Local History
and Such

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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Dredging of the Grand Kankakee Marsh


(The following article was written by Purdue students in 1993 and furnished to the Kankakee Valley Post-News for reprinting.)

Some have compared it to the Florida Everglades, others the Louisiana bayou, if in fact this is true, what has mankind done to the Grand Kankakee swamp?

Fifteen thousand years ago the Wisconsin glacier receded to the north and as a result the Grand Kankakee Marsh was formed. The Kankakee River in northern Indiana was not large, but its meandering covered a course of two-hundred and forty miles in length and a flood plain spanning anywhere from two to ten miles in width.

Because of the vast area that the river flowed, five hundred thousand acres of wetland bordered it banks. The Kankakee housed an environment rich in waterfowl, fur-bearing animals, large game and aquatic life. Formed by the watershed of this grandiose acreage, the river ran from South Bend westward across the Illinois border where it widened, joined the Illinois River and then the Mississippi.

Dredging of the Kankakee RiverAt the Indiana/Illinois line existed a large limestone slab spanning greater than three hundred feet in width. This barrier was a major factor in the damming of the marsh, holding back the water that created the wetlands. The land remained very flat, falling only five inches in a mile.

Uninhabitable to humans, the wetlands initially were fished, hunted, and trapped by the local Potowatomi Indians; creating a natural way of life and a respect of nature. Unfortunately this life would soon cease to exist. In 1838 approximately 700 to 850 Indians were marched on the 'Trail of Tears' from what is now near Plymouth, Indiana to Kansas. A few Indians were granted amnesty if they were 'Americanized'. As Ira Fry, (who lives at LaCrosse) stated during an interview, "This was a black day in the history of our country."

With the westward movement of the French traders came the incredible exploitation of such a fruitful land. From the time of their arrival, the French heavily trapped beaver, muskrat, mink and other animals.

Ira Fry (who is nearing the century mark in age) remembers muskrat houses so dense in part of the Kankakee that one could practically cross it without getting their feet wet.

With news of such a rich land ahead, pioneers came and settled the land clear-cutting the timber to make way for agriculture with the hope of prolific yields. Shortly after the construction of Baum's Bridge another resource was greatly exploited.

Saw mills popped up along the Kankakee when settlers realized the value of the timber on and around their land. The bridge allowed wagons and horses to cross where ferries once were the only link.

Another occurrence that exploited the swamp's timber resource was the Chicago fire of 1871. Large Red and White Oaks, Beeches and Maples were cut and sent to Chicago to rebuild the city. Today all the timber has been cleared, except for the Kankakee Fish and Wildlife area.

Over time this world renowned fishing and hunting area where famous people such as Theodore Roosevelt and Benjamin Harrison hunted, and where General Lew Wallace wrote 'Ben Hur', became nothing of its former self. Because farmers saw the water as a liability rather than an asset, they took it upon themselves to start the channelization of the Grand Kankakee.


In order for the land to be drained, the demolition of the limestone slab took place. A channel was cut through the rock two and a half feet deep and three hundred feet wide, breaking free a site that for so long had been slow and peaceful. Further measures were taken by locals to channel the river upstream.

Channelization upstream increased the velocity of the water and evidence of erosion and siltation quickly took place causing added flooding eventually drawing the federal, state and local governments to finance the extensive channeling that was to take place.

Kankakee River scene near Shelby before the river was dredgedBy 1884, channelization was underway, forcing out those who held this land by the river as a scenic getaway. Two hundred and forty miles of river that once wound itself through the landscape was reduced to ninety miles of straight channel by the year 1917; five hundred thousand acres of wetland had been reduced to a mere thirty thousand, leaving black soil high in organic matter available to the hungry pioneer.

In 1931 efforts to restore the wetlands began. Although proposals for the restoration of one hundred thousand acres were sought after, only a few small areas were mitigated. We now know these lands as the LaSalle and Kankakee Fish and Wildlife areas.

In 1976 and again in 1989 extensive studies were produced by the Kankakee River Basin Commission. These studies gave guidelines on what might be done with the land in relation to the present flooding of cropland, the deterioration of wetland habitats, and future recreational use.

Many proposals were offered, of which one would be of substantial consequence. The wide levee project would expand the existing wetland up to two miles wide in some places.

The first phase has been completed, however the construction of future phases are unknown at this time.


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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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