Ida Hagen, first African-American postmistress in Indiana

I ran across Ida Hagen two places: in a news clipping in the Dubois Country Historical Museum and in information about Dr. Aloysius “Alois” Wollenmann. I knew this was a woman I needed to learn about.

As I have researched Hagen more, I have been increasingly impressed. Hagen became a clerk in the post office that Dr. Wollenmann ran in Ferdinand, Indiana in 1904. In fact, other opportunities arose from her contact with Dr. Wollenman.

But I am getting ahead of myself. From my vantage point in time, Hagen looked like she was on the road to great things from a young age. Dr. Wollenmann just helped her along.

Ida Hagen was born into a family that started the Colored Freedom Settlement in Dubois County. By the time she was born (1888), her great grandfather (or great great grandfather…sources differ) who founded the settlement, Emmanuel Pinkston Sr, had been deceased for three years.

She attended Gehlhausen Country School, where she received county honors in 1901. She was the first African American to graduate from a common (grade) school in Dubois County.

In 1903, she began to help Dr. Wollenmann with cleaning, cooking, and raising his two sons after his wife died. The following year, in 1904, she finished high school after only one year and then, at age 16, became a clerk at the post office where Dr. Wollenmann was the postmaster.

In her spare time, Ida studied German, the language spoken by many in the community, and then studied pharmacy under Dr. Wollenmann and assisted him in his doctor’s office and on house calls.

To my delight, I located some early announcements about her formal pharmaceutical training certification. In May 1906, she graduated with a degree in pharmacy. In January 1909, she received a certificate from the Indiana Board of Pharmacy.

Upon Dr. Wollenmann’s death in 1912, she took over as assistant postmaster, but left Ferdinand that same year.

I have found little about her life after she left Ferdinand. She practiced pharmacy in Indianapolis, and then moved to Gary and continued to practice pharmacy there. By 1955, she was living in Detroit with her husband Sidney Whitaker. And there her trail starts to go cold. She died in 1978 and is buried in Detroit.

The Monkey Hollow Bistro and the Wollenmann House

I killed two birds with one stone—trying out the Monkey Hollow wines at their bistro in Ferdinand AND checking out the historic Wollenmann House.

Monkey Hollow is one of the many small wineries that dot Indiana. The winery is located on back roads near St. Meinrad. In October 2014, the winery opened a satellite location with a bistro in downtown Ferdinand. And they did so in style, occupying the historic Wollenmann House that was renovated for adaptive reuse.

The Wollenmann House is quite distinctive, a house built in the Swiss cottage style with Craftsman detailing. The house was built in 1903 for Dr. Aloysius “Alois” Wollenmann, a Swiss native.

Dr. Wollenmann studied medicine in Switzerland and Germany, and then came to the Indiana to be a doctor for the monks of St. Meinrad, a community founded by Benedictine monks from Switzerland. He continued his study of medicine at the University of Louisville, where he met Dr. Paul Kempf who taught at the university. Dr. Kempf introduced Alois to his daughter Fidelia…and you can guess what happened next. In 1893, the two were married and moved into Dr. Kemp’s house in Ferdinand.

Dr. Wollenmann operated an eclectic mix of enterprises on the property—his medical practice, a pharmacy, a post office, and a watch repair business. Dr. Wollenmann was well-known for his kind and equal treatment of all, including African Americans and Native Americans. In fact, he employed the first female African American postmistress in the state of Indiana, Ida Hagen. (More about Ida in future blog posts.)

Sadly, the same year that the Wollenmann House was built (1903), Dr. Wollenmann lost his wife and newborn daughter. After his death in 1912, one of his two sons, Werner, lived in the house, where he and his wife raised 11 (!) children. One of his daughters occupied the Wollenmann House until 2010.

A group of seven locales, who saw the historical significance of the house, bought it and agreed to donate the house to the Ferdinand Historical Society, if a grant for renovation could be found. Happily, a grant was found and the house was renovated.

Monkey Hollow currently leases the house from the Historical Society as a bistro and winery. The bistro business was new to Monkey Hollow; they hired chef Rebecca Fields to develop a menu. (I spoke with a Rebecca who worked there…not sure if it was THE Rebecca. She did seem quite knowledgeable…)

When I visited, the bistro was busy. Their menu offers a good selection and the food was quite tasty. The food seems to have a German bent to it (or maybe that is just an Indiana bent)—heavy on the meat. Heavy-on-the-meat menus are not necessarily my friend, but to my delight, the menu included a turkey version of a Reuben sandwich (called a Rachel). (Reubens, let alone turkey Reubens, were rare in California where I lived for years, so now when I encounter turkey Reubens, I get more excited than probably the average person would.)

