Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 9, 2013

Oct. 9, 2013: Letters to the editor

Kokomo Tribune

---- — Off descendantsstill live in Tipton

Jacob G. Off was a prominent Tipton County farmer, and one of the county commissioners when the present courthouse and jail were built. He also was instrumental in laying out the county’s road grid.

He was born Dec. 25, 1839, in Wurttemberg, Germany, the last of eight children born to George P. and Walburga Mertz öf. In 1852, three of his brothers came to America and settled in Indianapolis, with Jacob joining them in 1854. He came to his new land as Georg Jakob öf (pronounced Gay-org Yuhkub Oof), but he was afraid Americans would not be able to pronounce his name correctly, so he changed it by dropping the umlaut from the “O” in his last name and adding an “f,” and he rearranged his first and middle names and became Jacob George Off.

He worked at a deaf and dumb asylum. Unable to speak much English nor being well-educated, he enrolled in night classes to advance himself. While continuing his education, he took up the carpentry trade and worked on a number of major projects in Indianapolis. In 1863, he entered into a partnership with two of his brothers to operate a sawmill and lumber business in Indianapolis. In 1865, they moved to Tipton County where they purchased a sawmill north of Tipton at Jackson Station, along with a large parcel of timberland.

For eight years they continued to operate the mill successfully, and they also began clearing the land in preparation for agricultural purposes. In 1873 they sold the sawmill and turned their attention to farming, and in 1877 the brothers divided up their holdings. Jacob Off became the owner of 430 acres, which he continued to clear and improve.

He was appointed postmaster of Jackson Station and served for several years. Having been elected a county commissioner when the new courthouse was begun, Jacob Off called upon a young architect he had made the acquaintance of in Indianapolis named Adolph Scherrer to prepare the plans. Scherrer worked in the office of architect Edwin May, who had designed the new Statehouse in Indianapolis but died before it was finished, leaving the task of completing the structure to Scherrer. Scherrer also designed the jail that still stands in downtown Tipton.

Following the completion of these projects and when his last term expired, Jacob Off refused to be a candidate for commissioner again and devoted the remainder of his years to his farm operation. In 1893, he lost his barn to fire, and in that same year he built a new one measuring 42 feet by 84 feet, with a gray slate roof and his name and the year of construction spelled out in red slates. The crossbeams were hand-hewn of 42-foot long, solid logs without a splice, and there were 30 large ventilators in the walls to keep the hay from becoming too hot.

Later that same year his house burned down, so when the barn was finished he began to erect a new home. He built a tall, rambling Victorian-style structure of frame construction and a slate roof, six rooms down and seven rooms up, with a two-room root cellar beneath and a large attic over the entire house.

As many as seven farmhands helped Jacob Off work the land, fencing, ditching, planting, tending livestock, even working an extensive orchard, and his land was always highly productive. Following two years of declining health, he died on Jan. 25, 1916, leaving a large estate to his family and naming the Farmers Loan and Trust Co. as executors. His funeral was held at the house, after which his body was sent from Tipton to Indianapolis in a special train car, where it was interred in Section 5 of the huge Crown Hill Cemetery.

Today his house and barn are no longer standing, but the land still is in possession of his descendants. The family of Jacob G. Off is well represented in and around the Tipton area.

Jeff Hatton