Israel Jenkins House

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Behind the walls of the Israel Jenkins’s house lies an immense amount of history dating back to 1840. The house was built by Israel and Lydia Jenkins who moved to the abolitionist town of Farmington, Indiana (Waters A3). The tiny town consisted of few homes, most of which contributed to the Underground Railroad. The house was under many different ownerships and all occupants were important to the history of the house. People like Charles Atkinson and Levi Coffin, dominant participants in the Underground Railroad, worked closely with the Jenkins in keeping the transportation of slaves running (Ballinger Personal Interview). The Underground Railroad was important to the Jenkins’s family and their active participation in the network helped give freedom to slaves who struggled for it.

Israel Jenkins

Israel Jenkins was born in Frederick County, Virginia on September 30, 1814. He moved with his family, who were all Quakers, to Clinton County, Ohio in 1836 to escape the ways of slavery. Since their families did not own slaves while in Virginia, it was very hard for them to make a living like others in that area (Ballinger Personal Interview). It was in Clinton County, Ohio where he met and married Lydia Dwiggins, eventually having eight children together. Lydia Dwiggins was born in Clinton County on October 6, 1812. In 1839, Israel and Lydia moved to Grant County, Indiana to a town named Farmington located in the Monroe Township. Today, Farmington would be where the Walnut Creek Golf Course in eastern Grant County is presently located. Together, they bought 160 acres of land situated by Walnut Creek, 80 of which were purchased from Isaac Truax and the other 80 from William Mitchell (Ballinger Personal Interview).

The Town of Farmington

Farmington, Indiana was first settled by a man named Andrew Patterson in 1835. The town was named Farinington after the abolitionist town of Farmington, Connecticut, which participated greatly in the “Amistad Trial.” However, Farmington was not officially called Farmington until 1848 (Ballinger 7). The town of Farmington was located where there are currently the Grant County roads of 700 East and 400 South (Waters A3). In the years of its founding, Farmington was located between the only two North-South roads, “Indianapolis-Fort Wayne Road” and the “Cumberland-Warren Road”(Ballinger 7). The “Marion-Hartford Road” went through the town in the East-West direction. Between the years of 1835 to 1869, Farmington was the area in which the first school in the township was located, along with a mercantile, blacksmith, a wagon maker, a coffin maker, and three medical practitioners. The sawmill owned by Israel Jenkins and Lydia’s brother, Daniel Dwiggins, was also there (6). In 1869 just after the Civil War, the town was officially disbanded (Waters A3).

Building the House

Israel and Lydia Jenkins began the building of the “Greek Revival farmhouse” in 1840 (Waters A3). The house was built of bricks which were made close by. Local walnut, poplar, ash, and oak were the types of trees used in building the woodwork of the house (Ballinger 5). The interior walls, except one, are of double brick with an inch between the two layers (Waters A3). The exception is an “interior brick chamber” below the stairwell, which is not accessible from the outside (Ballinger 5). Windows and baseboards in each room differentiate in woodwork styles because Israel worked with a sawmill, and it is thought that the work was done by Israel himself (Ballinger Personal Interview).

Jenkins' Death

Israel Jenkins died on November 10, 1875, in Grant County. Although most of the original one hundred-sixty acres had been split, Lydia kept possession of the home. Thirty-four acres were given to Thomas and Hannah Benbow. Hannah was born in Grant County on September 12, 1840, and was the daughter to Israel and Lydia Jenkins (Biographical Memoirs of Grant County. Indiana 452). The Jenkins family had lived in the house until the year 1882, when Lydia sold the house to her son-in-law’s aunt and uncle, David and Amelia Ballinger (Ballinger 8).

