George Newcom

 

 
 
This article appeared in the Journal Herald on September 4, 1950
 
George Newcom—First To Keep Peace In Dayton
By MERAB EBERLE
   
     His portrait pictures George Newcom as hard-bitten.  We could expect little else than this, for as sheriff this man kept order when Indians and white adventurers had to be dealt with heavy-handedly and frequently.
     Looking on his countenance as pictured in a portrait at the Art institute, one could understand why an Indian with tomahawk in hand would take flight before Colonel Newcom’s flailing rope.
     Such a rope could speak with authority for one of Newcom’s duties as sheriff was to punish minor offenders with from one to 39 lashes “well laid on.”
     The Indian mentioned here was standing by Colonel Newcom’s wife, Mary, when the sheriff stepped into his home.  This Indian, his demand enforced by display of tomahawk, was making Mrs. Newcom launder his bloody shirt.
     But Colonel Newcom in spite of his evident sternness was a kindly man.  He was not yet sheriff when he answered a neighbor’s call of distress in the night.
     According to the story, men at the tavern, hearing a knock, opened the door to a sobbing child, Mary Van Cleve, who said that her family’s cabin was surrounded by howling, threatening Indians.
     Newcom took the child in his arms through the hazel-bush scrub and, with the help of a party of men, drove the Indians away.
     He must have been respected.  Witness the standing of his tavern, and the many offices he filled.
     The Newcom tavern was for several years the show place between Cincinnati and Dayton.  He himself served his community as state representative and as senator.  He served Dayton as clerk of courts and as bank president.
     His dwelling place served, too.  It was an inn giving food and lodging to travelers.  Here the first county court opened in the July of 1803.
     After naming Newcom sheriff, it adjourned.  And lawyers and judges, having spent the night at the tavern went on by horseback to Xenia, there to open court.
     When the court opened again one November day of the same year, it tried seven cases under the trees beside Newcom’s tavern.  This was an occasion and Sheriff Newcom, in addition to handling prisoners and punishing them, had to maintain order among citizens who listened in on the jury’s discussions as well.
     Newcom’s title, “Colonel,” was granted to him evidently as a term of respect; not because of his military services.  However, he was a soldier under Anthony Wayne and he served again in 1812.
     Colonel Newcom was among the first settlers.  He was one of the three parties which set out from Cincinnati in March, 1796, headed for the mouth of the Mad river.
    Soon after his arrival in what was to be Dayton he built a cabin of round logs. This structure served him and his wife later for a kitchen.  Not long thereafter, half of Newcom’s tavern was built with one lower room and one upper.
     In the winter of 1798-99, two more rooms were added.  The first well in the vicinity was drilled nearby.  A barn was erected to take care of Newcom’s horses and those of travelers.
     Robert Edgar who could work in wood was employed by Newcom at six shillings a day to build the tavern from hewn logs.  Edgar’s board and lodging were not included.  However, Newcom indicated that one deer a week would take care of the matter.  So Edgar would wait at river’s edge where the deer came to drink and there shoot his animal early in the morning, so as not to interfere with a day’s work.
     According to old records a dealer in furs once occupied one of the four rooms.  The records indicate that a store was installed in one of these rooms.  Church was held at the tavern for a time.  Here, in very early days, a school teacher instructed and punished his pupils—records indicate this, too.
     Since Newcom was a sheriff, his place was a jail.  However, the prisoners were tied in quarters made outside the tavern.  Grim thought!  Here, too must have been the gallows.
     It is said that some prisoners were kept in a dry cistern. 
     Because of the Dayton Historical society and the late Fred P. Beaver who left $10,000 to be used in preserving the building, Newcom’s tavern stands in an excellent state of preservation on the river bank just opposite the old Steele high school.  This site is within a block of that where the tavern stood when it was erected, at Main and Water street.
     Water street became Monument avenue when the Civil War veterans’ memorial was placed at the intersection of Water and Main streets.
     Not long ago the Monument was moved to Riverside park, and someday people will be wondering why Monument avenue is so termed.  Which might be an argument for permitting street names to remain unchanged.
     Colonel Newcom was born in Ireland.  In 1775 his parents came to this country and lived for a while in Delaware.  But not for long.  They traveled on to Pennsylvania where George met and married Mary Henderson and took her on to Cincinnati. There they lived two years before coming to Dayton.  He died in 1853.
     In one of the histories of early Dayton a daguerreotype portrait of Colonel Newcom is reproduced.  It is the same likeness as that of the portrait at the Art institute, a fact which would seem to indicate that the daguerreotype was copied.  Such a practice was common in and about the days of the Civil War.
     The portrait is signed by the name of Malambre.  There were some Malambres in Dayton at one time, according to old city directories which list them as painters.  House or portrait painters?  The directories do not say.  The Malambres could well have been both.  In those days the practice of both occupations by the same man was common.
     By the way, we must not forget to write that Colonel Newcom is credited with having introduced into the community the growing of apples.  He apportioned seeds for planting.  Was Johnny Appleseed negligent in the matter of Dayton?  Or did he stop at Newcom tavern?  Let us say that he did, thereby incorporating Ohio’s legend into Dayton’s history.