The bistro also offers wine tastings and sells wine on site. I thought their Pasture Limit Reloaded, a bourbon-barrel aged Catawba wine, was divine. But when I went back to purchase a bottle before leaving town, to my chagrin, I discovered that they were sold out. (Clearly, others found it divine too.)

Because the place was so busy, I had plenty of time to take in my surroundings before I was waited on. The rooms had a very open and expansive feel to them with lots of woodwork. An old photograph hung over the fireplace. Perhaps of Dr. Alois Wollenmann and his clan? Or more likely that of his son Werner and his plethora of offspring.

I was intrigued by the windows. The windows consisted of two panes. One window was different from the others. The top pane had its own latch, as if the top pane could be opened separately or both panes could be opened together. This setup reminded me of a Dutch door where the top panel of the door opens separately from the entire door. I have never seen a window like that. I haven’t had any success in discovering the name or providence of this type of window.

If you find yourself meandering through southern Indiana, stop by for a Rachel. And pick up a bottle or two of the Pasture Limit Reloaded—if they aren’t sold out.

St. Benedict Brew Works

Monks and breweries. It is not unheard of. But sisters and breweries? This seems…unique.

In fact, St. Benedict Brew Works is the only craft brewery in the US that is located on the grounds of a women’s religious community. Hmmm…who knew that Indiana could be so progressive? I had to check it out.

St. Benedict Brew Works partners with the Benedictine sisters at the Monastery of Immaculate Conception. Their motto: Pray Work Brew. The brewery itself isn’t run by the sisters but by Vince Luecke, who studied for the priesthood for a bit, and Andy Hedinger, who co-owns Monkey Hollow Winery.

The brewery is tucked behind the church and monastery buildings, next to the gift shop. It inhabits the former art studio and has a kind of art studio feel about it. (Maybe that feeling is fed by the open ceiling and large chalkboards.)

Vince and Andy brew many, many different types of beers but have a limited selection on tap at any one time. They vary between amber beers, dark beers, American pale ales, and India Pale Ales. The names are inspired by the Benedictine tradition like The Witty Nun or Walpurga’s Wheat IPA. You can get pints or flights (samplers), or fill up a growler to go.

After chatting with Vince for a while, I settled on a flight of the four beers that they had on tap: The Abbess (hefeweizen), Sister Mary Rose (Irish red ale), The Prioress (porter), and Walpurga’s Wheat IPA.

The Abbess blew me away. It was clearly my favorite (even though I do not consider myself a wheat beer kind of gal). The hefewiesen had a nice banana flavor to it. (I am not so into banana but I really liked this.) Vince insisted that no banana flavor was added; I was tasting the natural flavor produced by the yeast.

I tend to like darker, heavier beers, so I wasn’t surprised that I liked Sister Mary Rose and The Prioress. Still though, they didn’t quite match up to The Abbess. (I looked back at that empty glass longingly, but no sense in dawdling. Onto the next sample!)

Walpurga’s Wheat IPA was not my cup of tea, so to speak. I do not like pale ales and this one was way too hoppy for someone not smitten by IPA.

When I visited the Brew Works, only a few snack type food items were available, though they hope to have a commercial kitchen working soon.

As I left St. Benedict Brew Works, I sighed. If only I lived closer. I would like to try the other dozen or so beers that they make. Oh look! They offer retreats—brewing retreats—that include reflections on gospel parables as well as sampling and brewing craft beer. Hmm….

Exploring the Monastery Immaculate Conception

After touring the church and hearing a history of the monastery, I set out to explore the grounds. The church was breathtaking, but there was more to see.

Immediately in front of the church was the cemetery, full of sisters and situated between trees dotting the lawn.

To the west was a building that used to house new sisters, but these days only 1 or 2 women enter the order per year. So, as Sister Christine explained on the tour, the building is being renovated. Instead of housing new sisters, two-bedroom apartments would house seniors.

The lawn labyrinth was nowhere to be found. I suspect it was a casualty of the building renovation.

I sought out the gift shop. And then I meandered to the lake to relax on one of the benches surrounding it. I listened to the frogs and enjoyed the day coming to a close.

Nearby were three outdoor spots for spiritual contemplation under the trees: the rosary steps, a grotto of the Lady of Lourdes, and stations of the cross. I started to take my time with them, slipping into contemplative practice from previous years and previous stations of the cross. Unfortunately, I couldn’t linger. The mosquitoes had already claimed these spots. I ran fleeing them.

I went in search of the balcony bench that Sister Christine spoke of and enjoyed some quiet contemplation of the sunset sans mosquitoes (though not sans mosquito bites). As Sister Christine promised, the view lent itself to long drawn out gazing.

But the big kid called to me. I took turns running up and down the spiral staircases in the turrets at each end of the balcony. Fun! The perfect place to play hide and seek. Sister Christine was right. Kids of all sizes and ages love running up and down them. 🙂

Benedictines in Indiana

Benedictines in Indiana?! Having been a part of a Benedictine group years earlier, I was curious. Oooh, in photos the church looked absolutely stunning. I had to plan a visit.

