Dr. Aloysius “Alois” Wollenmann’s house was not the first to be located at 1150 Main Street in Ferdinand, Indiana.
The original property owner was Dr. Matthew Kempf, who was a Ferdinand institution in his day. He moved to the community soon after its founding and purchased a thickly wooded hillside on the east side of what was then Ohio Street. He had the dense forest cleared, built a colonial style home on the property and opened a medical practice that attracted the ailing from a hundred mile radius. Dr. Kempf served a term as a state representative and also taught at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. During his absences Dr. Kempf’s wife and later his sons, Doctors Ed and Paul Kempf, tended to the medical needs of the community. At U of L Dr. Kempf met young Alois Wollenmann. Born in Neuenkirchen, Switzerland, Alois studied medicine in both his native land and in Germany before relocating to the United States to serve as healer for the monks of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. He decided to take additional training at U of L and there became friends with Dr. Kempf. From the accounts of future generations, Dr. Wollenmann was not only a talented medical practitioner but also a hoot and a holler, always loving a good joke. This may be what attracted him to Dr. Kempf, who took Dr. Wollenmann home to meet his daughter, Fidelia Petronella Kempf. Alois and Fidelia married in 1893 and moved to the Kempf home in Ferdinand. Alois added a building on the southwest corner of the property where he opened the town’s very first drug store,the Adler Apotheke (Eagle Apothecary). He moved his medical practice there as well, and in 1897, when a Republican was needed to serve as postmaster, the Post Office moved into the building. Why the political affiliation? At the time, the postmaster job was always given to a member of the current governor’s party. In Ferdinand, where Republicans were as rare as four leaf clovers, it was no surprise the job was awarded to a distinguished — and possibly the lone — registered Republican in town. The Post Office itself, and the job, stayed with Alois from 1897 until his death in 1912. During that final year, he made Ida Hagen — a black women whom he had trained as a pharmacist — acting postmistress. She may have been a Republican, but would not have voted as women had not yet gained that privilege. He also was known to treat Native Americans who still roamed the area, usually settling in what was known as Beckman’s Woods on the northwest edge of town. They would stay in tents and his task would often be to help deliver babies. He was the one doctor who would treat them fairly. Dr. Wollenmann, a Swiss in a sea of Germans all living in this new land, wanted something that reminded him of home. He supposedly sent away to Switzerland for a chalet-style design (although a company in Minnesota actually rendered the drawings), and set about to build a new home where the colonial had stood. The new house was built by Seufert Construction to the doctor’s specifications and completed in 1903. It was glorious — the first house in Ferdinand with indoor plumbing. Some in the community found that very strange and could not imagine life without an outhouse. The unique home was bedecked in brown stained shingles with stripes of red and white under the second story windows for a splash of color. The front door featured a small sliding glass panel so the doctor could ascertain how sick someone was when he or she came knocking on his door. The windows were uniquely European and opened sideways, each in four vertical panels. The curtain rods were crafted to open out sideways to accommodate the windows. A room on the southwest side was deemed “the sick room,” where Dr. W. could ensconce a really sick patient so as not to infect his family. This house was like nothing ever seen before in Ferdinand — or since.
By this time the Wollenmanns were parents of two sons, Werner and Max. On October 8, 1903, Fidelia gave birth to a daughter. Sadly, eight days later, Fidelia passed away and her baby daughter died soon after. Dr. Wollenmann soldiered on, with assistance from Ida Hagen who helped tend to the boys and house, as well as with the pharmacy and post office. In August of 1911, Alois decided to return to his native land to visit his sister and improve his health. He had been stricken with Tuberculosis, most likely from contact with his patients. In fact, he already had the disease when he built the chalet, covering interior walls with thin, horizontal bead board strips to allow air circulation, then thought to be beneficial in treating the disease. Neither the slatted walls nor the trip to Switzerland helped. Dr. Alois Wollenmann succumbed at 11:50 a.m. on Friday, June 21, 1912. He was 48 years, six months and 20 days old. By this time his sons were old enough to carry on. Younger son Max followed in his father’s footsteps and became a physician. He eventually relocated to Arizona. Older son Werner stayed put in the house his dad built. In 1920, he bought Lot No. 123 near 9th and Main and built a gift shop there, selling all sorts of gift items, cosmetics, non-prescription pharmaceuticals, tobacco, sporting goods, school supplies and religious items. Werner was also a watchmaker and, in 1922, was appointed Receiver for the local Electric Light and Power Company and for the Building and Loan Association in 1934. Following in his father’s footsteps, he served as postmaster from 1953-56. Werner married the daughter of the man who installed the fireplace in the house — Irene Lindauer. The fireplace never worked by the way. John Lindauer told Ben Seufert it couldn’t possibly, but Ben told him to be quiet and just install it as the schematic instructed. Werner and his wife would become parents 11 times over and all their offspring grew up in the house. The Wollenmann house became party central for the entire town. In summer, Irene would hang a sheet across the door and show movies on its surface. Tennis would be played on the south side, other games elsewhere in the yard.
Irene also loved to entertain her friends and was known for her afternoon card parties. Werner, always a gentleman, made no objections when three more children were added to the mix, Irene’s widowed sister’s sons. Thus 14 children were living in a 3.5 bedroom house. But one-by- one they married and left the fold. Daughter Verna, who never married, lived there until 2010, but it was too much house for her to care for. It went on the market but when there were no takers, Verna and her sister, Gloria Shreve, thought maybe razing the house and selling the lot would be a better way to go.
Enter seven Ferdinand residents and members of the Ferdinand Historical Society. Also the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, Indiana Landmarks and the Indiana 15 Regional Planning Commission. The seven individuals agreed to purchase the house with the stipulation they would donate it to the Ferdinand Historical Society if a grant to restore it could be secured. On the second try, a $400,000 Historic Preservation Grant was awarded (in August of 2012), the Ferdinand Historical Society (through fundraisers and donations) paid for a portion of the house, and the house was generously deeded over to the Society.