Germantown, Ohio is about 15 miles southwest of Dayton, in area called Twin Creek Valley of the German Township.
After defending my beloved southwestern Ohio against endless jokes and well wishes to “have fun in the corn field” I actually found myself in a literal corn field. Imagine that.
See, this part of Ohio is more urban, and much different than some of those farmland townships near Pennsylvania that non-Ohioans think the entire state is made of.
Germantown was established in 1804, one of four existing townships of Montgomery County (that includes Dayton) when Ohio officially became a state.
The Shawnee Nation originally ruled this land, and did so until around 1804 after Ohio received its statehood.
White settlers started moving in during the late 1790s leading up to this change. Most of them were Germans by way of Pennsylvania, and their leader was a man named Philip Gunckel. He was the only person in the bunch of around 1,200 who spoke English, and the rest spoke only in German.
Gunckel is credited for founding Germantown, and personally laid out the town plans in 1814. His design forms a type of wagon wheel system leading all roads of the larger circumference of the town inward to its center. Germantown was incorporated in 1833, and its downtown borders fall within Mulberry, Walnut, Market, and Warren Streets.
The “Gunckel Town Plat” is an official historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been recognized as both a National Historic Site and Historic Preservation District by the National Historical Park Service of the USDI.
In the 1840s, Mud Lick Distillery was producing around 30 barrels of whiskey each day, which made it the largest in the United States at the time.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati and Northern Railroad laid its tracks through town in 1869, but Germantown steadily gained notoriety for its cigar, tobacco, and distilling industries. More than a dozen warehouses and other factories were cranking out cigars, and continued to do so until the 1970s.
After the Great Flood of 1913, the Germantown Conservancy Dam was built and completed in 1919.
The Germantown Historic District currently highlights six buildings of historic significance; the old Mud Lick Homestead, the old Mud Lick School, Gunckel’s old Shuey Mill, the Rohrer Mansion, the K of P Lodge, and the 100F Lodge are designated landmarks of interest within the historic district.
Mud Lick Mill has a peeling, hand-painted sign on the front that lists its previous owners, and with a little research I was able to fill in some details. Colonel John Stump built a grist mill here along Mudlick Creek in 1817 and operated it using two different water wheels. The gristmill passed through a couple different hands, but the property remained Stump’s until he sold it to Samuel Rohrer twenty years later.
Samuel Rohrer created the first batch of Bourbon whiskey in all of Montgomery County, then he and John Stump co-founded the first National Bank in Germantown, so the two men were quite popular. Samuel Rohrer bequeathed the distillery and grist mill to his son Christian in 1847, who started the Mud Lick Distillery, and later passed it to his son David in 1864.
Mud Lick Distillery became the most famous whiskey producers in the country. It was wildly successful until the Great Flood of 1913 bankrupted the company, and the transportation of booze across state lines became outlawed, and of course, then came Prohibition.
The natural springs in this area were known for healing minerals and rich deposits of limestone, which every Bourbon lover knows is basically essential to make a good Bourbon. People from far and wide came to partake in both.
Mud Lick mash was used to fatten up neighbouring livestock and the distillery kept local men employed, so Rohrer did not face too much trouble despite operating in a very pious community.
David Rohrer built this 3-story, 15-room brick mansion in 1865, at the height of his success. Timber was cut from the family homestead and bricks were fired on site.
Today it is a private residence, but it sits right on the main road for the good lord and everybody to take a long hard gander at.
Other interesting historical sites in Germantown are the covered bridges.
The Germantown Covered Bridge was built in 1870, and as far as anyone knows, it is the only one like it. Builders used an inverted bow string truss just like engineers use for suspension bridges. Even the Southern Ohio Covered Bridge Association has confirmed that a similar one has never been spotted.
The iconic image of this 100-feet long bridge is used as community seal on letterheads, service vehicles, printed media, and souvenirs. Germantown Covered Bridge is an officially registered National Landmark, though it was relocated to where it sits on Center Street in 1911. It suffered great damage leading up to the move, and automobiles are not permitted to cross it now.
Jasper Road Covered Bridge is a 71-feet long “Warren Truss” covered bridge just slightly west of the historic downtown area. The Smith Bridge Company built it in 1877 in Caesar’s Creek, but in 1964 a guy in Dayton had it relocated to his estate over Mud Lick Creek.
It has never crossed my mind to have an entire bridge relocated, and it seems pretty crazy that it was just a thing wealthy people did back then. Like okay, I see you, rich guy. You and your vintage bridge.
The 1816 Florentine Hotel is the second oldest inn in the state of Ohio, proud to have hosted Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams in its younger years. Phillip Gunkel first owned the hotel until selling it to William Leighty in 1862, who changed its name but later sold it to John Finley in 1911.
Finley restored the old name Florentine Hotel and it was in operation until 1974. A local couple bought it in 1976 and reopened it as the Florentine Restaurant in 1979, and it is still going strong. Visitors can walk in and order a steak or slab of ribs just about any day of the week.
The Historical Society of Germantown holds a vast collection of local history and lore, documents and archives, and anything else pertaining to German Township and surrounding communities.
Bi-Jo Theatre is a historic 1926 theater that still shows movies every weekend. Unlike a lot of cinemas that closed during the COVID years, this one is thriving. I love that their website is powered by tripod.
Legend has it that the name “Bi-Jo” was taken from the poem of a man who wanted to win a sled in the theatre’s contest. I can not help but wonder if it was a spin on “Bijou” which is commonly used to lend an air of elegance to otherwise modest, small town cafés and other places.
Veterans Memorial Park is the site of Germantown’s annual Pretzel Festival each September, around the same time Oktoberfest begins.
There is a structure here that Google Maps says is the German Heritage Park, but there are no signs and you can not go inside. It looks important, but who knows.
I also found the 1845 Toll House log cabin, but no info was available on site about it, and an internet search was limited to a story about the floor recently caving in during a ghost tour. Come on, Germantown, this is supposed to be a memorial park!
Germantown MetroPark is part of Ohio’s fantastic Five Rivers Metro Parks system, and is in the Twin Valley Conservation Corridor as well. Follow its trails through natural areas, forests, along streams, and into the wetland and monarch habitat prairie.
I was not able to visit the Germantown Cemetery (no website), but perhaps next time.
Germantown is still a small rural city, covering hardly more than four square miles. It is a stark contrast to the sprawling cities of Cincinnati and Dayton just miles away.
Today, many Germantown residents are under the employ of The Dupps Company, a locally-owned meat packing and processing equipment supplier. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait in line at the town gas station behind a row of tractors before you get your turn, these things do happen here.
In the area for a while? Check out my blogs about Dayton! (in progress)
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