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DeMotte, Indiana History 1997

30 Years of Growth
100 Years of Tradition


Contents

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

C-SELM

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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Leonard Swart

 

(Laverne Terpstra interviewed Leonard (Buzz) Swart in 1994. The interview was transcribed by Shirley Zeck and the original tapes are in the Indiana Room at the DeMotte Library. The article below has been edited and rewritten by Joan Whitaker from Mr. Swart's interview.)

Leonard (Buzz) Swart was born before the Kankakee River was drained. He was born north and east of DeMotte in 1908. His parents lived along what is now 700W.

Swart says he remembers the dredge that dug the Kankakee, "My dad heard in town that it was going to be up close by the Old Grade (road to Hebron). We got in the Model T and went out to see it. It was a big outfit. It floated right in the water."

The dredge was its own little repair shop. There were firemen and a blacksmith on board, just about anything to make repairs if something broke down. Swart said one man was the main operator of the dredge and about half a dozen other men worked on it while it was in operation.

Highway 53 Work Crew in 1927His brother Neal worked dredging what is called the Brown Ditch. The ditch started at Kahler's Bridge (between Ramsey's Landing and Baum's Bridge) and ran to the bridge where Tom Postma now lives (14621N 700W). State Senator Bill Brown from Hebron owned the dredge and there were three additional people who worked on it with Neal.

"After the Kankakee River was dug, all this ground through here was well-drained. The river took care of it," he said. "Back in the early 1930's they tapped the Yellow River into the Kankakee up east of here. That (river) was bigger than the Kankakee itself," he recalled. Swart said it wasn't until after "more and more rivers and streams" were fed into the Kankakee that it began to flood like it does today during periods of heavy rainfall.

Swart said he didn't see the U.S 231 bridge while it was being built over the Kankakee. After the river was drained and the bridge built, he worked on road (U.S. 231) when they graveled it. (This is the road that was called the New Grade. The Old Grade was 700 W.) He said they dug ditches on both sides of the dirt road that was already in place and then threw the dirt up in the middle of the road to make the grade. The dirt was flattened and then graveled, with most of the work being done with horses. About 1928 they paved the road.

 

Swart said when he lived at home it was his job to split wood for the cookstove his mother used both summer and winter to cook meals, do the canning and the baking. (There were no gas stoves.) It was cooler after they came out with kerosene stoves to cook on. Swart said they used one in the summer time. It was also his job to haul in the wood for the stove that was used to heat the house during the winter.

Buzz said he went to Tyler School which was located where Kaper's Subdivision is at now. He had to walk about a mile and a half, but in really bad weather they would hitch up the horse and buggy and take him to school.

John Terborg and Art Terborg with DeMotte Elementary School BusWhen he was in the third grade, Swart went to the new school which had been built in town.

He remembers when they built the consolidated school in 1914 and all of the country kids were to go to school in town. He was in the third grade when this happened. "The problern was", he said, "when they got all the country kids hauled to town there wasn't enough room for all of' them in the school". Only the town kids and those closest to town remained at the new school and the others went back to the one-room township schools until the school was enlarged in 1916. Swart said they moved all their belongings out of Tyler School with a team (of horses) and a wagon and hauled it to the new school.

Back then he said they had horse-drawn school buses which could hold 12 to 15 students. In the winter there was a little stove underneath the bus. Sometimes they would have to stop along the road and fire up the stove a little more to keep the bus warm. He said they used sticks of wood for the fuel.

Swart said his father farmed a little. His dad and brothers baled a lot of wild hay which was very plentiful at the time. The hay was cut with a mowing machine and a team of horses.

He said later- his father bought a (converter kit) that was manufactured to make a tractor out of a Model T Ford. "The wheels were taken off the back end of the Model T," he said, "And big steel wheels were put on in front of where the Model T wheels went."

His father also worked for the Northern Indiana Land Company mostly keeping their buildings in repair. His brother Neal worked for them, too.

Matt Fase cultivating corn before tractors on 700 WestHis mother told him that when she was a girl, it was an all day affair to get to Hebron. She said it involved harnessing the horses up to the wagon then going all the way to Baum's Bridge to cross the river.

Swart said after the railroad went through the trains hauled everything, even livestock. He said at one time there were stockyard pens in DeMotte west of where Konovsky's elevator used to be along the track (800 S. Halleck). Cattle to ship would be driven to town to the pens and loaded on the cattle cars on the train. They would then go to Chicago to the stockyards.

There were always baseball games on Sunday. He said, "Every wide spot in the road had a ball team."

Swart also remembers the barn dances which were held on Saturday nights. He said there was a huge barn on the land owned by the Land Company where dances were held. Just about everybody came to the dances. Buzz said there would be hundreds of people from all over northern Jasper County every Saturday night.

Trapping was a way of adding money to the sometimes slim coffers of those days. Swart said his dad and his older brothers always did a lot of trapping in the winter time. "They would catch a lot of muskrats, mink, coons and possum," he said, "Whenever they would have two or three big burlap bags full of hides they would take them to Chicago to the big fur dealers and sell them." Taylor and Fulton were two of the big fur houses at that time where the furs were sold.

