The tavern life

History survives at Troy’s Overfield Tavern Museum

By Tim Smith

There are many places to experience the history of the Miami Valley, but for one of the more unique examples, travel a few miles north to Troy. The Overfield Tavern Museum is an overlooked gem. Built in 1808, it was once the center of activity in Miami County. In addition to offering food, drink and lodging, the tavern played host to the County Court in an upstairs room. It also housed the local Masonic Lodge, one of the first in Ohio. The building was bought by brothers William and Edward Hobart in 1948, who set about restoring it with the intention of opening a museum.

Bob Patton is the director and curator, a post he has held since 1985. Patton hails from Springfield and studied architecture and interior design at the Parsons School in New York. He’s passionate about his work and has been involved in numerous restorations in the area.

“I’m from the old school,” he says. “There aren’t too many people who can do this sort of thing.” He was approached by the Hobart family and spent two-and-a-half years restoring the tavern to its original condition, complete with authentic furnishings. He says, “It’s still an on-going thing.”

The museum is filled with antiques that are representative of the period. Most were obtained at auctions and some were gifts donated by patrons. Many artifacts are on permanent loan from the Troy Historical Society.

“There’s a misconception in history that people came to this part of the country with nothing,” Patton explains, “but many people came here with everything they owned in their covered wagons.”

He notes that tobacco and liquor were the two biggest moneymakers at the time. Hence, the popularity of taverns.

Sitting in the Tap Room, one can easily picture visitors enjoying a drink while playing cards, checkers or Backgammon. A hearty home-cooked meal served in the nearby dining room would also be part of the experience, followed by time spent in the parlor for conversation or reading. Travelers would avail themselves of the eastern newspapers to catch up on the latest news from back home. A little known fact is that the second Mrs. Overfield entertained the occasional gentleman in an upstairs bedroom. “That’s just the way it was back then,” Patton notes with a laugh.

The furnishings and comfortable ambience reflect the personality of Benjamin Overfield, the tavern’s founder. In an 1868 edition of The Troy Times, he was described as “having none of the hauteur which would repel a rustic traveler—no pomposity or ostentation.”

One needs only to look at the antique glassware, pottery and silver on display to appreciate this. Every artifact tells part of the story, from engraved powder horns to books and letters. Many of the pieces have a decidedly European influence, which is reflective of the people who migrated to the Midwest.

Before it officially became a museum, the building was used for the Overfield Nursery School, founded in 1960 by Julia Hobart. In 1970, the program was licensed by the State of Ohio, then in 1988, granted accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. After renovations that same year, the Overfield Early Childhood Program opened its doors to serve 100 children.

Education still plays a big part in the museum, and they host tours for local elementary schools every year.

“The teachers understand what we’re about and are capable of talking with the students about it,” Patton explains. “It’s a very hands-on experience for the students. You can see these things in books or on our web page, but to touch them brings it to a whole other realm.” The favorite part of a school tour is when a trained volunteer fires one of the musket rifles. “That always gets a ‘Wow!’ from the kids.”

Patton would like visitors to take away a better understanding of life in the 1800s.

“The rewarding part of this job is showing people the truth about what these places looked like and how the people lived at the time. When you devote your life to this type of thing, it’s interesting to talk with people who share that interest,” he says.

“We had a couple of visitors from Canada who stopped in on their way back from Florida. One of them said, ‘It’s a shame this isn’t someplace where more people can see it.’ That really registered with me.”

He has high hopes for the future of the museum: “I’d like to see it used for special occasions. I can envision the tavern being used for its original purpose by renting it out for parties with local tavern owners acting as bartenders and serving the same kind of food to give people the true experience. This could be a miniature Williamsburg, if it’s done right. When you do something right, it survives.”

The Overfield Tavern Museum is located at 201 E. Water St. in Troy. It is open to the public Sundays from 1-4 p.m., April through October. For more information please call 937.335.4019 or visit overfieldtavernmuseum.com.
Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach Dayton City Paper freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Tim Smith
Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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