So what to write about? How about a family that became a legend in the business of death, among other things? My paternal 3rd great-grandfather Wilhemus (William) Hillenbrand was born 7 March 1811 in Frankenthal, Germany. He was the youngest of 6 children born to Andreas and Gertrude (Walter) Hillenbrand. While I have not located his immigration information, I found a general land office certificate that indicates that on 16 March 1837 William Hillenbrand of Ohio County, Virginia purchased 80 acres located in the west half of the southwest quarter of Section 31 in Township 10 north of Range 13 East in Ripley County, Indiana. When William bought the land, he was already married to Maria Barbara Schantz, and the couple had one daughter named Elizabeth, who was born in 1835 in Ohio County, Virginia. The couple eventually had a total of 9 children.
Batesville was platted on 3 November 1852. Born and raised in the area, John was a member of the first town council of Batesville, and served as postmaster of the town during President Grover Cleveland’s second administration.
After a local furniture plant in Batesville was destroyed by fire, John purchased the property, and rebuilt and expanded the facility. He thus founded the American Furniture Company in 1879, one of the most substantial industrial enterprises in Batesville. He kept his hand in the mercantile business, and in 1888 he bought his brother out and formed the Hillenbrand & Mitchell Company with one of his son-in-laws. The business continued to expand with its lumber and sawmill operations.
The Batesville Water Works Company was founded by John in 1901, and in 1906 he purchased the Batesville Casket Company, with active management of this enterprise being turned over to his son, John Adam Hillenbrand. He also organized the Batesville Electric Light & Power Company, and his son John Adam served as the President.
Batesville Casket Company is still in operation today as a subsidiary of Hillenbrand Industries, along with Block Medical, Inc.; The Forethought Group, Inc.; Hill-Rom Company, Inc.; and Medeco Security Locks, Inc., employing over 6,000 people world-wide (1,200 locally) and with revenue of 1.6 billion. Numerous people and institutions have benefited from the philanthropy of Hillenbrand family members and/or the foundation set up by Hillenbrand Industries. A few examples include:
- George & Sophia Hillenbrand donated the land for Liberty Park in Batesville
- Margaret Herr Hillenbrand donated money to build Margaret Mary Hospital on land that was gifted by her son, George M. Hillenbrand
- The Batesville Memorial Public Library was built on land donated by John Adam Hillenbrand
- Memorial Pool and Southeastern Indiana YMCA were built with donations from the family
- John Adam Hillenbrand donated land to St. Louis Catholic Church for a new school
I think it is safe to say that the Hillenbrand family members and their businesses are legends in Ripley County, Indiana - and beyond.