South Bend Tribune
South Bend, Indiana
October 25 & 26, 2005
Many Thanks to Ida Chipman for graciously allowing us to reproduce this article.

October 25, 2005
House with a history
Old mansion along Indiana 17 has ties to slavery, mob

Tribune Correspondent

This photo from the Marshall County Historical Museum shows the back of the old Hoham mansion on Indiana 17 near Plymouth.

First of two parts

PLYMOUTH -- At the southwest edge of Plymouth on Indiana 17 -- back from the road -- stands what was once a majestic brick mansion.

On nights, when the wind howls through the tall pine trees surrounding the house, some passers-by say they can hear the moans and cries of people desperate to be free.

And if you have a really good imagination, you might detect raucous laughter from the ghosts of Chicago mobsters and their molls, punctuated with the staccato of Tommy guns fired into the air from roadsters roaring up and down the highway.

The house has a history -- both noble and wicked. The stories pass from generation to generation.

Fifty yards west of the home, under 9 feet of dirt, is a cellar where temperatures vary only slightly from 60 degrees, summer and winter.

There are two rooms, each 70 feet long and 20 feet wide with high vaulted roofs and dirt floors.

In deep brick vats made from native clay and covered with stucco, a very fine lager beer was concocted in the only brewery of its kind in Northern Indiana.

But it has long been believed that the house and grounds fermented more than just beer.

Did those same vats provide shelter for hundreds of slaves on the road to freedom in Canada?

The late Florence Hoham said all of her life that the brewery was part of the Underground Railroad.

There is no paper trail to attest to the veracity of the stories.

No one would have kept records. It was against federal law to give shelter to even one runaway slave. Anyone caught doing so would have been fined and imprisoned.

The brewery, built in 1857, fits into the time frame when the clandestine operation was at its peak.

The Underground Railroad was most active in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania during the years before the Civil War, which began in 1861.

The Plymouth site is along the three routes in Indiana used to ferry slaves to Canada.

Logansport was a stop to the south, with South Bend the next safe haven to the north. Plymouth may have been a convenient way-station in between.

"The pieces fit," said Kurt Garner, past president and founder of the Wythougan Valley Preservation Council.

"Circumstantial evidence would indicate that the stories are probably true."

The Yellow River laps at the banks behind the house itself. Parts of the foundation of a landing dock are still visible.

The safest method of moving slave families was by water. Many would travel on flatboats during the night, dock at a safehouse, remain there in the daylight hours and move on north again under the cover of darkness.

On one wall of the cellar is the outline of a skeleton; a drawing of a skull is on another.

Were they scratched onto the surface by a slave child, hiding with his family in the bowels of the Indiana countryside?

Cheryl O'Keefe Newburg thinks they might have been.

The property itself was first deeded in 1842 to a Joel James.

He paid $200 for 160 acres of Marshall County land. In the early days, the title changed hands twice more.

In 1857, three acres were sold for $75 to in-laws John and Mary Hoham and John and Magthalena Klinghammer.

Natives of Strasbourg, Germany, the Hoham-Klinghammers divided a piece of their parcel and built a brewery.

Other sections were sold off, with Hoham keeping some of the acreage where he designed and built the family home.

In her stories, Florence Hoham told how her great-grandfather, Martin Luther Hoham, and his brother, John, dug their way out of a German prison to come to America.

They had been jailed because they refused indentured service in the German army. Their experiences would have made them sympathetic to the Abolitionist cause.

John Hoham, in fact, as reported in the Sept. 13, 1860, edition of "The Republicans" newspaper, was a candidate for Marshall County coroner. He was on the same ticket as Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, running for president of the United States.

We will never really know for sure.

In the late 1800s, the property changed hands a couple more times.

Wert Beldon, a grocery supplier, owned it at the turn of the century. On Jan. 2, 1900, the brewery building burned to the ground.

Wert had 10,000 dozen eggs stored in cellar, creating one enormous omelet. He had let his insurance lapse just days before. At 10 2 cents a dozen, he lost more than $1,000 in a matter of hours.

A news item in the Jan. 4, 1900, Plymouth Democrat noted, "Although the house (built during the recent rebellion) was out of the jurisdiction of our fire department, our firemen went with the hose cart and rendered such assistance as they could in protecting the adjoining buildings."

