The Hornet’s Nest is located in Scott Township in an old community once called Earle, named after John Earle, an Englishman who had come to the area around 1828. Brant and Fuller’s 1889 History of Vanderburgh County said that the Earle community was “without importance except as a supply depot for a limited agricultural district.” They identified only one merchant in the town and noted a small store dating back to 1850.
Lapsley’s Saloon in Gabtown 1870s
Local historian Ken McCutchan had a somewhat different take on the Earle community, also called Gabtown, and the saloon that is now the Hornet’s Nest. There has been a saloon or bar in this location since at least the 1870s. In 1877, the place was called Lapsley’s saloon, and Earle or Earlsville was a primarily Methodist community. However, religious sentiment against the evils of drinking did not stop the men in the community from seeking a social atmosphere and a good time at Lapsley’s.
The good times sometimes ended up in the very problems that Prohibitionists warned about. For example, on Christmas Day 1877, a rowdy group of men in the saloon resulted in a fistfight between a Dr. Thomas Worral and James Grimwald. Saloon owner James Lapsley also happened to be the town constable, and arrested them both. Dr. Worral was charged with starting the fight and spent several days in jail. He wanted his side of the story to be known, and within a few months published a pamphlet entitled “The Gabtown Martyrdom.”
Nine-Mile House 1910s -1920s
Another name for the Hornet's Nest tavern in Gabtown was the Nine-Mile Road House since the location was nine miles from the Vanderburgh County Courthouse. In 1910 the proprietor Eirc Demick was cited for operating the place without a liquor license. This citation resulted in a feud in which community members took sides and one faction even boycotted the local Republican Party meetings on Demick’s behalf. In 1913, Demick sold the Nine-Mile House to Adolph Schultz. Although Demick found another saloon to manage in Vanderburgh County, he still had business troubles and was severely depressed afterwards. He died of suicide in 1915.
Just the next year, Demick’s successor at the Nine-Mile, Adolph Schultz, was divorced from his wife Eunice Schultz. It was Eunice who petitioned for the divorce, on the grounds that Adolph was “an habitual drunkard” and that she often had to tend bar for him. Newspapers even referred to her as the owner of the Nine-Mile. Although women were rarely welcome as customers in saloons before Prohibition, there were some women tavern owners and bartenders. One press account claimed that in 1904, there were 27 women saloon owners and 44 women bartenders in the state of Indiana.
The Hornet’s Nest that occupies this tavern space today was built after the original saloon and inn burned and was rebuilt sometime between 1926 and 1930 (accounts differ). The building was built by Oscar Sanders. In 1946 John Gerteisen bought the Hornet’s Nest from Sanders. John turned the tavern into a full-service restaurant. It was John Gerteisen who named the establishment the Hornet’s Nest because he had seen a restaurant with that name during his time in the military. (Current owner Derek Ungethiem prefers the story that locals named the Hornet’s Nest because the gathering place was visited annually by a swarm of hornets.)
An intriguing article from the Evansville Press on April 5, 1951 states that defense attorney James D. Lopp subpoenaed gambling apparatus to Circuit Court to assist in his defense of Edward and Helen Reuter who ran the LaReno Tavern in Daylight, Indiana. It seems the sheriff’s department had charged the Reuters with selling lottery tickets. The Hornet’s Nest was included in the list of businesses subpoenaed to bring in gambling equipment. We have not been able to follow this story further, but it appears the Hornet’s Nest once offered some sort of gambling.
John Gerteisen sold the Hornet’s Nest to his brother Joe in 1967. By 1990 Bob Schmitt and Wayne Moore took over the Hornet’s Nest. They expanded the enclosed waiting room, doubled the size of the kitchen and expanded the seating capacity from 89 to 200 guests. The pair also added Mondays to the days of the week the restaurant is open.
Since then, the Hornet’s Nest has changed hands several times until it reached its current owner, Derek Ungethiem. The area around the Hornet’s Nest is generally subsumed into the area today known as McCutchanville, but now you know its fuller history as a little community called Earle.