Ida and the Colored Freedom Settlement immortalized

When I was researching information about the Colored Freedom Settlement in Dubois County, Indiana, I stumbled across several poems about Ida, her ancestors, and the Colored Freedom Settlement.

The poems, written by Jasper, Indiana native and Indiana Poet Laureate Nobert Krapf, reflect a familiarity with Ida, her father, and the Colored Freedom Settlement. Krapf grew up geographically near to the settlement, but was born a few years after the last settlement inhabitant died.

Contemporary American Voices: a journal of poetry

  • Last Sunset: Ida’s Father Ben Hagan, Jr. Is Buried in the Pinkston Cemetery
    Last Sunset describes the funeral of Ida’s father in 1939 and the death of the Colored Freedom Settlement. Note: Krapf uses Hagan rather than Hagen. I have seen the family name spelled both ways.
  • Ida and a Gemini Twin
    Krapf addresses Ida directly in this poem about a famous blues singer who shares her May 24 birthday. The blues singer? Bob Dylan.
  • Hearing the Blues in the Pinkston Cemetery
    Kraft reflects on being in the cemetery of the Colored Freedom Settlement, hearing Jimmie Duck Holmes play the blues, and offering to listen with Ida.

Flying Island

  • Whose Eyes Are These?
    Krapf speaks of Ida and her ancestry.

Ida and family may have been the subject of other poems by Krapf. These are the few that I have found online by this Pulitzer Prize nominee.

The Colored Freedom Settlement

In contrast to other black communities like the Roberts Settlement, Lyles Station, or the Beech Settlement, I can find precious little about the Colored Freedom Settlement.

I first encountered this settlement when I stumbled across Ida Hagen  and Dr. Aloysius “Alois” Wollenmann on a trip to Ferdinand, Indiana. I saw an image of Ida Hagen associated with the Colored Freedom Settlement in the Dubois County Historical Museum. I read about Hagen’s work with Dr. Wollenmann. As I researched Hagen, I found tantalizing tidbits about the settlement. Will-o’-the-wisps really. The settlement is mentioned in passing but seems to have disappeared over time.

In 1840, Emmanuel Pinkston Sr., a freed slave from Georgia, founded the settlement. According to an 1850 census, Emmanuel lived there with his wife and six children. He bought land numerous times: 1857, 1870, and 1871. In 1875, he set aside land in the settlement for a church and a school.

The settlement was home to many different families, including a Ben Hagen, the father of Ida Hagen. Ben lived on a farm next to Emmanuel’s at least as early as 1874. Hagen grew tobacco and watermelon, and was a minister at the Missionary Baptist Church. In 1939, he passed away. His funeral is immortalized in a poem by Nobert Krapf.

Following Ben’s death, it seems that the settlement itself was not long for this world. Larkin Pinkston, the last remaining member of the settlement, died in 1940.

The Huntingburg Conservation Club is now located where the settlement once stood. The Pinkston-Hagen cemetery must still exist. I found a 2013 article that spoke of Uebelhor family members locating graves and preserving the cemetery. But where exactly it exists is a mystery to me.

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.