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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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Casper Belstra

 

(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.

Group of people pose on a two-story houseboat on the Hodge Ditch in 1919Belstra 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.

Early DeMotte street scene around 1911, from west side looking south"There 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 two.

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," Cap recalled.

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 today.

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.

   

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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.)

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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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     Rensselaer Carnegie Library (February, 2002)
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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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