David Ballinger, Second Owner

David Ballinger was born on June 28, 1843, in Grant County (Biographical Memoirs of Grant County. Indiana 492). Enlisted as a private in 1861, he joined the 12th Regiment of the Indiana Infantry Volunteers and served ninety days in the War of the Rebellion. He was also involved in the 48th Regiment in 1865. David later died on January 7, 1888 (Declaration of Widow’s Pension). Amelia (Fisherbock) was born May 23, 1851, in the city of Rintel, Prussia in the German Empire (Biographical Memoirs of Grant County, Indiana 491). David and Amelia married on April 15, 1879, and were together for nine years (492; Declaration of Widow’s Pension). Together, they had two children: Stella, who was born on March 9, 1883, and Albert, who was born on July 1, 1881 (Declaration of Widow’s Pension). After both David and Amelia passed away, Stella Ross, wife of Leslie Ross, took possession of the farm. There had been quite an altercation between the Ross family and the Ballinger family because Leslie Ross had fought for the Confederates in the South and were intensely disliked by the Ballingers, who were Yankees (Ballinger Personal Interview). The Ballingers did not want possession of the Jenkins’ estate going to supporters of the South, but soon after the death of Stella and Leslie, their son, Glenn Ross, took ownership of the estate. In 1989, the Ballinger family finally regained ownership when Glenn sold the house to the grandson of David and Amelia, Randy Ballinger, and his wife, Sara (Ballinger 8).

Randy and Sara Ballinger have ownership of 153 of the original 160 acres. In 1992, the house was directed towards a “Hoosier Homestead.” Since Randy and Sara have lived there, they have made few renovations to the condition of the house. In the original house, interior bathrooms were not present. Restrooms were located outside, which resembled a smokehouse of that era. The original six hand blown glass windows are still intact but are being restored (Ballinger 9). Since mildew in the wood forced the removal of the paint, only one doorway was left with original grained painting. Two coats of paint were used to paint over the graining, which gave the wood a more stylized look. This was the technique that was commonly used in the 1800s (10).

The Underground Railroad

There was a story that in 1831 a slave named Tice Davids fled from his master in Kentucky. Davids ran through woods and came to the Ohio River, where he plunged without hesitation to the other bank of the river. His master, in hot pursuit after him, briskly found a rowboat and followed his slave. As the master reached the shore, he searched frantically for his slave, but could not find him. Thoroughly puzzled, the master concluded that Davids must have vanished on “an underground railroad.” This is how the term “underground railroad” came about (Haskins 1-2). Contrary to this story, another source states that the name came by a slave hunter who claimed many of his slaves mysteriously disappeared. He believed they escaped on some kind of railroad that ran underground. Although there were never roads or trains that ran underground, the name remained as the Underground Railroad (Swain 6).

The organization itself used many railroad terms. Slaves on their way to freedom through the Underground Railroad were referred to as “parcels” and “passengers” (Haskins 2). The houses where many slaves would hide were called “stations” and the owners of the house were called “stationmasters.” People who actually helped the slaves along the course were called “conductors.” The organization was thought to have been started by Vestal Coffin, cousin of Levi Coffin, and wife, Althea in North Carolina (Bial 8). The network of routes were directed from the slaveholding South to the North, eventually leading to the free and hopeful land of Canada, where slavery was not allowed. The system extended from Maine to Iowa, with many routes heavily traveled in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Runaways were not only transported in wagons or on foot, but also used a variety of other transportation methods (Bial 8). At stations, the runaways were generally hidden under removable floorboards, barns with hidden basements, cellars, attics, fake closets, or secret rooms (Stein 15; Bial 10).

The Israel Jenkins House and the Underground Railroad

Already an abolitionist, Israel Jenkins and his wife greatly supported the Underground Network. On the Underground Railroad, their house was called “The Elms Station of Farmington,” because the path leading to their house was lined with elm trees (Ballinger Personal Interview). The Jenkins were in close contact with their neighbor, Charles Atkinson, who lived north-west of the Jenkins house on the nearest farm. Charles Atkinson and family owned much of the land that bordered Walnut Creek. Currently, there is still a small bridge that once connected the properties of the Jenkins and Atkinson families that was used to help slaves get across the creek. Charles was a motivated participant on the Underground Railroad and was considered the “chief conductor” of the Grant County area. He also ran the main office of the area since the Underground Railroad extended through the Monroe township. “A violent Abolitionist of Monroe Township, who devoted his time, talents and money for the cause of freedom,” was how Charles was often thought about (Ballinger 3).

