The Hilltop Inn, originally known as George J. Marx’s Grocery and Saloon, lies atop a hill in Perry Township in an area formerly known as Perryville. The community was established in the mid-19th Century by Colonel John Rheinlander, a veteran of the Mexican-American war. By 1874, according to local lore, the area acquired its more common name of Babytown.
In the mid-1850s Colonel Rheinlander built a cigar factory in Babytown. Other area businesses included the Stocker Malt House, the Sander Wagon and Blacksmith Shop, the Bunker Hills Mills, and the Evansville Brewery. The Hartmetz and Wimberg families, who owned the brewery, merged with other breweries and moved to Fulton Avenue in Evansville in 1893.
Perryville Becomes “Babytown”
The exact origin of the name Babytown is unknown. According to a story that George Marx Jr., the then owner of the Hilltop, told the Evansville Press in 1984, it came from a whiskey salesman who planned to spend the night there. The inn owner at the time, George Marx Sr., told the salesman that they had a new baby in the household, their tenth, and could not rent a room. The salesman went to several more nearby homes and was told the same thing. “We have a young baby and can’t take you in.” He then inquired at the home of John Reiss who told the salesman that his wife had just delivered their sixteenth child, and he had no room for a guest. The salesman replied, “I thought this was Perryville but it must be Babytown.” The nickname stuck.
When the streetcar line came through in the early 1900s, the area became officially known as West Heights and remained so until Evansville annexed the community in 1952.
According to a 1976 Evansville Sunday Courier and Press article, around 1900 Babytown contained “three brickyards, eight saloons, a sandpit, a flour mill, a hardware store, malt house, a brewery, and the Babytown Volunteer Fire Department.” Babytown’s first schoolhouse, a one room school that operated from 1869-1888, was on Babytown Road. The schoolhouse eventually became the home of the volunteer fire department.
George Marx’s Saloon and Grocery - Late 1800s
George J. Marx opened a saloon in Babytown in the late 19th century. The original building was a tavern and grocery with sleeping rooms above. The store, in a building attached to the saloon, served as a gathering place for local farmers selling their livestock, dairy products, and produce.
George Marx, Jr. Takes Over - 1920s
By the time of Prohibition, George’s son, George Marx Jr., had taken ownership of the bar. An interesting family story about those days comes from Butch Marx as told to him by his uncle Walt Sitzman.
“During Prohibition he [Walt Sitzman] and my uncle Elmer would go to Chicago to buy hard liquor from Al Capone’s mob to sell at our saloon. [If the bar received] a call from someone downtown that they were coming to check them to see if they were selling booze, they would hide it outside in a safe place.
On Sundays after church Father Hillenbrand from St. Boniface Church would come visit to play clabber and drink. One time my grandpa asked, ‘Father, is it wrong that we are doing this?’ Father answered, ‘It is if they catch us.’”
The Hilltop Inn Today
As of 2020, Tyler Marx (many “greats” removed from his uncle George, and the grandson of Butch Marx) runs the Hilltop Inn. The menu still contains old favorites such as pork brain sandwich, fried chicken, sliders, fiddlers (catfish), and chicken livers. The Hilltop has a salad bar and now serves barbeque and fresh-baked pies from Marx Barbeque which has operated from a building behind the Hilltop for decades. The Marx family has also upgraded the bar, bringing in fine bourbons, vodka, and craft beers.