Overfield Museum opens for season

By Melody Vallieu

April 19, 2014


For the Troy Daily News

In 1814, a little log tavern on the corner of Water and Mulberry streets would have been the most important fixture in any Troy resident’s social life. Now, in celebration of Troy’s bicentennial, visitors to the Overfield Tavern Museum can find themselves transported 200 back in time.

In an effort to raise awareness of the oldest surviving, and once the most important, building in Troy, the Overfield Tavern Museum has invited a group of historical re-enactors to bring the tavern to life.

Local historians Terry and Karen Purke play the roles of Benjamin and Rebecca Overfield, inviting visitors into the tavern to see how early residents of Troy would have lived. The Purkes and their group of re-enactors, People of the Ohio Country, dress in period clothing and demonstrate some of the typical activities of the time.

Overfield Tavern Museum Director Robert Patton feels that many people in Troy are unaware of their city’s rich history. He believes the re-enactors are the key to bringing that history to life, and inspiring a new generation to explore their heritage.

On the first weekend each month until the end of the summer, visitors can see re-enactors portraying townspeople and Native Americans molding buttons, trading furs and beads, and cooking authentic meals. Last weekend was the first of these re-enactments.

In the little kitchen at the back of the tavern, which was once the entire residence of the Overfield family, Karen Purke prepared a meal of lamb, winter squash, and custard. Terry Purke, who possesses a wealth of knowledge about local history, led visitors on a tour of the tavern.

In 1808, when Troy was a young settlement, Benjamin Overfield established what would quickly become the most important business in town: the Overfield Tavern.

“A landmark thing happened then,” Purke said. “Troy had just been founded, the court was meeting here, and Benjamin Overfield paid $1 for a tavern license.”

Overfield was born in Pennsylvania in 1774, the son of a Revolutionary War veteran who fought with General George Washington. He traveled to Canada before settling in Troy, building a log cabin on the high ground next to the river in 1803.

When the city was laid out, Overfield purchased Lot #2 on the corner of Water and Mulberry Streets for $95. The two-story log cabin he built there became the Overfield Tavern.

It was not only a place to socialize and take a break from the struggles of frontier life, it was the center of activity in town. Long before Troy had a newspaper, people could gather at the tavern to hear the latest news. The tavern was also home to one of Ohio’s first Masonic Lodges.

It also served as the county court, which met for the first time in Overfield’s tiny upstairs room in December of 1808. The court would continue to meet there until 1811, when a new courtroom was built over the log jail on Main Street.

“In this room would be sitting three judges to hear all the cases. We would also have the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney. We would also have the clerk of court to keep the records, we would have the sheriff to keep order. We would have the twelve members of the jury, all of the witnesses,” Purke said. “I daresay it was standing room only.”

According to Purke, any important meeting or distinguished visitor to town would have been hosted by the Overfield Tavern. The county commissioners would have met at the tavern and the local militia would gather there on muster days.

The tavern was an important fixture in town life until 1824, when Overfield opened a new tavern on Market Street. After his death in 1831, his wife Rebecca sold the original tavern and left Troy.

The canal and railroad brought prosperity to Troy in the mid-1800s, and many of the city’s oldest buildings were torn down to make way for more modern structures. The tavern quietly survived as a private residence until the mid-twentieth century.

In 1913, the building miraculously escaped any damage from the flood that devastated communities along the Miami River. The floodwaters rose within inches of the tavern’s door, but the building did not flood.

Edwin and William Hobart, inspired to preserve the city’s heritage, purchased the building in 1948 with the intention to restore it to its original appearance and establish a museum.

An archeological study of the building in 1996 turned up fragments of early pottery, Native American artifacts like beads and hatchets, as well as old tools and household items. In the museum, visitors can see shelves full of what Purke calls “yard shards,” artifacts that still turn up in the tavern yard.

“It was as exciting as anything on the History Channel, let me tell you. We found some neat stuff,” Purke said.

The 1996 excavation also revealed the building’s original floor plan and the location of the tavern’s fireplaces and ovens. After that, the building underwent a more extensive renovation and was restored to a more authentic appearance.

Though none of the Overfield’s possessions are left, historians still have a good idea of the sort of items he once owned, thanks to surviving mortgage papers. In 1808, his belongings included one barrel of whiskey, 78 hogs, three beds, two tables, one spinning wheel, one pot, one frying pan, and one set of dishware.

Today the tavern is furnished with authentic 19th century items donated by the historical society and local families.

The museum annex across Mulberry Street from the tavern also houses an exhibit of early local artifacts, including antique quilts and art, furnishings, and a collection of nineteenth century books belonging to one of Troy’s first doctors, Dr. Asa Coleman.

The museum will host the re-enactors on the first weekend of every month during the spring and summer. Museum hours are 1-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

More information about the tavern can be found at the museum’s website