The German Heritage MuseumInformational Guide to The German Heritage Museum

Part I: How the Germans settled in the Cincinnati Area

*1788-89 - A few Germans are among the first settlers of the area.

*1790 - Major David Ziegler, a veteran of the American Revolution, arrives, along with a regiment of Pennsylvania German soldiers. They were stationed at Fort Washington, and many settled in the area, attracting others from Pennsylvania. After retiring from military life, Ziegler settled down with his wife in Cincinnati, opened a store, and became Cincinnati's first mayor.

*1795 - Martin Baum, businessman and industrialist, organizes a German immigration to Cincinnati by means of agents at the port cities of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New Orleans, earning him the title of “Father” of the German immigration to Cincinnati and the Ohio Valley.

According to a history of Cincinnati, "it was especially Baum (born in Hagenau, 15 July 1761; died in Cincinnati 14 December 1831), who did so much for the rise of the German element in Cincinnati and the Ohio Valley. Through his great wealth, which he had won through many different business enterprises, Baum will establish the first bank in the west, the Miami Exporting Company, and also called to life the first wooden factory, the first steam flouring mill, and other industrial establishments of that kind"

Many people found work and profit in Baum’s different factories, and since he could not find enough good and skillful workmen locally, he enlisted agents in Baltimore and Philadelphia to encourage newly-arrived immigrants to move further westward and in this way led the first wave of emigration to the west.

In addition to his business enterprises, Baum served as one of the early mayors of Cincinnati (after Ziegler) and was also interested in the cultural life of the area, as demonstrated by his involvement in the founding of the first public library (1802) and the Western Museum (1817).  Baum even established the first ornamental garden, as well as the first vineyard, which he laid out at Deer Creek (at present within the city boundaries), making him one of the most industrious men of the west.

His home, built for him in 1820 and now the Taft Museum of Art, was open to visitors to Cincinnati, especially those involved in cultural and literary affairs.

* 1797 - Johann Heckewelder - German Moravian missionary who visited the area in 1792.
Heckewelder is credited with publishing the first description of Cincinnati. This work generated interest in Cincinnati, and was followed by other books written in the 19th century that referred to and praised Cincinnati, helping to create a positive image of the region among the German-speaking countries of Europe.

Heckewelder’s work has appeared in translation as the The First Description of Cincinnati and Other Ohio Settlements.  He writes of Cincinnati:

The ground upon which the town is built is a plain along the Ohio of about two miles long; in a northerly direction it stretches say seven miles distant. The town is like as if divided into two parts, for acclivity or second bank, lies distant about 140 rods from the first bank of the Ohio. Each of these banks is about 40 feet high, and owing their straight lines pleasing to the eye. The part below the second bank is called lower town; but the upper town is connected with the lower. At present there are 354 surveyed lots, or city parcels (Buergertheile) sold and improved. To each townlot of half an acre belongs also and outlot of four acres. The conflux of people, however, is at present so great, that a lot from the second hand is readily sold at a price ranging from 30 to 60 Dollars. The town already contains 200 houses, several of which are two stones in height, well built and painted red. Houses are easily rented at from 50 to 60 Dollars per year…The population of this town is already above 900 besides the garrison and those belonging to the army, the number of which is variable. At present, however, it consists of about 200 men.

Part II: The Museum and First Floor

Wooden House: The Museum

According to architectural estimates, our Museum, comprising the wooden house, was constructed sometime between 1810 and 1850. It is believed that this log building was already in existence when purchased by the Fest family in Delhi during around 1850.  Constructed of 32 poplar logs, the type of hand hewn carving secured by half dove-tailing and a mixture of mud and straw chinking is considered to be specific to German-style construction.  The central built chimney/hearth and the unequal room sizes are also reminiscent of German buildings and houses of that time.

Eventually, the GACL decided to give the building a new purpose, turning it into a German Pioneer Museum.  The reassembled structure, now in West Fork Park, serves as a focal point of German Culture in this region.  The structure is a testament to the pioneer spirit of the region, as well as its German Cultural origins.

