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Germantown Has A Birthday

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, August 13, 1933


By Howard Burba


     This is Germantown’s birth-month.

     Settled by sturdy Pennsylvanians and Kentuckians about the same time still another intrepid band of pioneers were trying to agree on the best spot to christen a settlement for Jonathan Dayton, Germantown has held her place in the sun for exactly one hundred and twenty-nine years.

     You may search through the entire history of Montgomery co. and you will not find a more interesting chapter than the one which tells of the planting of this sturdy old settlement in the wilderness.  That its site was pretty much a paradise on this part of the earth was demonstrated by the fact that for hundreds of years before its discovery by the white man his red brother had claimed it and cherished it as his home in the happiest of hunting grounds.

     Here was a valley overlooked by the eyes of the white man who, in following the course of the Great Miami, failed to explore the secrets of the numerous smaller valleys which lead out from it as so many gateways to enchanted spots.  They passed and repassed the mouth of Twin creek; they told themselves that even greater beauty and richness of soil lay on above.

     But in the good year 1798 a little handful of German settlers, a bit more cautious in their choice of a permanent abode than those who had gone before, stumbled on the Valley of the Twin.  They were designated as “squatters” by early historians, since they were not concerned with the actual purchase of homesites but, like many of their day, were content to “squat” on a few choice acres in the hope of gaining title to it by right of discovery.  The “squatter” period in this part of Ohio extended from about 1798 to 1804.

     Previous to this the Indians held undisputed sway in the Twin valley, and lingered here with fond attachments even after the white man’s civilization had robbed them of their means of support.  An early historian assets that as late as 1804 the Shawnees had a town on Shawnee creek, on land now within the corporate limits of Germantown, from which tribe that stream takes its name, and it is said of Tommy Killbuck, who was one of their number, that for a long time he steadfastly refused to quit the country, so dear was it to this heart.

     He built a hut on the west side of Big Twin creek, near the site of what in later years was Conover’s mill.  For years no amount of persuasion could move him to abandon the land of his birth.  At last, however, he yielded to the inevitable fate of his race and reluctantly turned his face to the west.  But he had lived to see a flourishing settlement spring up where the tepees of his brothers had once held sway, he had heard men call it by the name of Germantown.

     The first white settlers composed of Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia stock, came up the Big Miami from Cincinnati in 1898[1798?].  Historians have preserved the names of this original party, among them being Benjamin Smith, James Griffith, John Pauly, William Cutler, James Hatfield, Robert Hardin, Lickum Hardin, James Hardup, James Porter, George Worthington, Samuel Hawkins (who had been a colonel in the Revolutionary army), John Winegardner, William Polk, John Bundaker, Richard Brown, John Herman, William Eastwood, Eden Hardin, John Cutler, Martin McGrea, Nathaniel Lyon, Conrad Eisile, Anthony Richards and Abraham Hertzel.  Many were too poor to buy homesites from the government, but the beauties of the valley through which coursed the beautiful twin streams held them on.  It was theirs, as they reckoned it, by right of eminent domain.  They planted their cabins on the point formed by the junction of the twin creeks, and forgot to worry over deeds, titles and taxes.

     Here they abided in peace and tranquility, save for an occasional brush with the Shawnees, until the year 1804.  In that year James Hatfield and Robert Hardin set about securing legal title to the broad acres about them. The land for duly entered in their names and, once in possession they proceeded to capitalize upon their good fortune by selling it to Philip Gunckel, receiving $10 an acre for it.

     Gunckel had come into the valley in 1803 with still another party of settlers, this one being composed of Berks co. Pennsylvania, natives.  They were actual settlers, being in possession of sufficient funds to claim the lands and pay for them.  So their coming ended the “squatter” reign of the original party, and really marked the first legal settlement in the valley.  Among the members of this party were Phillip Gunckel, Christopher Emerick, David Miller and George Kern.  Gunckel was a miller by trade and he saw in the water power of the twin creeks an opportunity for profitable investment.

     Gunckel returned to Pennsylvania and painted a glowing picture of the new paradise in the Valley of The Twin.  It must have been a graphic picture, too, for in June of the following year, 1804, still another party of settlers, made up of his earlier neighbors, landed at Cincinnati.  They traveled as far as the present site of Reading, where a disagreement arose over the wisdom of continuing on the arduous trail.  Some few declared themselves content to end the journey there.  But with Gunckel’s picture more clearly in mind, others pushed on and ultimately reached their goal—the junction of the twin creeks.  It was on Aug. 1, 1804, that they halted to rest by the side of the stream which marked their journey’s end.

