Local History
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DeMotte, Indiana History 1997

30 Years of Growth
100 Years of Tradition


Foreword & Acknowledgement

Before the White Man/Coming of the First Settlers

DeMotte Grows into a Town

Early Transportation & Farming

The First Schools

Dredging of the Grand Kankakee Marsh

Leonard Swart (Interview)

Casper Belstra (Interview)

Northern Indiana Land Company

The Halleck Telephone Company

DeMotte Mercantile Company

DeMotte Library Grows

Cheever's Garage

Eighty Years of Community Banking

Fairchild & Tanner History

Earl Schwanke Article

Keener Township Fire Department

(Art) Lageveen Looks Back

Fire Almost Destroys DeMotte in 1936

Kankakee Valley Post-News

Asparagus & Truck Farming

Businessmen's Association

Lageveen Remembers Incorporation

Belstra Remembers When...

Kankakee Valley Schools

DeMotte Elementary School

(DeMotte) Christian School

Mark L. DeMotte

Charlie Halleck

Walter Roorda, State Representative


Van Keppel Construction Company

Fire Destroys Main Building at Kaper's

The Hamstra Group

DeMotte Historical Society

Tysen's Family Food Center

Belstra Milling

The Fire of 1992

United Methodist Church

DeMotte Christian Church

Community Bible Church

Calvary Assembly of God

Bethel Christian Reformed Church

First Christian Reformed Church

Faith Lutheran Church

St. Cecilia Catholic Church

United Pentecostal

First Reformed Church

American Reformed Church

DeMotte Town Court

Incorporation of DeMotte

August 10 Incorporation Hearing

September 1965 Incorporation

First Town Board Election

The First Town Board

DeMotte Town Council 1969-1997

DeMotte Town Hall

DeMotte Park Board

Wastewater Treatment Begins

DeMotte Chamber of Commerce

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Forward class of '52


Members of the DeMotte High School Class of 1952 became interested in the phases of development of the DeMotte community. The group found it difficult to obtain accurate information but were determined to do as much local research as possible and put in writing as much information as they could gather.

In a paper dated April 30, 1952, Chester C. Diettert said, "It is rather characteristic of small American communities not to become interested in recording their history until it is too late to verify information from primary sources, from older inhabitants of the community who can remember facts from childhood or from having heard the story from their parents who were early settlers. To these people the class of 1952 feels especially indebted, Mrs. C. M. Erwin and Mrs. Neola True gave especially valuable information."

"The story here presented is therefore subject to such inaccuracies as may be characteristic of a story too long unwritten. The authors have been careful to weigh information as it is possible to do against such records as are extant. It has been their endeavor to maintain a historical attitude and they believe their account to be essentially correct."

"Acknowledgement is made for use of a paper entitled, "The Community of DeMotte" prepared by Paul Hoffman in connection with work done in a course in Agricultural Sociology at Purdue University dated January 15, 1949. It has been helpful to check information obtained in our community search against this treatise."

Before the White Man

(This history of the Indians in northwest Indiana was researched and written by the senior class of DeMotte High School in 1952. It has been modified and edited to a small extent by Joan Whitaker for this booklet.)

As far as knowledge of Indians in northern Indiana goes, few of the tribes known to have lived in this area were permanent inhabitants. The Miami probably stayed longer than any other group, perhaps for around 150 years.

Since the area of Keener Township and DeMotte was largely part of the marshes and swamps of the Kankakee River, it was not especially suitable for settlement. Like other such areas the yield of furs for trade with the French proved profitable. The Miami occupied the region north and northwest of the Wabash River in northern Indiana in the latter part of the 17th century and remained the dominant tribe here until the Potawatomi and Kikapoos came down from Michigan in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The Potawatomi, probably not numbering more than 3000, built a series of Indian villages and settlements along the Kankakee eastward across the state in spite of Miami protests. Since the Potawatomis and Kikapoos were the last to enter the area, and since they came after the establishment of the Federal Constitution, their stay was not a long one. They probably inhabited this area for about 40 years.

When the Indiana Territory was organized, a series of treaties with the Indians were a part of the policy of securing more and more areas for settlement by white frontiersmen. The Treaty of Tippecanoe in 1832 opened the northwest part of the state to white settlers. Keener Township and DeMotte would become future entities because of this treaty. A few years later in 1838, the last of the Indians were removed forcibly from the state and driven to western reservations.

According to an early book, "The Pioneers of the Kankakee"', the name of the last recorded Indian in the territory was "Little Mingo".

Since the Indian left no records, and relics of his presence in swampy lands are scarce, it is not possible to give a detailed story of his stay in Keener Township and the DeMotte community before the era of the white man.


Coming of the first settlers

(We are grateful to the 1952 Senior Class of DeMotte High School, the writers of the booklets, 'DeMotte History, 1800-1979, and DeMotte 1876-1976 and various other sources for first gleaning the material used by Joan Whitaker to write and edit this article.)

The white man first laid eyes on the Kankakee marshes in the bitterly cold winter of 1678-79. Twenty-nine men, under the leadership of Frenchman Robert Cavalier Sieur de La Salle carried their eight canoes from the St. Joseph's River, where they had landed near South Bend, to the Kankakee River and then paddled westward to where the Kankakee River joins the Illinois River and flows on to the Mississippi. The men suffered greatly during the cold, winter months on the Kankakee.

