Israel Jenkins

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The year was 1840, and Israel Jenkins had just completed building a house which would encompass a vast amount of history relating to the city of Marion, Indiana as well as the network of the Underground Railroad (Randy Ballinger). Israel was originally from Virginia but since his family was strongly abolitionist, they did not own any slaves and therefore didn’t prosper in that region. As a result, Israel and his family moved to Clinton County, Ohio where he met his wife Lydia Dwiggens (Amy Patel).

Shortly after this, the newlyweds moved from Ohio in 1839 to a town slightly west of the close-knit, predominantly Quaker town of Farmington, Indiana. Farmington is a very small town which is located approximately 5 miles East of Marion (Randy Ballinger). In addition to the Jenkins family, there were also a variety of individuals as well as groups of people that were active participants in the Underground Railroad. Two of these being Charles Atkinson and Levi Coffin, both whom worked in correspondence with Jenkins in maintaining the underground network. The freedom of slaves was a main priority in this small abolitionist society, and many members enthusiastically participated in providing freedom to those who had none (Biographical Memoirs of Grant County, Indiana 492).

Arriving In Indiana

When Israel and Lydia Jenkins arrived in Farmington, Indiana the first thing they did was purchase land. Israel originally bought 80 acres from Isaac Truax and resided in a small log cabin that was located on the estate. Nearly a year later, in 1840, he decided he wanted to build his own house, so he purchased another 80 acres from Will Mitchell giving him a total of 160 acres (Ballinger personal Interview). Israel’s property line was divided by Walnut Creek. On the other side of the creek resided Charles Atkinson, whom was a “master” of the Underground Railroad system in Grant County (Biographical memoirs of Grant County, Indiana 492). Not only did a key individual in the Underground Railroad border him, but he was also a neighbor to another participant in the network. Ironically, it was his brother-in-law, Daniel Dwiggens (Ballinger personal Interview). I believe that Israel’s location between these individuals as well as his strong abolitionist beliefs were two major factors which influenced him to participate in the Underground Railroad network and build a house to make it possible.

Involvement in the Underground Railroad Network

Israel built a fairly large house with locally made bricks. The house was approximately 1800 square feet containing eight rooms, four chimneys, a full attic, and original hand blown glass windows. When building the house, he did many things that would make it possible for African Americans to take refuge there. For example, he built two different walls with hidden access to crawl spaces that could hold a maximum of fifteen people. One of these crawl spaces was located under the staircase going up to the second floor. It was the larger of the two crawl spaces and was covered by a stove board to ensure protection. In addition, he built double brick walls with approximately one inch of space between them; these walls went farther down into the ground then typical walls. He built the walls like this because during this time period, slave hunters would use dogs to reveal slaves, and with the double brick walls that went far down into the ground, it was nearly impossible for anyone outside of the house to know that there were people hidden inside.

Not only did Israel secure the inside of the house, but he also did many things to the exterior of the estate to assist in concealing their refuge. For example, he and his neighbor as well as brother-in-law, Daniel Dwiggens, owned a sawmill so they were able to provide ample amounts of water to their “guests” without anyone being able to see how much water was being used in the house. This was key, because in this time period, most slaves got caught because hosts were not careful about how much water they were bringing into their house and who saw them bring it in (Ballinger personal interview). Israel also lined the drive into the house with elms. This is how the house became known as the “Elms Station”. Many estates involved in the Underground Railroad were named after the trees surrounding the house. It resembled a code system for slaves. Other houses in the same area as the Jenkins’ were named “Golden Oaks” and “Scarlet Oaks” because of the trees surrounding the property. Unfortunately, these elms no longer line the long drive.

Other Owners

After nearly 40 years working as a contributing member to the Underground Railroad, Israel Jenkins died on November 10, 1877. Several years later, in 1890, his wife Lydia died (Biographical Memoirs of Grant County, Indiana 492). After both founders of the house had passed away, they gave the house to their daughter Hannah Jenkins, who was one of eight of their children. As Hannah and her family got older, she sold the property to David and Amelia Ballinger and their two children, Stella and Albert. Several years later Stella inherited the house and she and her husband Leslie Ross resided in it for several years. There were many debates in this transaction. The conflict mainly arose from the fact that Leslie Ross was raised in the South and supported slavery, while the Ballingers were Yankees and disapproved of Ross gaining ownership of the house. However, it was a business transaction and not much could be altered. After Leslie and Stella had passed, they gave the home to their son, Glenn Ross, and his wife Virginia. A few years later, Glenn sold it to Randy and Sara Ballinger, who are the current owners of the estate and have renovated the property to be used as a clubhouse for Walnut Creek golf course (Ballinger personal interview).


Israel Jenkins’ house and story contain a very interesting piece of the history of Grant County. Although just a simple countryman living in the small town of Farmington, Indiana, he showed a true concern for the status and freedom of the African American race, demonstrated through his house. All past and current owners of the home have contributed to the importance of the home today and will not be forgotten. The Jenkins’ devotion to the Underground Railroad helped free many slaves and had a significant impact on the history of Grant County.

Work Cited

  • Ballinger, Randy. “Historic Jenkins Home.”
  • 2007. Walnut Creek Golf Course. 10 May 2008 <>.
  • Ballinger, Sara. Personal Interview. 4 December 2001.
  • Biographical Memoirs of Grant County, Indiana. Chicago: Bowen Publishing Company, 1901:471.
  • Calache, Christine M. Digital image. [Israel Jenkins]. 2008. 16 May 2008.
  • Patel, Amy. “Israel Jenkins House.” 2001.
  • Shouse, Cathy. “The Israel Jenkins House and Yesterday Today”. 8 August 2004. D1
  • Waters, Avon. “History lives behind these walls”. Marion Chronicle Tribune. 5 November 2001. A3