When the Jenkins built their house, they had already taken into consideration the hiding of runaways. The “interior chamber” in their house was a hiding room where twelve to fifteen could fit, and was located under the ground floor stairwell through a hole cut in the ground covered by a stove board (Waters A3; Ballinger 5). Square nails still suspend above the hole which once hung coats to conceal the view of the hole. The square nails helped the current owners date the house (Ballinger Personal Interview). Slave hunters often used dogs to sniff the perimeters of houses believed to be holding slaves. Since the surroundings of the chamber were made of brick, the dogs could not perceive the scent of the slaves hiding (Ballinger Personal Interview). The way for slave hunters to know whether a home was being used as a refuge was to see how much water the house consumed. Therefore, the Israel Jenkins house was designed to receive water from a windmill so the amount of water taken in by the house was not obvious to outsiders. The way for slave hunters to know whether a home was being used as a refuge was to see how much water the house consumed (Waters A3). If a profuse amount of water was being used, it was evident that there were many people in the house (Ballinger Personal Interview).

The Jenkins also worked closely with the “President of the Underground Railroad,” Levi Coffin. Levi Coffin was born on October 28, 1798. His family, who were Quakers, did not believe in enslaving people. However, Levi did not become motivated enough to hide slaves until he witnessed a slave beating when he was a child (Swain 12). It was in the 1 830s when he finally took action and started the Underground Railroad. In Newport, Indiana, Levi and his wife, Katy, used their house as the Grand Central Station (34). Being distantly related by blood, Levi continued to keep in contact with the Jenkins, as well as the other Grant County families. One determinant that indicates the Jenkins had taken part in the Underground Railroad is in the book, Economy-Cabin Creek Short Branch and some of its Operatives. It states “You follow this creek all the way until it dwindles out, and any home you see from its banks will be safe for you.” This statement could be implying the Jenkins house because seen from Walnut Creek, their house is the biggest and sits on the highest terrain (Ballinger 4).

Conclusion

The Israel Jenkins house contains a tremendous amount of history of Grant County. The house was built in Farmington by abolitionists Israel and Lydia Jenkins. Although a small town, Farmington was a prominent contributor to the Underground Railroad (Waters A3). The homeowners were all important factors that contributed to the significance of the house. Important people like Charles Atkinson and Levi Coffin, dominant participants in the Underground Railroad, worked with the Jenkins closely to keep the transportation of slaves going (Ballinger Personal Interview). The Jenkins’ hard work and devotion in the Underground Railroad network helped liberate many slaves who struggled for freedom.

Works Cited

  • Ballinger, Sara. Israel Jenkins House: The Elms Station of Farmington. Pamphlet.
  • Ballinger, Sara. Personal Interview. 4 December 2001.
  • Bial, Raymond. The Underground Railroad. Boston: Houghton Muffin Company, 1995.
  • Biographical Memoirs of Grant County. Indiana. Chicago: Bowen Publishing Company, 1901.
  • Declaration for Widow’s Pension. For Amelia Ballinger. 27 June 1890.
  • Haskins, Jim. Get on Board: The Story of the Underground Railroad. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1993.
  • Stein, R. Conrad. Cornerstones of Freedom: The Underground Railroad. New York: Children’s Press, 1997.
  • Swain, Gwenyth. President of the Underground Railroad: A Story about Levi Coffin. Minneapolis, 2001.
  • Waters, Avon. “History lives behind these walls”. Marion Chronicle Tribune. 5 November 2001. A3.

Credits

This paper was written by Amy Patel during December 2001. It was submitted as a project at Marion High School in Mr. Lakes's AP English 11 and Mr. Munn's AP US History classes.