Butler County history column: Straub House hotel attracted those in entertainment

Guests included William Frederick ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody, reformer Susan B. Anthony and more.

The following column is submitted from the Butler County Historical Society.

The Straub House hotel, seen here in a photograph taken in 1885, was built by John Winton in 1824 on the northwest corner of Main and Water streets in Rossville (in Hamilton). It was originally named the Miami House and had several owners until 1860 when Felix Straub (1824-1867) acquired it and renamed it as Straub House.

Straub and his wife Eva (1825-1906) promised their visitors a first-class hotel operation that also became known for its good food and warm hospitality. Felix and Eva had five children: Josephine (1846-1898), Wilhelmina Catherine (1849-1865), Pauline (1853-xxxx), Joseph Felix (1856-1859) and Eva (1859-1917).

As early as 1866, Eugene A. Weiler was serving as Felix Straub’s clerk at the hotel. Weiler (1845-1894) was born in Pennsylvania and attended school there before moving to Hamilton where he also attended school. Before taking the position at Straub House, Weiler had clerked at William Hunter’s grocery store. He also served four months in Company F, 167th Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War and received an honorable discharge on September 8, 1864. Weiler, seen at the left, married Josephine, Felix and Eva Straub’s eldest child, on May 4, 1868 and the couple shortly took over the management of the hotel.

The Straub House actively sought clientele from the traveling entertainment industry of the day. Ad advertisement appeared in1866 in the New York “Clipper,” a newspaper that covered circuses, dance, music, theater and sports. Eugene Weiler, known to most people as “Gene,” developed many contacts with entertainers, particularly those who worked in circuses. During the 1870s and 1880s he traveled as a press agent, advance man and advertising manager for several circuses including the Sells Brothers Circus, Dr. James L. Thayer’s Great Show and Unified Aggregation and the Shelby, Pullman and Hamilton Grand United Mastodon Shows.

Gene Weiler was well-known among “show-people” and drew many stage stars and circus celebrities to the Straub House. Guests at the hotel included William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody, the midget Tom Thumb, actor Joseph Jefferson, reformer Susan B. Anthony, author James Whitcomb Riley, opera diva Julia Gaylord, burlesque star Lydia Thompson, and a veritable “who’s who” list of circus managers, performers, minstrels, the arts and politics. Polish actress Fanny Janauschek gave acting lessons to Josephine Weiler and coached her performance of Shakespearean scenes during stays at the hotel.

James E. Murdoch, professor of elocution at Cincinnati College of Music, also worked to help Josephine develop her performance skills. She also received additional training from Howard Ticknor, elocution professor at Harvard and Brown universities.

Eugene and Josephine had two daughters, Lillian Estella and Eva Marie, seen in a photograph taken sometime around 1880. Lillian (1869-1953) married Robert Norwood Taylor in 1894, but the match was not long-lasting. Taylor deserted his wife after six months, never to be seen or heard from again.

Stella Weiler Taylor began a successful 36-year career as a teacher in Hamilton’s schools in 1899. She also wrote the popular “Rosemary” column for the “Journal-News” from 1931 until 1948. She was very active in local amateur stage productions and frequently published theater reviews in local newspapers.

Eva Marie (1871-1952) was also an artistic woman. She became an art teacher and supervisor in the Hamilton city schools, and was known for giving well-received lectures on topics such as Famous Madonnas, American Illustrators, Life of Chopin and James Whitcomb Riley. She was an accomplished singer and composer.

At a party on Jan. 11, 1901 she read the palm of Warren C. Harding and told him that he would become President of the United States someday, an achievement that occurred in 1921. Eva married Benjamin Noble and moved to Colorado.

The 1880 U.S. Census indicates that Straub House was being operated by Eva Straub and Josephine and that she and Gene Weiler had divorced. Josephine was very active in local amateur theater stage productions in Hamilton, Oxford, Middletown and Eaton. She toured one season as a leading lady in George C. Mild’s Dramatic Company, performing Shakespearean roles such as Queen Gertrude in “Hamlet,” Emelia in “Othello” and the nurse in “Romeo and Juliet.”

