by Kathy Tretter
In April of this year, a contractor from Santa Claus visited the Ferdinand Town Hall seeking a demolition permit for a house located at 1150 Main Street.
Currently, Ferdinand has no permit requirement to tear a structure down. But this inquiry set in motion a series of events that has led to a changing of the guard of sorts.
On Monday, August 23, pen was put to paper to write a new chapter in the history of that particular property when ownership of the Swiss chalet-style home was transferred from sisters Verna Wollenmann and Gloria Shreve to TTHM Properties LLC — a consortium of community members who felt compelled to preserve the house rather than see it demolished.
The Wollenmann House, as it will likely be known for at least a few more generations, has been a landmark and an icon in the community since Dr. Alois Wollenmann built it sometime after 1903.
Before that, Dr. Wollenmann and his wife, Fidelia Petronella (nee Kempf) lived on the property in a colonial house built by Fidelia's parents, Dr. Mathies and Mrs. Katherina Kempf (see chronology).
In 2007 and again in 2008, Indiana Landmarks Foundation placed the house on its 10 Most Endangered List. The structure, with its unique windows and intricate gingerbread trim, was given an “Outstanding” rating in the Dubois County Interim Report, a Historic Sites and Structures Inventory published in 1998.
Last autumn, the Ferdinand Town Council looked at ways to acquire and restore the structure but hit a few roadblocks and had to abandon the plan.
Time passed and with no prospects to buy the house, the sisters asked the contractor to look into demolition. The consortium began meeting soon after word got out that the house was to be torn down and the property sold off in lots. The first concern was a very valid one — could they afford the property? And if so, what could be done with it? After making the purchase, the new owners approached the Ferdinand Historical Society to see if they would be interested in buying it and applying for grants to help in the restoration.
The answer was a resounding “yes.” But to do so, a great deal of help will be required from the community. The Ferdinand Historical Society will apply for a Community Focus Fund Grant through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs, with the help of the Indiana 15 Regional Planning Commission. If awarded, the grant will pay for acquisition and restoration of the exterior and will replace the wiring.
One of the grant stipulations is a local fund match of 10%. The Dubois County Community Foundation (DCCF) has agreed to hold the funds in an account that will help earn additional “points” for the grant application, similar to the process used to acquire a grant to build the Dubois County Contractual Public Library branch in Dubois.
A second fund will be set up at DCCF to pay for maintenance into perpetuity.
The consortium, made up of three local couples and one individual, will make no money from their acquisition of the property but hope to be reimbursed for at least some of their investment through the grant. Members include Alvin and Diane Hoppenjans, Richard and Kathy Tretter, Jim Mehling and Sue Ellspermann and Ed Talucci. Fund-raiser will be planned to help raise the grant match (potentially up to $50,000) and tax-deductible donations are welcomed, which should be made to the Ferdinand Historical Society and specified for the Wollenmann House. The address for the Society is P.O. Box 194, Ferdinand, IN 47532.
Help might also be needed in the form of actual labor, especially on the interior, but that will come much later in the process. It will be next year before grants are awarded, with lots of legwork in the interim.
Meanwhile, work began last Saturday to list the house on the National Register, with funding from Indiana Landmarks.
Gregory A. Sekula AICP, Southern Regional Director, had this to say: "Indiana Landmarks is elated that local community-minded citizens have banded together to acquire this significant historic property to protect it for the future. Our organization is glad to provide some seed funding to the Ferdinand Historical Society who is a partner in this effort to achieve National Register designation for the property and to help with the formulation of a study to assess the structure for a future new use."
Questions can be directed to any member of the consortium or the Ferdinand Historical Society.
Property chronology: Lots 53 and 54 (each a 99 by 99 foot square) sat side by side, east and west, with the front lot facing Ohio Street (now Main) and the back lot facing Maryland Street.
On April 2, 1840, Joseph and Mary Josephine (Friedman) Rose of Louisville, KY bought the two lots from Fr. Joseph Kundek for $25. The Roses sold the lots to John G. and Mary Catherina Beckmann on April 17, 1852 for $35.
On July 6, 1855, Dr. Mathies (Matthew) and Katherina (Jägly or Yägli or Jaegli) Kempf bought the lots for $90.
Lots 67 and 68 each measured 99 by 99 foot square and ran east and west. The front lot faced Ohio and is south of and adjacent to lot 53. The back lot, due east, bordered Maryland.
John G. and Catherina Boeckmann bought these two lots in 1856 from the Auditor's Office at what would essentially be a Tax Sale because back taxes were due (similar to a sheriff's sale today).
Dr. Mathies and Mrs. Katherina Kempf bought the two lots from the Beckmanns on March 12, 1862, for $175. They erected a Colonial-style home on the front two parcels facing Main Street.
In 1893, the property fell into the hands of Dr. Kempf's daughter, Fidelia Petronella Kempf and her new husband, Dr. Mathies (Matthew) Wollenmann, a Swiss immigrant who took over Dr. Kempf's medical practice.
After his death in 1912, the house passed to his son, Werner and, after Werner's death, to his daughters, Verna and Gloria, the fourth generation to inhabit the property.
August 23, 2010, the property (with the exception of the former barbershop in the northwest corner) was sold to TTHM Properties LLC.