The La Salle party was piloted by White Beaver, an Indian guide familiar with the river. Second in command to La Salle was his lieutenant Henri de Tonti or 'Tonty' as he was more familiarly known. Also among the party were Franciscan Fathers Gabriel de La Ribourde and Zenobius Membre. La Salle was hoping to establish French military domination over the Mississippi region and this was his first attempt in exploring the area. On his third exploration attempt in 1684 he was shot and killed by a disgruntled member of his exploration party in what is now the state of Texas.

French Jesuit Priests founded Fort Tassinong north of present day Kouts and white hunters and trappers began to erect shelters near the trading post. Over a century elapsed after La Salle came down the Kankakee before the first white man came to settle and build homes in what is now Keener Township.

The swampy, undrained ground was bypassed for higher ground by early pioneers coming through looking for new places to live. The few hilly, or high spots in the area became the sites for the first settlers homesteads.

The Treaty of Tippecanoe in 1832 probably was the main factor in opening up the northwest part of Indiana to white settlers. In November, 1859, the Supreme Court of Indiana upheld an order for separating Jasper County from the newly proposed Newton County. In December, 1859, the Jasper County Commissioners made the order final by defining the boundaries between Jasper and the newly created Newton County.

Keener Township was legally platted in March 1858. It was probably named after a certain Jacob Keener who settled in the area in 1855. Keener was born in Ohio in 1822 and, after coming to northwest Indiana, located in what was then Walker Township. After the area was platted parts of Walker Township became Keener and Union townships.

It is recorded that Jacob Keener was elected assessor for Keener Township for a nine year period. He was also elected trustee and as constable, each for a one year term. (The source of this information was dug out by the DeMotte Class of 1952 and attributed to an old historical and biographical publication on 'Warren, Benton, Jasper and Newton' counties published in 1883 by F.A. Battey and Co., Chicago.)

DeMotte in the early 1900s looking north from the west sideThe inhabitation of the swamp lands bordering the Kankakee River was a very gradual process. These lands were not officially the possession of the State of Indiana until October 15, 1857. At that time President Millard Fillmore of the United States sold the swamp lands to Indiana at the Winamac land office under provisions of the 1850 'Act to Enable the State of Arkansas and other states (of which Indiana was one) to reclaim the swamp lands within their limits'. Previously this area was under France, England, Virginia and the United States. The westward flow of the early pioneers was not to leave the swamp land uninhabited for long. One of the earliest names in the Keener Township settlement was Dr. Thomas Antrim who arrived in 1853 from Ohio. His son, James F Antrim was born here April 17, 1857.

Among the early settlers coming to Keener Township and Little Village were the Fred Schwanke family who arrived in 1860 and built a home in what is now officially Keener Township. In 1866 Acton Fairchild, his wife Harriet and two sons arrived from Ohio and built a two-room log cabin. Their son, Daniel Fairchild, who by now had received his honorable discharge from the Civil War, made his way to Indiana to make his home in Keener Township in 1868. That same year the Alexander and Asa Tyler families arrived from Wabash County.

About 50 Dutch immigrants arrived during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Charles and Lucius Otis, Chicago, owned several hundred acres south of DeMotte and several of the Dutch settlers worked on the Otis Ranch on shares. Their initial experiences and knowledge gained in their homeland and on the ranch helped them to later start their own farms. Among those early settlers were the Walstra's, Peterson's, Sipkema's, Roorda's, Boezeman's, Nannenga's, Kamminga's, Sytsma's and Hoffman's.

Gerrit Grevenstuk came to America in 1881 and found his way to Keener Township where he began farming in 1891.

According to the census of 1890 the recorded population of Keener Township, which included DeMotte was 492, by the year 1900 the township had grown to 674.


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Historical and Community Content

NEW!! DeMotte, Indiana History (1997)

New project: American Life Histories, Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940
      (This will be an ongoing project with entries added frequently.)

Churches in DeMotte, Indiana

City Methodist - Gary's Sacred Ruin
     Selections from 1967 City Methodist Church Directory (January 2004)
     Historic Gary Church Set for Wrecking Ball (June, 2005)
     Aerial Photos of City Methodist (August, 2005)

Photographs of Historic Places in Jasper County, Indiana
     Jasper County Courthouse  (February, 2002)
     Rensselaer Carnegie Library (February, 2002)
     St. Joseph Indian Normal School (Drexel Hall) (February, 2002)
     Independence Methodist Church (October, 2002)
     Fountain Park Chautauqua (October, 2002)
     Remington Water Tower (February, 2005)

Memorial to Victims of Flight 4184 (February, 2002)

Lake Michigan Vistas (May, 2002)

Door Prairie Auto Museum (LaPorte, Indiana) (September, 2002)

Northwest Indiana District Church of the Nazarene former Campground (San Pierre, Lomax Station)
     Aerial Photos of former Campground (August, 2005)

Who's Who In the District (Northern Indiana Church of the Nazarene, 1939-40)

Nazarene Album (Northern Indiana District Church of the Nazarene, 1934)

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