultural resources. There are 80,000 listings on the NRHP in the United States, including 325 from the state of Ohio. SunWatch was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
National Historic Landmark (NHL) status was granted to SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park in 1990. NHL status indicates that a historic or prehistoric site possesses exceptional value as commemorating or illustrating the history of the United States. NHL was formed under the Historic Sites Act in 1935. Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, was seeking a broad legal foundation for a national program of preservation and rehabilitation of historic sites, and wanted a program that would work through the National Park Service to make a survey of historical and archaeological sites, buildings and objects. NHL status works to promote the advancement of historic preservation, patriotic instruction, and tourism promotion. To visit SunWatch’s NHL webpage, click here. For more information, please call 937-268-8199.
The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery’s Associate Board, is a dedicated talented group of community volunteers who serve as advocates and ambassadors to further the Museum’s overall mission and enhance its public image. The Associate Board assists with the coordination of the Museum’s special events and fundraisers, including the annual Boonshoft Bash and Eureka!, and has established an overarching focus to showcase the Boonshoft Museum as the unique educational venue that it is.
Thank you to all of our past and current Associate Board members for your hard work and dedication!
2023 Scott Cable & Ashley Cable
2024 Maneesh & Kamna Gupta
2024 Nick & Lindsay Maxam
2024 Christopher Marshall & Laura Cano
2024 Bri Trappe & Will Hayslett
2025 Jyllian & Matt Bradshaw
2025 Jordan Foster & Zion Savory
2025 Hannah & Jon Gaskill
2025 Liz Grauel & Steve Coons
2025 Jessica & Dan Hoelting
2025 Regina Miolan
2025 Daivee Patel
2025 Nikki Xarhoulacos & John Seebock
Our Leadership Team
President & CEO
Tracey Tomme leads the organization in our mission-driven work. As a visionary leader for the museum since 2018, she works closely with stakeholders to include them in all the work we are doing across the organization and new projects in the pipeline. So far, Tomme has led the organization in adopting a new strategic plan, working toward sustainability, expertly traversing the COVID-19 pandemic, receiving numerous grants and donations, completing several impactful projects, and much more. Tomme’s background includes classroom teaching experience, a masters in educational technology, and various non-profit leadership roles.
Michael Westendorf has been the CFO at DSNH since 2019. He graduated from the University of Dayton with degrees in Accounting and Psychology along with an MBA in 2014. He began his career with the public accounting firm RSM in the tax practice with experience working on nonprofit clients in the Dayton area among other industries. In 2015 Mr. Westendorf was one of 75 recipients out of over 93,000 candidates for the Elijah Watt Sells Award for his performance on the CPA exam, and he continues to maintain his CPA license to this day. He also worked in equity research at Credit Suisse in New York covering communications equipment and infrastructure companies prior to joining the DSNH.
In his spare time Michael enjoys playing and watching sports, particularly UD basketball.
Chad Fifer joined the museum in 2021 and leads the education department in delivering exceptional programs, expanding our audience, and improving our work. He has a passion for connecting people to science, technology, animals, and nature and is committed to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
Jill Krieg, MA RPA
Curator of Anthropology & Exhibitions
Jill Krieg currently oversees the Collections and Exhibits Departments for the Dayton Society of Natural History. She specializes in interpretative exhibition design, collections management, and pre-contact period archaeology. She received a BA in Anthropology and Classical Art and Literature in 2007 and a M.A. in Anthropology in 2009 from Indiana University. She has worked as a curator at the DSNH since 2009 and as an instructor at Wright State University since 2010. She is a Registered Professional Archaeologist.
She is known for her big laugh; in fact, you can hear her coming a mile away.
Director of Education
Director of Facilities
Ron Puterbaugh has led the facilities team at the museum since 2014. Under his supervision, the buildings are maintained, repaired, upgraded, and assessed. He keeps thorough documentation for occupational safety and facility care.
Curator of Live Animals
Donna Harrison became a part of the team in 2020 when she took over the zoo. She came to us from Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World and brings a wealth of knowledge about animal care, zoo operations, and community engagement.
Director of Marketing
Taylor Hoffman started as site manager at SunWatch Indian Village in 2019, and has since risen to Director of Marketing. In her market role, she coordinates our social media channels, website, press releases, and more. She received a Masters of Public History at Wright State University.