Dr Leeson's home in 1940m later became Todd Funeral HomeSwart said his dad and brothers had to skin, stretch, and dry the furs. They wouldn't take green furs. The fur house bought all the raw furs. "And of course. Swart said, "The finishers who made coats bought them (from the fur houses)."

Swart said back before the river was drained, his father and another fellow were trapping together all winter.

"They had a tent set up," he said, "And when they came home they would start a little fire in the stove in the tent and do all the skin stretching in there."

Groundhogs would dig dens during the warm months and fur-bearing animals would take over the dens in the wintertime. Swart said the men would set their traps by the groundhog holes.

"One time my brother Ben and I (I guess I was only about 9 or 10 years old and he was three years older than me) set a bunch of traps on Friday night after school. We had to look after them on Saturday morning," Swart recalled, "We had a big mink in one of the traps." Swart said they had taken the hound dog with them and while they were killing the mink in the trap the dog caught another one. His dad kept the two mink separate when he sold the furs in Chicago. The boys got $22 a piece for them. "In those days that amount of money was no small hunk of change" Swart said.

Swart said when he and his wife, Catherine were first married, he rented all the farmland he could around the area and farmed it with four head of horses. He also drove a school bus. The bus he was driving was a Model A Ford truck with a body on it. He said he thought he could run the bus with single wheels on the back end. He had to travel a dirt road going to Kersey to pick kids up and on the way back noticed wobbly tracks that were all over the road It hit him that those were his bus tracks. "I stopped and got out and looked and the back wheel was ready to break off." He said from then on he used dual wheels because the bus was big and had so much sway to it that it cracked all the holes in the rim of the wheel.

Swart said he drove the biggest, newest bus Keener Township owned at the time. He and Trustee Simon Groet went to Indianapolis to pick it up. He had the job hauling basketball players to games. He said in those days fans could also ride the bus to the games if there was enough room. He remembered Hank Boezeman, Ben Hoffman, Gerrit Woudema, Bert Duggins, Dig Gleason, and Elbert Cheever driving buses also.

After the Northern Indiana Land Company was foreclosed on, Swart bought the land where he still lives today from the company that held the mortgage. That was in 1936. "We cleared a lot of ground,'' he says, "We worked from eight in the forenoon till eight in the evening. We never went very many places in those days. DeMotte was about as far as we went."

Swart said a big fire went through the area north of DeMotte in about 1928. Before the fire the trees were so thick you couldn't drive a team of horses through them without cutting them first. He said the fire killed all the low vegetation and it got so hot it killed all the green trees, everything but the elm trees.

He said after it was all over, the ashes seemed to improve the ground. He said after the fire he rented a lot of his ground to people who picked up and cleaned all the burnt debris away for the first crop they got from it.

Swart said he bought most of his farm machinery from Otto DeYoung and Sons in DeMotte. He had his plow shares resharpened and reworked at Caleb Cheever's blacksmith shop in town before Cheever started the garage. He would also shoe horses there.

Back then the grocery store in DeMotte was located where Holley's is today. It was run by Hank Swart who sold it to his nephew, Bill. Buzz said it was always known as Swart's Store, but they were no relation to him.

Swart remembered that south a little bit from Swart's store was another grocery store, DeKock's. "Down at the other end," he said, "There was a store started by some of the farmers out south of town. Andrew Kamminga ran it most of the time. When it went out of business. Henry DeKock had a hardware there." "There were places where you could get a hamburger and a cup of coffee - restaurants run by the Curtins and Mary Starkey," he said. Art Lageveen. Sr. had a dry goods store on the west side of the street south of Swart's grocery. After the town burned in 1936 Lageveen built a store across the street where Art Jr., is now located.

Swart said there were not many buildings on the east side of the street. There was Bunning's Justice of the Peace office and a little south of that Neal Sekema had a creamery shop that he later moved to the back and built a garage where the creamery was.

Roy True had a barber shop on the west side of the street in the building where Pop Rowen had his bakery. It was a wooden building and was located just north of where Ken Nannenga now has a furniture store. The hotel was on the corner on the east side of the street.

Swart said he doesn't remember when Al Konovsky started the saloon, or the lumberyard or elevator. He said it was long before WW I. He remembers Konovsky as being a very honest man.

Swart remembers most of the businesses having cement or wood sidewalks, but he said there was a stretch from where Consolidated Insurance is now located that was a sand sidewalk for a ways. He said there were hitching posts so you could tie your horse when you came to town with your horse and buggy.

Many changes have occurred in the 89 years since Swart was born. He and his wife, Catherine have lived a long and happy life living within just a mile or two of where he was born north of DeMotte.

   

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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
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City Methodist - Gary's Sacred Ruin
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     Aerial Photos of City Methodist (August, 2005)

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Northwest Indiana District Church of the Nazarene former Campground (San Pierre, Lomax Station)
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Who's Who In the District (Northern Indiana Church of the Nazarene, 1939-40)

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