For the next 20 years, the house and grounds were owned by R.J. and Mathilda J. Vinnedge.

And then things got really interesting.

The property was sold to an out-of-state couple, William J. Hayes and Mathilda Homes, listed in the abstract as a "single lady."

We know she was single -- but was she really a "lady"?

October 26, 2005

Part two: Bullets, babes and bootleg booze.
Hoham house had wild times during Prohibition era

Tribune Correspondent

Donal O'Keefe and his sister, Cheryl O'Keefe Newburg, stand outside their Plymouth home with the Grim Reaper.
Tribune Photo/IDA CHIPMAN

Long a landmark

The family of Alves O'Keefe has lived in the old mansion on Indiana 17 for the past 52 years. Donal O'Keefe, his sister, Cheryl O'Keefe Newburg, her husband and son live in the house, which has been chosen for a Marshall County Historical Landmark Award.The house, outbuildings and 3 4 acres are for sale. Mrs. Newburg said she has not met a ghost within its spacious walls, but "there is a presence here."

Second of two parts

PLYMOUTH -- William J. Hayes of Cook County, Ill., and Mathilda Homes, listed as "a single lady," bought the Hoham house in 1923, according to the abstract.

To say that she was the "madam" of the household would have been accurate.

There is no evidence that Hayes ever lived there, but during the time he and Mathilda owned the house it became a popular speakeasy and brothel.

At some point, Mathilda was joined by two other "ladies" -- Bertha Bozart and Roberta Wolcotte.

The Prohibition Era had begun. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution had been ratified in 1920.

Speakeasies replaced saloons and, even in Marshall County, citizens and gangsters alike were flaunting the law.

Especially out on Indiana 17.

During the week, locals frequented the house.

Donal O'Keefe said his father told him about one prominent Plymouth businessman, surprised in a raid, who jumped out of a parlor window and fled toward Plymouth -- without his trousers.

On July 28, 1928, Marshall County's "greatest raid" nabbed 35 frequenters of what was then referred to as the "beer garden."

"Two officers," The Plymouth Daily Pilot reported, "armed with warrants, assisted by three other deputy constables, went to the house about 11:30 o'clock on Saturday night.

"The persons who were visiting the place were so taken by surprise that none of them thought of attempting to escape or if they thought of it they were too frightened to make a move to accomplish their purpose.

"All of the frequenters proved to be young men and girls: the men were below 21 years old and the girls were mostly teenagers."

Gambling devices were seized and "liquor had been flowing freely." One of the women running the place said she had "paid Walter A. Zeroll, a justice of the peace, for protection." Zeroll disappeared from Plymouth and hasn't been seen or heard from since.

Judge Albert B. Chipman ordered the place padlocked for a year and sentenced the women proprietors to the state women's prison.

The co-owner of the house, William Hayes, appeared at the hearing and claimed he didn't know what the house was being used for.

And things got progressively worse.

In the early 1930s, John Dillinger was terrorizing northern Indiana. On weekends, he would race his Hudson convertible up and down Indiana 17, firing guns in the air, often accompanied by other cars with Illinois license plates.

Dillinger's family had a cottage over on Bass Lake in Starke County. Al Capone also had a home there.

"The Pines," as it was now called, was a favorite party palace and watering hole.

Dillinger and his gang were frequent visitors to the bar and bordello, mostly on weekends.

Dillinger was killed in July 1935 and his gang broke up. The house on Indiana 17 settled into suburban mediocrity.

Years passed. William Hayes died and his widow sold the house to Milton and Angela Bottoroff. In 1953, the Bottoroffs sold the property to Alves O'Keefe and his wife, Doris Van Vactor O'Keefe.

Their daughter, Cheryl O'Keefe Newburg, her husband and son live there now, along with her brother, Donal.

Donal has puttied up the bullet holes in the walls, made most likely by a drunken mobster with a Tommy gun.

The O'Keefe family said they believe the house did play a major role in both the Underground Railroad and in the dozen or so years of decadent living.

Saints and sinners?

If only the walls could talk.

Thanks to the Marshall County Historical Museum, archivist Judy McCollough and director Linda Rippy, and to Kurt Garner and Fred Morrow, Jr.

Newspaper accounts researched included the Indianapolis Star Magazine, The Plymouth Democrat, The Plymouth Republican, The Plymouth Daily Pilot and The Culver Citizen.

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