If it keeps on rainin’ …

Daniel Gebhart Tavern Museum tells the story of the Great Dayton Flood

by Josher Lumpkin

The Miami Valley is full of little corners of history. Miamisburg is no exception. This quaint riverside town may look like a bustling suburb now, but two hundred years ago, it was a frontier town. It was a place men could stop during their travels to rest up and get something to eat (and drink) before continuing their journey.

Daniel Gebhart Tavern was the place where these men could do that. Built in 1811, this log structure was located along an old Native American trail that stretched from Cincinnati to Dayton. Frontiersmen of the 19th century still used this trail. Gebhart Tavern also attracted boatmen on the Miami River, who would stop for the night.

“A lot of travelers would see the smoke from the chimneys here, and they would come visit the tavern and get a meal, a drink, and they could go upstairs and spend the night if they wanted to,” says Judy Wuerstl, coordinator for Heritage Village, operated by Miamisburg Historical Society.

In 1913, at the time of the Great Dayton Flood, the tavern had been converted into a two-family residence. It was owned by a German named John Huesman at the time.

“Joe [Huesman, John’s son], who was then in his late teens they think, writes that he sat on the roof of this home one night, watching things floating down and hooking things that were floating down,” Wuerstl says. “And he finally went to sleep and in the morning his mother told him that the river had fallen six inches.”

Wuerstl is a treasure trove of knowledge about not only Daniel Gebhart Tavern, but the history of Miamisburg as a whole. Her enthusiasm for the subject is unsurpassed. Though the museum is currently closed for the season, she agreed to meet me there, showing up hours beforehand to start a fire to warm the place up. She came prepared for the photo op, dressed in her
frontier woman costume, which she reminded me several times is not what would have been worn
around the time of the flood, but much earlier. Wuerstl is truly dedicated to her history.

“The river of course flowed into Miamisburg,” she continues, “up to where the railroad tracks are by Library Park, and that’s about where it stopped. And then it slowly receded back to the river. It didn’t take long to go back, but then all the devastation, it was just horrible devastation. We were not quite as bad as Dayton, but we had a lot of damage.”

Was the Gebhart Tavern building, the large log structure that had housed so many people over the years, damaged by the flood?

“It was, but it wasn’t knocked down,” Wuerstl says.

In 1975, the Tavern was restored to what it might have looked like in the first half of the 19th century. Part of that restoration was replacing many of the logs that had been damaged by floods. With the Tavern sitting so close to the Miami River, it had flooded many times, not just in 1913.

“It’s kind of a testament to how strong and well-built it was that
it was still standing,” Wuerstl reminds us.

The cook house, where meals were prepared for travellers at Gebhart Tavern, wasn’t so lucky. It washed away in the Great Flood. A later period smokehouse was brought in as a gift from the Gebhart family. It had previously been on the family farm.

“They took it apart and numbered the bricks, brought it down here and built it back up just like it was,” Wuerstl says. “The family says those bricks were made with the help of some friendly Miami Indians that still lived in the town. That’s exactly how they tell me.”

Though many of the residents of Miamisburg evacuated the town when the floodwaters began to rise, those who stuck around found themselves in a bit of trouble.

“Most people thought, ‘Oh it’s not gonna raise, it’s not gonna get very serious’ and they stayed in their homes until it was too late,” Wuerstl says. “They had to get up in the second floor, or the attic, or even the roof, and they couldn’t be rescued right away because the water was so fast that boats couldn’t even be controlled and handled. So they were probably in the attic for a couple of days, but then when they were able to come down, those who had evacuated, they eventually got to come back to town and started cleaning up.”

But even in those days, theft and looting was a problem in times of tragedy.

“We had to have the militia come in,” Wuerstl says. “During the time of the flood, you had to have a pass to come into town. If you had a home or a business and you wanted to see if you still had it, you had to stop and get a pass, and then you had to be out of town by dark.”

Gebhart Tavern Musuem is located at Old Main and West Locke Streets  in Miamisburg. Gebhart Tavern Museum and Heritage Village opens for the season on May 1. There will be an ice cream social, with live music and butter beer and cream soda from Star City Brewing Company. For more information, please visit Miamisburg.org/daniel_gebhart_tavern_museum.
Josher Lumpkin is a nursing student and aspiring historian who enjoys writing about music and geekdom of all kinds. He is especially fond of punk rock, tabletop gaming, sci-fi/fantasy and camping with his wife, Jenner, and their dogs, Katie and Sophie. Reach him at JosherLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Josher Lumpkin is a nursing student and aspiring historian who enjoys writing about music and geekdom of all kinds. He is especially fond of punk rock, tabletop gaming, sci-fi/fantasy and camping with his wife, Jenner, and their dogs, Katie and Sophie. Reach him at JosherLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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