     They were greeted by the earlier settlers, and made welcome.  At the same time they were assured that any money they carried would be gladly accepted in return for homesites.  The “squatters” were, in the main, ready to seek new pastures.  But among them were those who had money enough to pay their way; they remained to secure title to their lands and homes, and gladly threw in their lot with the new arrivals.

     Before winter set in the newly arrived immigrants had secured land, built their cabins, and begun the battle of life in the primitive valley.  The land was parceled out, legal titles secured and in a short time cabins were erected by Gunckel, Christopher, John and William Emerick (brothers), George Kiester, Jacob Bauer, George Moyer, John Gunckel, John and Christopher Shuppert, Peter Gebhart, George Stettler, and his five sons, William, Henry, Daniel. George and Jacob, and John Barlet, Abraham Puntius.  With few exceptions, the members of the new settlement were natives of Germany.  Mindful of that fact they christened their home site “Germantown,” in honor of their native land and not, as one historian contends, in honor of a town in Pennsylvania of similar name.

     From 1804 on not a year passed but Germantown received added population through the arrival of other immigrant parties.  These, too, were largely made up of sturdy Pennsylvania Germans, among them families by the name of Schaeffer, Kimmerling, Lindamuth, Stoever, Foutze, Oldfather, Cotterman, Coleman, Zellar, Shuey, Schwartzel, Stump, Crist, Caterow and Boyer.

     They were a deeply religious people, these founders of Germantown, so it was but natural that with the laying out of the town there should be established a place of worship.  Accordingly, the first church in the settlement, a log structure, was built at a cost of $500.  It was a “union church,” in that those of both the Lutheran and Reformed faith worshipped jointly.  This union between these two churches continued for 20 years, each using the building every alternate Sabbath, but the audience was always the same, the Lutherans attending the Reformed services, and the Reformed the Lutheran.  In 1818 Phillip Gunckel erected a large brick structure at his own expense.  This he sold, one-half to each denomination.

     It is interesting to note in connection with the religious history of Germantown that here was established the first organization of the United Brethren church west of the Alleghanies.  Andrew Zeller, who had settled on Pigeon creek, a mile above the town, in the year 1805, was of this faith, and he opened the doors of his cabin to those who were of the same religious belief.  For a period of 25 years services were held in private houses, and out of this worship came the formation of a regular congregation and the erection of the first U. B. church in this territory, in 1829.  Zeller had been made a bishop while a delegate to the first general conference held at Mt. Pleasant, Pa., in 1815.  It was not until 1834 that still another religious denomination claimed a place in the life of the settlers.  In that year a congregation of Methodists was organized.

     In 1821 a law was passed in Ohio authorizing taxation for school purposes and since for some years the school lands were unproductive, teachers’ salaries had to be paid and schoolhouses had to be built by means of voluntary contributions.  The schools here were for many years simply subscription schools.  There was originally a school section in German tp., but it was sold and Sec. 21, Jefferson tp, was purchased with the proceeds.

     The first schoolhouse in German tp. stood on the south side of Stump’s Hill.  It was a log structure, and had originally been erected by William Eastwood, a “squatter” from Kentucky, who occupied it as a dwelling.  The first teacher who taught in it, and who was probably the pioneer teacher of the township, was the Rev. A. S. Mau.  The second schoolhouse stood on the Franklin pike, a short distance beyond the present site of Sunsbury, long a suburb of Germantown.  Like the other, it was built of logs and for a long time received its light through greased paper windows, glass being too expensive.  To this school the children came from three or four miles distant.  The first teacher’s name was John McNamar, who later became a United Brethren preacher.  He lived in a garret room in the school building.  He was succeeded by Jacob Lesley, a Kentuckian.

     Early historians inform us that the teachers of this period were men generally of inferior ability, and were able to teach nothing more than the merest rudiments of the lowest branches of common school education.  Add to this that the schools were in operation but three months out of 12, and it will readily be seen that the children could not learn very much.

     Soon after Germantown was laid out schoolhouses were erected within its limits.  The first of these stood on the site at present occupied by the Reformed church, and another, erected at a somewhat later date, stood where H. Behr’s home was located for so many years, on Mulberry st.  In these two buildings the youth of the town were taught until the year 1847, while in the country schoolhouses were built one after another, as the needs of the people demanded.