GENERAL ROOM

The first floor, into which you enter, is divided into three rooms. The two rooms you first encounter are the General Room and the Religious-School Room. Both feature numerous historic items of interest.

glass case with toolsAs you immediately enter, to your right, you will notice a glass display case housing the Gypsy Beggars statues made about 200 years ago of Plaster of Paris, also known as gypsum.

Beneath the statues (at right) are the tools of a tradesman, which were a very important part of the German immigrants' lives. These tools, and the skills needed to use them, made the new immigrants invaluable to the rapidly developing region.

homewaresOther items the immigrants brought with them were more useful for daily life and living. The porcelain doll in the glass cabinet at left is a Teapot warmer of Swill design dating back to at least 100 years ago. Next to it are beautifully designed silver serving-ware pieces. Atop the glass cabinet are more items for serving, entertaining and grooming, indicative of the active social lives of these settlers.

 

Damen ZerkelAbove the cabinet hangs a commemorative plaque on the life of the Damen Zirkel (Women’s Circle), 1894-1944. Nearby hangs an anniversary plaque for the Goodfellows’ Singing Society, William Kappelhoff, Director. One begins to notice the importance of Song affiliated with German Culture

As you proceed left, please notice a book case filled with a number of older German language books. On the case is a picture of Joseph Ratermann, an important German-American. Above this display hangs a composite photo of the German-Hungarian Workers Men’s Choir.

Joseph RatermannGerman-Hungarian choir

HEARTH

hearthThe hearth was perhaps one of the most important assets to any log or wooden house. It provided for a number of basic needs, including a place for cooking and a source of heat and light, just to mention a few of its benefits. On the hearth you will find a range of items related to the gathering and processing of food. A British double barreled Damascus percussion cap muzzle loader and a gun powder horn signifies the importance of hunting for game as well as for protection. On the hearth itself, please note the scale, the sausage maker, a grinder, and a pipe, all basic items needed for daily life.

On the table in the Main Room, again we notice all the hand tools that are on display. The necessity and importance of these instruments and tools cannot be emphasized enough for the survival of immigrants coming to the American frontier throughout the 1800s.

toolsmore tools

Next we enter the...
RELIGIOUS-EDUCATION ROOM

The altar is from a local historically German church. It signifies the enormous importance of the role of religion in German life. altar

Heilige Schrift, or holy scriptureOn the altar you will find a couple of Bibles bound in Wood with impressive carvings on the cover. They are referred to as “Heilige Schrift,” or Holy Books. Although they are written in German, many were published or printed in Philadelphia. Often they were given as wedding presents to serve as religious guides for the newly married couple and what would soon be a growing family. Note the many books in German that center on Religious themes and prayer

THE ANNEX

Genealogy roomgeneaology booksAnother major asset to our museum is the Genealogy Research Corner located in the Annex of our Museum. A number of resource materials are available to the visitor for family lineage research.

 

The Museum can also provide connections to local genealogical researchers who are most familiar with local, national, and international resources for researching family histories.

There are many other historical artifacts in the Annex and visitors can shop for souvenirs.

annex shopping

THE SECOND FLOOR

GACL plaqueWe refer to our upstairs as our society room. We have wall displays about the 30 plus societies that comprise the German American Citizens League.

Some highlights from those member organizations include:

The Bloatarian Brewing League - Founded in 1986, it is the largest organization of homebrewers in the Cincinnati Tri-state Area.

The Frauenstadtverband - The Women’s League founded in 1910 is the Women’s branch of the German-American Alliance.

 

emblemsCincinnati Central Turners - The first Turnverein in the United States Founded in 1848.

Society for German American Studies - Founded in 1968 as an international professional organization of individuals and institutions interested in the field of German American studies.

Cincinnati Carvers Guild - Founded in 1968: the organization holds meetings and demonstrations in the interest and furtherance of woodcarving.

German Genealogy Group - Founded in 1972

member certificatesmember certificates 2

member certificates 3member certificates 4

* The Museum is open Sundays from 1:00-5:00 PM from the Sunday AFTER Mother's Day through the end of October.
* The Museum is closed during the Winter season, but available by appointment.
You can contact the museum staff at:
German Heritage Museum
4764 West Fork Road
Cincinnati, OH 45247
or call (513) 598-5732