Foreword & Acknowledgement
Before the White Man/Coming of the
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
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
Lageveen Remembers Incorporation
Belstra Remembers When...
Kankakee Valley Schools
DeMotte Elementary School
(DeMotte) Christian School
Mark L. DeMotte
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
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
St. Cecilia Catholic Church
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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(Casper (Cap) Belstra,
father of Albert K. (Bud) Belstra, was interviewed March 30, 1992 by
Laverne Terpstra. Mr. Belstra died a few months after the interview. The
interview was transcribed by Shirley Zeck and the original interview is in
the Indiana Room of the DeMotte library. The following article has been
edited and rewritten by Joan Whitaker for this booklet.)
Casper (Cap) Belstra was born in the
Netherlands on July 5, 1895. He arrived in Thayer with his parents, and
his brother Simon, December 4, 1904. They came on the train and were met
by his Uncle Jake Nannenga.
His grandparents, Peter and Willemina Nannenga lived around the Calumet
Lake but then moved to DeMotte where a Dutch colony was starting.
Baling and selling wild marsh hay was the mainstay of the early settlers
livelihood. The hay before winter set in was of a better quality than it
was after it froze. When the marsh turned to ice in the winter the
settlers continued to cut the hay which was above the ice. Belstra said
this was not very good for feed, so it was sold for packing hay in
Chicago, "It kept us going just about all winter."
Belstra said there were different farmers who pressed hay and sold it.
After his father started farming he also pressed the wild hay but kept it
to use as feed for his own animals. He said those who sold hay shipped it
by train. He remembered Frank Hart served as a sort of mentor to the
newcomers by handling the hay buyers. Hart also bought hay.
said soon after his family arrived the ditches were starting to be
dredged. (This was before the river was straightened). He said these
ditches didn't run into the river but into the marshland. A dredge was
built that floated on the water as it ditched. "Not too much later," he
reminisced, "...they made a ditch out of the river."
Cap said these same ditch dredges were used to widen the ditches and drain
them into the river after it was channeled. "That drained a lot, of
marshland, what we call the 'old marsh'," he recalled. Belstra explained
that the ditches were named for the person or persons who applied for
them. "There is a ditch called the Casper Belstra ditch," he said,
"(Because) I was the first one applying for it."
Belstra said it was a cinch learning the English
language. He went to the McKinley country school. He said in those days
one teacher taught all eight grades in one room. He remembered his first
teacher was Otto Schwanke who helped him learn the English language and a
love for reading.
He said the state started a traveling library which came to their school.
Cap said, "There were quite a few books, I read them all and I read them
all more than once." Belstra said in the interview that he remained an
avid reader all of his life and still remembered some of the stories he
read as a child from the books he got from the state library.
Belstra remembered a great open shed which had been built on high ground
near DeMotte which was nicknamed 'Little Ellis Island'. The nickname came
from Ellis Island located off the coast of New York, where all newcomers
from Europe passed through immigrations before entering the United States.
"'Little Ellis Island' was not too far from our neighborhood," he
recalled, "That's where a lot of our people landed that had no place to
live." Belstra said several families would live together in the building
until such a time as they would be able to get along on their own in the
new world they had come to.
was one store on the east side of the main street that handled feed and
hardware." Cap recalled, "Not light hardware, but heavy hardware like plow
shares. He had a pretty good line and if he didn't have it, he'd have it
for you in no time." He also carried repairs for corn planters or almost
any other kind of machinery that was made during that era.
"When the ditches came, that meant we plowed and put crops in," Cap
recalled, "We had corn planters, plows, hay rakes, mowing machines and
some of the work was done by hand. Cap's father started farming with a
walking plow he owned on shares with George Nannenga. Cap said it wasn't
long before his father raised corn, (no soybeans) and timothy hay for the
horses. He fed ear corn to the animals.
Belstra remembered the pickle factory that started up the first year his
family farmed. The factory was called the National Pickle and Canning
Company Belstra remembers, and it sold to Claussen after only a year or
Cap recalled Libbey, McNeil and Libbey had a cabbage plant here along the
railroad track. "The first year I contracted twenty acres of white
cabbage," he said, "They furnished the plants and we planted them."
Belstra said when the cabbage was ready to be harvested it was put into
bins at the factory. Women cored the cabbage heads, then it was shredded
and put into silos. Men packed it down with rubber boots on. It was all
made into kraut. "I think this factory lasted only two on three years,"
A cheese factory was located where 1229 S. Halleck is today. This was in
the days before the individual cream separators were available. Belstra
said farmers took their milk there to be separated. He said the first
cheese that was made was sent east to Fort Wayne. Later the cheese was
shipped to Rockford, IL. Cap said a lot of farmers sold cream using their
own separators when they became on the market and were affordable. He
remembered this factory probably lasted about five years.
At a later time another cheese factory was located on the curve in DeMotte
where Fieldhouse Ford was once located and where Ideal Automotive is
Before the roads were graveled, the milk was shipped to Gary and Chicago
by train. Belstra said it was shipped in an express car which was
transferred at Schneider to a train that went straight north. After the
roads were improved and a more direct route to the city was available, the
milk was shipped by truck.
Belstra remembered those early years as a time when people helped people.
He recalled if someone was sick and it was time to plow or plant, the
neighbors would pitch in and in a day or two would have the entire farm
plowed or planted.
Cap recalled it was almost a celebration. The wives got together and
cooked the noon meal for the men who were helping out.
Belstra said in the interview that it was the same thing in the fall. He
could still hear the 'bang, bang, bang' as the corn hit the 'bang board'
on the wagon so very long ago.