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Oldenburg and Batesville
Saturday, September 22, 2001

Two members of the recently formed Batesville Area Historical Society served as guides for two dozen Society of Indiana Pioneers members on Saturday, September 22, 2001, when the group toured the Ripley County city.

Noting that the 6,000 residents in Batesville still have access to a home-owned drug store and a corner grocery that makes deliveries, Historical Society President Jean Struewing pointed with pride at various restored buildings. Founded in 1852 by German immigrants from Cincinnati, the early residents used their woodworking and carving skills and the nearby hardwood forests to create industries that are still thriving today. The community is home to Batesville Caskets, Hillenbrand Industries, and Hill-Rom furniture. By 1900, six furniture factories, two coffin and casket plants, two sawmills, and a door and sash factory provided employment.

Early residents did not cluster large expensive homes in a single area of the community like some Indiana towns. Driving up and down streets from one end of town to the other, Mrs. Struewing pointed out small cottages next to two-story mansions once owned by the earliest prominent citizens. Plans to raise $500,000 to purchase the Canfield home restored by the Kelly family is a top goal of the local society. After John A. Hillenbrand willed his home to the city, a new brick library was built in 1970. According to Mrs. Struewing, “his four sons have made Batesville what it is today.” Batesville is “almost like Mayberry,” she added while explaining that a downtown barbershop, in the same family since 1905, even has a child’s barber chair.

Sharing the tour duties was the Historical Society’s Vice President Don Karbowski, a casket company retiree. The Batesville Casket Company’s 160,000-square-foot Customer Service Center sits high on a hill off I-74. Mr. Karbowski’s guided tour of the center, part of the Hillenbrand Industries, included rooms the company uses for funeral industry seminars and displays of its latest products (two views above). He led the tour through the showrooms, explaining themes the company uses to express the interests of the deceased. Among these was the custom insert in the casket lid requested by the Kennedy family when their beloved mother and grandmother, Rose Kennedy, died. The family wanted the panel to show three red roses, one for each of her deceased sons.

The Brau Haus in Oldenburg provided a family-style fried chicken dinner before a walking tour of the convent of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, the motherhouse of the Third Order of St. Francis, founded in 1851 by Mother Teresa Hacklemeier of Vienna, Austria. Led by Sister Marcella Coors and Sister Boniface Conrad, two groups toured the brick building, rebuilt in 1857 after a fire and reconstructed in 1871 and 1901.

The residential academy for high school girls became co-educational two years ago with an enrollment of 200 students and is expected to be independent of the motherhouse “in a couple of years.” Five or six years ago the sisters renovated the former space for nuns in their formation period to accommodate elderly nuns with chronic health problems. “We know that as our ranks diminish, we may want to invite lay people to live here,” Sister Marcella said, explaining that the sisters live in less austere quarters now than rooms they had when they first joined the religious community. The ornate chapel was built in 1889 with Tennessee marble floors. Since elderly nuns can’t kneel easily, all the kneelers in the church have been removed.

We then boarded the bus for a short ride to the 300-acre organic farm adjacent to the convent property, which opened ten years ago through a reorganization plan involving the Sisters and lay people, creating a major market for the farm’s organic produce. Called Michaela Farm after one of the community’s first sisters, the land is now one of more than 1,500 Community Supported Agriculture projects in North America.

The herd of Beefalo raised on the farm is genetically three-eighths beef and five-eighths buffalo and produces low-fat meat, according to Sister Ann Marie Quinn, who recently took cattle to market in preparation for wintering over the herd. “We raise enough feed for forty head until it is time to put the herd out to pasture in the spring,” she explained as she lead a tour through the L-shaped upper barn built into the side of a hill.

On the barn’s sorting floor, she told how local residents pay in advance to receive organic produce weekly from May through November 2. A family can sign up for a “full share” or a “half-share” of produce and collect fresh herbs, peppers, or whatever is ready for harvest that week. The harvest can include strawberries, asparagus, peas, greens, onions, corn, or tomatoes as each planting matures. Any additional harvest is taken to Finley Market in Cincinnati or to the convent’s farm store. Interns who live in a residential area at one end of the upper barn often help with the harvesting. In her faded jeans, butterfly-decorated T-shirt, and leather sandals, Sister Ann Marie brushed aside her gray and blonde pageboy as she described how the staff interacts in the community and uses the farm to educate the public on environmental issues. Hot water is piped underground to parts of the building from a distant location with wood fire.

The former farrow house for pigs and pump house has been renovated into a “contemplation house.” A larger reflection house is located beyond the reservoir. The Sisters also lease some farmland to a couple who constructed a house using bails of straw for exterior walls. Pioneers did not see the contemplation house or the building of straw bails.

Special thanks to the Indiana Historical Society’s Development Director, Tom Krasean, for hosting our Fall Pilgrimage.