In 1877, the city organized a benefit at the Globe Opera House in Josephine’s honor not only “in recognition of her merit as an actress, but as a testimonial of the high esteem in which she is held by the citizens.” She performed scenes from “Macbeth” including the plotting of Duncan’s murder, the dagger scene and the sleepwalking scene. The Cincinnati “Gazette” critic in attendance reported she played Lady Macbeth “most vividly and with great power.”

Josephine supported the local effort to create a monument for Civil War veterans. She performed in every annual entertainment program and promenade concert given to raise funds for the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Association of Butler County from 1880 to her death in 1898.

In 1882 she staged a benefit for the Decoration Day Fund and the Wetzel-Compton Post Number 96 of the Grand Army of the Republic gave her a gold badge and made her an honorary life member. She worked with Kate Sherwood (Canton, Ohio) and Emma Sibley (Cleveland) to organize the Women’s Relief Corps in 1883 to take care of invalid soldiers, widows and orphans and was the group’s first president.

Josephine was also an active member of the Women’s Auxiliary War League and worked to provide relief to the needy among families of absent soldiers in 1898.

In 1930, the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War acknowledged her work by naming the Josephine Straub Weiler Tent Number 117 in her honor. Members of the Weiler tent donated a bronze sundial memorial honoring the memory of the Grand Army of the Republic to the Pioneers, Soldiers and Sailors Monument in 1941. This photograph from the May 26, 1941 “Hamilton Journal Daily News” shows, left to right, Jacob Inman, age 99; Helen Baxter, tent president, and Clinton Orr, age 97, during the dedication of the sundial. Inman and Orr were the county’s last two remaining Civil War veterans.

By 1885, Straub House had been sold and Josephine was starting a career in the Hamilton City Schools, first as an elocution teacher at the high school and then as a first and third grade teacher. She frequently used here elocutionary skills to give readings and talks to several meetings of educational groups such as the Teachers’ Association of Ohio.

Josephine was considered to be one of the most efficient teachers in the schools and greatly endeared to her pupils. In January 1898, Josephine became ill, and after a brief recovery and trip to Chicago in August became ill with typhoid malaria, which contributed to her death on Nov. 2 from heart failure.

Josephine’s life was eulogized by a memorial written by her colleagues and published in the local newspapers. They said, in part, “she was in a large measure a self-educated woman: a lover of art, science, and literature, she studied well the masters of each. In her home, in her profession, in her public duties, in every walk and work of life, and hers was a busy life indeed, she was diligent and faithful, laboring in season and out of season for the accomplishment of her high ideals. In thought and action she was a vigorous, remarkable woman, whose strong character was laid broad and deep upon the everlasting foundation of morals and religion.” (”Butler County Democrat,” Nov. 10, 1898, p. 7.)

On Nov. 11, 1898, the 10 members of the Hamilton Board of Education unanimously adopted the following resolution expressing their collective respect for Mrs. Weiler: “Whereas, on November second, death invaded the ranks of the teachers of the public schools of this city and claimed one of the ablest of the corps. Therefore, be it resolved, that in the decease of Mrs. Josephine S. Weiler the city schools have lost a great teacher and the community a most valuable citizen. As a woman, Mrs. Weiler combined all those qualities of mind and heart so essential to the proper teaching of the young and her great success with the little people was but a natural result with one who embodied the highest ideals of life, and who realized the sacredness of duty in her living.” (Cone, Stephen D., A Concise History of Hamilton, Ohio, Vol. 2. Middletown: Press of George Mitchell, 1901, pp. 236-237.)

Josephine was buried in Greenwood Cemetery. She made many contributions to students in her classrooms and left a legacy of two daughters who also worked to make Hamilton a better place in which to live.

To read more about the history and location of the Straub House, visit this archived column by the late Jim Blount, who wrote historical pieces for the Journal-News.

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