28 October 2009

Hauntings: local lore #1

Since we're coming up to Halloween, I thought I would give you a couple of local lore kinds of creepy stories to put you in the mood.



There is a fabled old house in town whose condition itself is enough to give one the jitters. The stories behind the house add to the mystery and intrigue. The story of this property extends back to 1857 when the property was purchased by a German man named Hoham. Hoham created the first lager brewery in Northern Indiana and had his own saloon in town from which he sold his product.


Giant brick vaults to hold the beer were constructed on the property with the old brewery building over the top of the vaults. Fresh water in the distilling process was pumped up from the river at the base of the hill the brewery sat upon. The story passed down from the son of Hoham, the original proprietor, to his granddaughter (a woman who only recently passed away) was that Hoham assisted runaway slaves find safe passage to Michigan, using the Michigan Road as their general route. The slaves were said to take safe harbor in the dark and damp brick vaults.


The brick vaults were still in good condition the last time they were accessed and photographed in the late 1950's. It is believed that they are still at least partially intact. As to the plausibility that Hoham was an agent in the Underground Railroad, we know that he was a Lincoln Republican, running for office in 1860. We also know that he had the financial means to provide safe passage, including a transport route he used to take beer to Michigan City-a major destination point for escaped slaves as an entry point to the safe state of Michigan. We also know that in the state's published findings of the Underground Railroad, our community featured prominently in having safe houses for escaped slaves. Add the corroborating testimony of Hoham's great granddaughter and it seems in all likelihood a true story.


But the mystery around the Hoham house doesn't end there. In the brewery's heyday this large brick house was constructed in about 1880. The Stick-style house is unique in its architectural style and is one of the most impressive homes built in our area during the 1800's. However, as the brewery burned and family moved elsewhere the property transferred in ownership and later became a speak-easy during prohibition times. The house, subjected to constant police raids, became known as "the Pines". And wouldn't you know it, but the infamous character recently featured in film, John Dillinger, was said to have lodged here. A large third floor ballroom accessed by a narrow staircase flanked by dual chimneys arching together overhead would seem like the perfect private respite for a tommy-gun toting bank robber. Dillinger's bank robbing spree had all of Indiana in a panic.

Lake County Courthouse, Crown Point....famed Dillinger landmark

I've often passed by the house on the hill, situated on a major street curve, and hope for the best. It has been in rough condition for as long as I can remember. Our preservation non-profit group had created a purchase agreement with the owners a few years back but they rescinded on the very last day. Some people think the place is haunted. It certainly has that ambiance. I just think it is a great piece of history unique to our community and tied into our national identity through the likes of Dillinger and the Underground Railroad. Hopefully it will find salvation soon before it becomes itself a ghost.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Underground Railroad: I have noticed that most German immigrants of the 1840s were Union supporters and subsequently supported the underground railroad movement. It is interesting your old map shows the "railroad" going through Niles Michigan. I am not certain but I think there was more activity in the Cassopolis Area as was supported by Quakers. Wingman

hoosier reborn said...

You are right on with Cassopolis, it was a major point of entry for escaped slaves. I have an ancestor by the name of Bogue for which there is a memorial in that community recalling his work with the Underground RR.

Anonymous said...

I worked is Cass' for a short time after college where exactly is that monument? Wingman

hoosier reborn said...

What's the highway that runs northeast into Cassopolis? It is on that highway, southwest of town...if memory serves me right.