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Apr 19, 2019

(April 6, 2019) A rare octagon-shaped house was built for a widow with 12 children in a rural part of Hancock County in 1879. She saved silver dollars until she accumulated more than $2,300, enough for construction of the distinctive house for her large brood.

Now known as the Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House, the historic residence had deteriorated alarmingly and almost burned in a firefighter training exercise before several residents of the town of Shirley purchased the farmhouse during the late 1990s. They moved it into Shirley near the railroad depot. A 20-year restoration project has resulted in a house that's now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and can be toured by appointment, beginning every April.

Wollenmann House was built in the style of a Swiss chalet in 1903 on Main Street in the scenic town of Ferdinand in Dubois County. Courtesy equally distinctive house is a Swiss chalet built in 1903 on Main Street in the scenic town of Ferdinand in Dubois County. The initial owner of the Wollenmann HouseDr. Alois Wollenmann, was a local physician who had been born in Switzerland and wanted a residence like those of his homeland; all of its features were European in design.

One unusual detail of the house reflected Dr. Wollenmann's medical practice, which he ran out of the home. He had a sliding panel installed in the front door so that he could assess the illness of patients before bringing them into his house. In the early 1900s, his son raised 11 children in the residence.

The Wollenmann House also was imperiled - it was placed on the 10 Most Endangered Sites list of Indiana Landmarks in 2010 - before being rescued. Purchased by a small group of Ferdinand residents, who then donated it to the Ferdinand Historical Society, the Wollenmann House also is listed on the National Register. Today, the distinctive chalet is home to Soup-N-Such, a café whose owners live the upstairs portion, where original features include a claw foot bathtub.

As we explore distinctive historic structures built as homes (or that have become residences), Nelson is joined by:

  • Interior shot of the Chapel of Our Sorrowful Mother in St. Ferdinand Parish reveals signs of deterioration. Our guest Diane Hoppenjans is involved in a community-wide restoration project. Courtesy Diana Hoppenjans.Hancock County historian Brigette Cook Jones, who discusses the Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House, which is celebrating its 140th anniversary this year. With 16 rooms, including several that are pie-shaped, it is believed to be one of just five octagonal homes that survive in Indiana. Like round barns, octagonal houses fell out of style.
  • And Diane Hoppenjans, past president of the Ferdinand Historical Society and vice president of Dubois County Tourism. Diane and her husband Alvin were among the residents who purchased the Wollenmann House to save the historic structure before donating it to the local historical society, which continues to own the chalet.

During our show, Diane also discusses another landmark in Ferdinand, which is in a region of Indiana known for its German heritage. It's a historic structure that's also on the town's Main Street; in the 19th Century, it was the residence and store of a family in the mercantile business.

In addition, Diane describes a community-wide project in which she's involved: the restoration of the historic Chapel of Our Sorrowful Mother. Built on a hill in the 1870s by German immigrants, the Catholic chapel overlooks St. Ferdinand Parish.

The Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House had decayed to the point that it essentially functioned as a run-down barn, housing hogs and cattle, before its move to Shirley and the painstaking renovation. Aside from its shape, the house has other distinctive features: it has four chimneys, and all 16 rooms have closets.

In addition to describing the colorful history of the octagonal house, Brigette shares details about a project underway at a site in Hancock County that's well-known to Hoosier history lovers: the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home and Museum in Greenfield. Riley (1849-1916), the Hoosier poet, grew up in the house, which is on the National Register. A new, multi-use building is being constructed on the home museum's grounds.