Situated in the rolling hills of southern Indiana, the Monastery Immaculate Conception is a stunning structure and home to one of the largest Benedictine communities in the US. Signs as I approached spoke to the 150th anniversary that they were celebrating in 2016.

The sisters gave tours multiple times a day (at least during the anniversary celebration). I managed to get a tour all to myself, led by Sister Christine.

The tour began in the lobby, next to a model of the church. Sister Christine discussed the history of the sisters in the US and the construction of the church.

The sisters at the monastery are descended from Benedictine women who came from Germany to teach German immigrants in the US. They started in St. Mary’s, PA and the moved to Eric, PA. Then three of the sisters moved to Covington, KY. Later, in 1867, four sisters came from the Kentucky community to Ferdinand, IN. From these four sisters, the Ferdinand community reached a height of 500 sisters. Currently, the community is home to about 140 sisters, ranging from a sister who is 27 years old to a sister who will be 100 on April 10.

This particular community focuses on teaching as their service. The original sisters were teachers, and in 1870 ran a two-storied boarding school. The boarding school continued to function until 2000, when the student body was less than 100 children.

In 1904, the monastery ran out of space. Mother Kordes decided to dream big. She commissioned a St. Louis architect to build a new church, which is the current building. The cost to build the church was beyond anything that the sisters could afford, but while their funds were small, their faith was huge.

Builders started in 1915 and the exterior was done in 14 months. Unfortunately, so were the funds. Construction on the interior was delayed until 1922 and completed in 1924. In 1930, stained glass windows, which were designed at nearby St. Meinrad, were installed.

By 1997, the church was in dire need of repair; part of the roof was collapsing. On September 10, 2001, the sisters started a capital campaign for repairs. As with initial construction, which coincided with WWI, the sisters again had excellently poor timing. Their capital campaign for renovations started the day before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The sisters managed to fund the exterior restorations and then ran out of money. Interior restoration finally took place March 2004 through August 2005.

After this lengthy history of the sisters and the church building, Sister Christine led me to the church itself, where she pointed out interesting items.

The interior of the church is breathtaking.

The pièce de résistance is the central dome. It is the most striking architectural feature as you approach the church. The dome is 87 feet tall, or 137 feet from the crypts beneath, with a diameter of 32.5 feet.

Because the church is in the National Register of Historic places, during the last renovations, they could only make small changes. They added a holy water font and a reader stand, and moved the sanctuary forward to allow for a wooden dome structure.

The wooden dome structure contains a domed tabernacle with the sacrament and lies directly beneath the sanctuary dome (as opposed to the central dome). In essence, the building contains a dome (tabernacle) within a dome (wooden structure) within a dome (sanctuary).

Incidentally, the wooden dome structure is designed for people to pray within it. I took advantage of this during one of the few times (emphasis on few) that the church wasn’t occupied with many daily services or tours. It was an absolutely awesome experience.

Large statues of angels ring the interior of the sanctuary dome. (When I prayed within the wooden dome structure, I felt the presence of these angels around me.) The entire church contains 89 angels, including cherub faces on the walls, statues of angels, and images of angels in the stained glass windows.

The church contains not one, but two, organs. The organ on the second floor has 1300 pipes and 35 ranks. A second, more easily accessible organ on the main floor was donated in 2010 and has 100 pipes.

The marble and granite floor came from Italy. The stations of the cross around the sides of the church came from Munich.

In the back of the church is an unusual statue of the death of Joseph with Mary and Jesus. Sister Christine commented that over a dozen people on various tours have mentioned seeing this statue before…all saw it in St. Louis.

Sister Christine then led me to side rooms where vestments are stored and priests prepare for services. The south-facing windows from these rooms have beautiful views of the rolling hills, with St. Henry eight miles away in the distance. Sister Christine commented that the view is gorgeous in the winter with the snow blanketing the trees. And then she mentioned that sunsets are great from the balcony just outside the windows.

She also pointed out the turrets on either side of the balcony, commenting that kids love running up and down the curved stairways in the turrets. Cool, I thought! I made a mental note to investigate them. She must have known my thoughts for after a pause, she added that even big kids like to go up and down the turrets. 🙂

Sister Christine then led me out of the church to another room, which was the site of the original church. Sisters now meet here with visitors and family. A portrait of Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria hangs on one wall. (Ferdinand was responsible for sending missionaries to the US…and he is the town’s namesake.)

Our tour ended. Sister Christine welcomed me to use the church anytime between 5:30 in the morning (!) and 9 at night. I then wandered off to explore the grounds…and those turrets.

You can take a virtual tour of the church.