Historical honors: Kreinhagen homestead receives state awards for family ownership

NESTLED in the scenic hills and plains of the White Creek area of southern Bartholomew County is the now award-winning Kreinhagen farm.

This spring, the Kreinhagen family received both the centennial and sesquicentennial awards through the Hoosier Homestead program for keeping their original farm in the same family since 1839.

The award is presented twice each year by the Indiana Department of Agriculture.

For the Kreinhagens, their homestead story begins in March 1835, when 25 year-old Barnhardt Burbrink II (originally pronounced ‘Bobrink’) married Maria Elisabeth Beckemeyer in their native Germany. One year later, the couple, along with Barnhardt’s brother, Heinrich, travelled to the New World. His father and brother would join them five years later.

While the family settled near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1836, Barnhardt eventually learned of a great opportunity for German Lutheran families settling in what was then wilderness in south central Indiana to acquire their own land.

Barnhardt had to travel nearly 400 miles from Pittsburgh to Jeffersonville, Indiana, to put his name on a land deed. But that effort provided him with 120 acres in southern Bartholomew County in September 1839. The cost was $1.25 an acre, and the land was extremely suitable for tilling, pasture and wooded acreage. In addition, the family was given a period of five years to pay the entire purchase price of $150 ($12,388 adjusted for inflation).

After the family settled into their new home, Barnhardt became one of the founders of the St. John’s Lutheran Church White Creek, which opened White Creek Lutheran School in 1840.

Shortly after the homestead was completely paid off in 1844, the hardship of the era began to settle in. Due to lower living standards, greater exposure, heavier labor and poor medical care, the average life span among settlers was about to age 40.

Maria Burbrink died in September 1845. It was 17 years later that Barnhardt married his second wife, Katherine Wilhelmina M. Laumering. When Barnhardt died in 1862 at the age of 52, his property was split between 12 surviving children from two marriages.

But one daughter, Louise Sophia Burbrink, married William Snyder (originally spelled ‘Schneider”) in 1870. The couple managed to buy back enough land from relatives until they had 92 of the original 120 acres.

William died in 1909, but his wife survived until 1931. Upon her death, the property was acquired by their daughter, Laura, and her husband, August Kreinhagen.

Current generations

In 1935, August and Laura became the parents of Dallas Kreinhagen, the fourth generation to live on the homestead. Twenty years later, Dallas would marry Hazel Tormoehlen in 1955.

The couple lived for several years with the husband’s parents until August’s death in 1960 – and then with just Laura until her death in 1967. Just prior to World War II, about a quarter of the U.S. population lived in extended families.

“It had its advantages and disadvantages,” Hazel said about residing such a long time under her in-law’s roof.

“Actually, she said it was kind of tough,” said her 61-year-old son, Tim Kreinhagen.

But the arrangement made financial and practical sense for all parties involved. August Kreinhagen had suffered a long history of strokes and mini-strokes, so Hazel and Dallas were there to help Laura care for him until his death in 1960, as well as handle several farm chores, she said.

Financially speaking, this arrangement allowed Dallas and Hazel a long-term opportunity to save money for future investments when the farm came under Dallas’ control upon Laura’s death in 1967.

When August was the family patriarch, the family raised chickens, dairy cows and pigs on their farm. But by the mid-1960s, Dallas – who was handling most farm operations by then – stopped handling poultry and dairy cows and began focusing on beef cattle, pigs and crops.

While the Kreinhagen gave up on pigs in the mid 1990s, they continue to raise beef cattle, as well as corn, soybeans, wheat and hay.

For more than 50 years, Dallas and his son, Tim Kreinhagen, 61, did much to improve the quality of their agricultural operation, including building a pond near the home in 1976.

Although Dallas died at age 85 in 2018, Hazel still resides in the farm house rebuilt with timbers from the original property. Other structures include a livestock barn (remodeled around 1912), a granary built at the same time the old house was built, and metal tool sheds added in 1960 and 1976.

While Tim handles much of the work, his sister, Janet Morey, 51, did several farm chores such as driving tractors and helping with fertilizer when she was a girl. But after her 1991 marriage, husband Kevin Morey assumed several of the farm responsibilities.

“But in farming today, you have to diversify,” Janet Morey said.

Beside agriculture, Morey is also a full-time employee of UPS, his wife said.

Nevertheless, Tim and Kevin partnered to rent additional farmland away from their homestead. Today, the family either owns or cares for about 350 acres of farmland, Tim said.

The future

Tim married Carmen Rae Campbell in 1993, and is now a father or stepfather to three adult children. Altogether, Hazel now has four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren who will eventually be making decisions regarding the future of the farm.

Although she acknowledged that nobody can accurately predict what might happen, Janet Morey says she believes the future will bring new generations of her family to farm the land.

When asked what they still enjoy most about the homestead, Tim cited the proximity of the farm to nearby cities and attractions like Brown County. His sister, Janet, says she grateful that her two children were both 10-year 4-H members. Like many farm parents, she believes instilling 4-H values help children lead successful adult lives.

And even after living 55 years in the same place one mile off the nearest public road, Hazel Kreinhagen says she still loves her home because it provide both a serene seclusion and a treasure trove of precious memories.