Historical Society of Germantown celebrates 50th year

Julia Smith, vice president of the Historical Society of Germantown, is busy with society members and volunteers planning its 50th anniversary.

Smith’s family lived in Germantown when she was born, and although they moved around a bit, she’s been a permanent fixture in the city she calls her “hometown” since 1975.

“I graduated from Germantown High School and it’s my home,” she says.

The historical society was formed in 1973, in an historic building that was formerly an Andrew Carnegie library, and Smith became a volunteer about five years later. “I started out as a docent, with an idea to get students informed about their city’s history,” she said.

“For 10 years, art teachers, society members and I would go into seventh grade art classes, talk about Germantown’s history, and answer questions. We’d present 25 photos of the historic buildings, along with our inverted bow-covered bridge, and the Shuey Mill. They’d select one of our buildings to draw or paint, and we’d have an exhibit of the 25 winners at the junior high building. We called that project ‘The Way We Were.’

“Germantown was founded by Philip Gunckel, along with four other men, all from Pennsylvania who spoke German — Gunckel was the only one who could speak English. He created a unique alleyway system, where horses and buggies stayed in the rear of the buildings when not in use so the villagers wouldn’t get the stench of the animals.

“The city was formed in 1804, and most of the houses were originally wood, but became brick and mortar later. Everyone came from Pennsylvania and spoke German.”

In 1806, Gunckel built the first gristmill and sawmill, and, according to the historic marker outside of the building, “In 1845, he sold the mills to his son-in-law, Lewis Shuey, who rebuilt them.” Today, it’s known as The Shuey Mill Wedding and Event Venue.

Visitors can get much more information and tours during the historical society’s 50th anniversary celebration. The opening day is Sunday, May 7, from 1-3 p.m. when the museum will be open for residents, with food and drinks and tours of the museum.

“Weather permitting, there will be artisans on the ground,” said Smith. “A resident will demonstrate caning, there’ll be a local dulcimer band, artisans with handmade jewelry, and one doing caricatures. A past president of the society will offer horse drawn wagon tours of downtown historic Germantown, including the Florentine hotel, built in 1816 — I’ll be one of the narrators. There’ll be a charge for the rides.”

Founders Day will be the first Saturday in August, where pints of ice cream will be sold at the depot, which was moved to Veterans Park. According to Smith, Veterans Memorial Park originally was the parade grounds for Camp Miami, “a school for young gentlemen. The buildings were left unattended after the school closed and are gone now, but we have a nice display that includes photos, dinnerware and uniforms from the school.”

“Gary Reece will be playing in the park on Founders Day. His family settled in Germantown when he was in high school — he plays guitar, sings and has composed several records. The entertainment is free.

“Again, in the depot, we’ll be having our annual pie, ice cream and pretzel fest the last weekend in September.

“Also, we’re trying to put together a bourbon tasting event. David Rhorer had a distillery in Germantown, known for being one of the best bourbons ever made. A friend had an original bottle and it was opened for members of the bicentennial committee — it was so smooth, and we’ve been trying to replicate it. We have a lead on someone who’s said to have the original recipe.

“The Bourbon Tasting will be held in the original David Rohrer mansion, which he had built for his family. The current owners of the property have agreed to open their home for our tasting.”

There are currently 300 members of the historical society, with Glen Bowman serving as president.

Contact this writer at virgburroughs@gmail.com

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