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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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DeMotte grows into a town


Seth Bentley's little general store that he opened in 1876 was the beginning of the prosperous, growing town that is modern day DeMotte. The land was purchased from Austin Way for this store and bordered to the south of what would be the present day right-of-way for the railroad. DeMotte celebrated its 100th year in 1976 based on the opening of Bentley's store.

Life was hard for the frontiersmen; there were few luxuries. The first homes were crude log cabins with dirt floors. Salt was a very expensive commodity and a much needed preservative to cure meat. Bee trees in the wooded areas were found and the honey was used as a substitute for sugar. Flour mills and markets were as far away as Lafayette and Chicago. People picked wild blueberries which were very plentiful when they were in season and they were taken to Hebron to sell. Since there was no direct route to Hebron at the time and the market was too far away for the settlers to travel easily, the berries were pooled and transported all at the same time. The berries sold for five cents a quart, butter sold for five cents a pound and you could get all the hard candy you could eat for a dime - but dimes were not plentiful.

DeMotte DepotThere was plenty of grazing land during the summer months for the cattle and some sheep that were raised. Feed, except for wild hay, was practically non-existent during the winter months. Some grain was raised for farm animals but it wasn't until after 1900 that enough was raised to offer it for sale. The first grain elevator was built about 1905. Most farms were quite small with about 10 acres which were tillable. Ox teams were more common and less costly to own than horses. They were more useful than horses for hauling the heavy wagons loaded with logs through the swamp grounds. They were used extensively for the heavy work of clearing the land to get a patch of ground ready for planting. They were the prevalent mode of farming until the beginning of the twentieth century.



Felt boots with feet wrapped in gunny sacks comprised the footwear for winter. Overshoes were unknown. In the summertime children and some adults, especially the women, were barefoot. Overalls were the attire for men, clean ones for Sunday or holidays.

Every family had their own recipes and remedies for illness as there were no doctors close by that could be easily reached.

Troxel Hotel before the Turn of the CenturyIn the early 1880's the settlers became very interested in the speculation that a railroad might be coming near DeMotte. This triggered five or six citizens into action and they donated land for a right-of-way to the Three I Railroad to insure the train would come through the village.

In 1882-83 the Indiana-Illinois-Iowa track connected DeMotte to Wheatfield and San Pierre to the east and Momence and Kankakee to the west. From Momence, the Chicago market was opened up to shipping for the early settlers. The coming of the railroad has to be considered one of the more momentous events in the history of DeMotte. This opened up a whole new world to the settlers with a variety of new commercial ventures cropping up for the growing population. Wild hay was plentiful and could be sold on the Chicago market for $8.00 a ton. It was used as packing material. Many carloads of the hay were shipped from DeMotte and this thriving business offered employment and actually was one of the biggest triggering factors in the growth of DeMotte.

Early Cheever Blacksmith ShopThere was now an expanded market for the ducks, geese, deer, animal hides, etc., which were exceedingly plentiful in the marshes of the Kankakee River and was much in demand in the larger communities. Much needed goods and materials could also be brought into the DeMotte community via the railroad. The Three-I Railroad in later years became a part of the New York Central system. Today, the railroad track only goes past Wheatfield about two miles and is owned and used only by NIPSCO to haul coal to their Schafer generating plant.

Before the dredging of the Kankakee, great hunting lodges dotted the landscape along the river. Wealthy and titled men from the United States and Europe came to hunt and fish the great Kankakee River marshland because the fish, waterfowl and game were so plentiful. Theodore Roosevelt was a well-known visitor to the area and General Lew Wallace owned a houseboat (named the White Elephant) which he kept here year around near where Baum's Bridge is now located. Legend has it that Wallace wrote parts of his great novel, 'Ben Hur' while visiting the great marshlands of the Kankakee.

Frank Sater is shown outside a cabin at the swamp gate in 1915The lodges were ventures which brought much needed money into the area. Men who knew the marshland well were hired as guides for the hunters and to help maintain the buildings. Women were hired to cook and clean at the lodges.

From 1863 to 1900, in addition to the general store, a post office had come to DeMotte, William Wallace Cheever (father of Caleb) had started a blacksmith shop, T. Fairchild owned a livery barn and barrel-hoop shop, and J.F. Bruner was in the selling business. As the area grew other enterprises cropped up to fill the needs and demands of a growing community. By the turn of the century DeMotte had become a thriving community.

Matt Fase - early farming and transportation   1912 - DeKock's Store & Lageveens General Store


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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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