     In 1846 the two schoolhouses were sold and the proceeds applied to the erection of a large union school building, in which all the children of the town were collected, and taught in different rooms.   The following well-remembered pioneer teachers served as principals of this school: Rev. J. Pentzer, 1852-53; F. C. Cuppy, 1853-54; J. W. Legg, 1854-55; A. Beal, 1855-56, Collins Ford, 1856-60.  In 1860 the school was reorganized, money raised for the erection of a still larger and more modern building and the old structure leased to a concern that for years conducted a planning mill within its walls.

     Quite naturally the printing press marched shoulder to shoulder with the church and school, and we find that as early as 1826 one Conrad Schaeffer issuing a weekly sheet which he had christened “The Germantown Gazette.”  He was a pioneer newspaper man, and previous to his appearance in Germantown he had published papers in Lancaster and Canton, O.  His paper was printed one-half in German and one-half in English.  He continued its publication for one year when he removed to Hamilton where he established The Intelligencer.  In 1839 George Walker began the publication at Germantown of the laws of Ohio in the German language.  It was a big undertaking, and one lacking in financial support.  The venture was a failure.  In 1845 William Gunckel revived the Germantown Gazette, disposing of it three years later to Joseph Reeder and Josiah Oblinger, who changed the name to The Western Emporium.

     One of the pioneer families to locate in Germantown was Christopher Rohrer.  The place had obtained a considerable foothold as a settlement when, in 1847, he set about the erection of a distillery, locating it about a mile southwest of the town on a spring branch known as “Mud Lick.”  The brand of whisky distilled by Christian Rohrer took its name from this tiny stream, and became famous throughout the entire middle west.  Later his son, David Rohrer, who had learned the business under his father, reorganized the company and greatly enlarged the plant, the investment at one time totaling $150,000.  In more recent years, however, competition became widespread and the old “Mud Lick” distillery encountered evil times.  All that is left of it today are a few of the original walls and crumbled mounds of brick where warehouses and out buildings once stood.

     Just 29 years ago Germantown laid aside her business cares, dressed in her best bib and tucker and celebrated her one-hundredth anniversary.  As the first permanent settlement in the twin valley, and among the first in all the vast northwest territory, the event attracted wide attention, with the result that even today, 29 years later, that centenary celebration is remembered as one of the greatest gatherings in the country’s history.

     We turn back to the files of The News of August, 1904, and find therein a reproduction of Germantown’s birthright—a document issued and posted by Philip Gunckel at the time of its formation.  It reads:

     “The subscriber has lately laid off a town near his mills, on Twin creek, in Montgomery co. and will expose the lots for sale at public vendue on the ground, on the 21st of October.  The town is laid off in a dry, healthful, elevated situation.  In the corner of a rich and flourishing neighborhood, with two good grist and sawmills in sight, and perhaps offers as many inducements for industrious tradesmen to settle in it as any other situation in this part of the country.  The terms will be liberal and made known on day of sale.

          “PHILLIP GUNCKEL.”


     “The celebration of the town’s anniversary will begin Wednesday morning and end Friday night,” reads The News of august, 1904.

      “The ceremonies will open Wednesday evening with a salute of 100 guns; at 10:30 the parade will start, with every organization in town represented and floats depicting the religious, educational, fraternal and industrial life of the place.  At 2 o’clock Mayor L. S. Crickmore will deliver an address of welcome, and music will be furnished by the Greenville band.  At 5o’clock Prof. Minnich will make a balloon ascesion at College Athletic field, and the ‘Merry Way’ with its scores of amusements will remain open continuously during the celebration.

     “If the visitor will peer under the gala dress of the village today he will see a town of 1800 souls happy, prosperous, and healthy; a town of comfortable homes, broad streets, substantial business houses, banks, good schools, large and well attended churches, and electric lighting and waterworks plant and a contented populace.

     “Here is raised the finest tobacco in the states; here is located the government experiment station for the development of the production of this important weed, and here is situated a college for the military and intellectual training of young men.  It has been said of Germantown that there is more culture to the square inch than there is to a block in any other town in Ohio.  When one gazes at the beauteous, wide and well-shaded streets, at the large churches, the splendidly equipped library and breathes the air of intellectuality that seem to permeate everything, he cannot well but believe it.”

     Thus in glowing terms spoke the newswriter of 19 years ago, the year of Germantown’s centennial celebration.  The passing of the years since that event brings no cause for changing the tribute.  Here, nestled among the densely wooded hills through which course the Big and Little twin, reside in happiness and contentment the progressive descendants of those sturdy Germans who sacrificed much and were content with little that those who might follow them could enjoy all of life’s blessings.

     Good old Germantown reaches her 129th milestone this month!  But she isn’t pausing to celebrate it; she proposed to do that only once a century.  And she has every reason to look forward to many of them.