Local History
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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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Earl Schwanke


(The following article appeared in The Kankakee Valley Post in 1958 and was written by H. Earl Schwanke. Mr. Schwanke was the son of Fred Schwanke, one of the first settlers to locate in Keener Township. In this article, Mr. Schwanke relates the progress of a town.)

I noted with interest the articles in your paper relative to DeMotte's progress and development. May I, in simple verse, go backward and write about things done in the beginning of Keener Township lest they be forgotten.

I do not care to recall that Joliet, LaSalle, Marquette and Father Hennepin camped on French Island where Harry Dyke now (in 1958) lives. That is too far back in history, but, allow me to begin at the permanent settling of this locality, DeMotte and vicinity, say after the Civil War.

After this great war, trappers and hunters came into this locality by way of boats and by following the Indian Trail over the Dividing Ridge. These were rough, hardy men who could take a bag of salt and disappear into what was then a wilderness. They could live in a cellar-like dugout for years with nothing more to eat than game, wild fruit and nuts.

First two-story school in DeMotteAt the end of the Civil War settlers began to come into this locality by way of an Indian Trail which ran the length of Dividing Ridge and into Illinois. This trail was widened for covered wagons and sleds. This became a very important road and was later known as the San Pierre to Momence Trail.

The immigrants who began to come here were people of every nationality, but most of them were German. With their hopes, their love of ownership and equality, they fast became good citizens.

You must remember, at the time I mention, this was nothing but a wilderness. There were no nearby towns, roads, railroads, nor markets for anything except furs.

With the building of the railroad at San Pierre, a market was established one more chance for the settlers to make some money had been developed. Soon it was not uncommon to see a sled loaded with deer, ducks, geese or prairie chicken moving to market.

Some of the early day market hunters where the Obenchains, the Fairchilds, the Grangers, Bill Remer, George Casey, John Kosky, "Buckskin" Hank Sparling, Frank Mosier, Sr., and others whose name I do not recall now. These men were all crack shots.


The only communication to the outside world at first was by pony express over the San Pierre Trail from Momence. Frank Hart, Sr., then a mere boy, rode the pony express through the wilderness. Later a non-profitable post office was maintained on the Gleason Farm.

In or around 1880 there was talk of a railroad coming through from east to west. Being good citizens, the Fairchilds, Brodberries, Tylers, Seth Bently and Alex McDonald got behind this movement and donated the right of way. We were soon favored with a railroad.

With the coming of the railroad, a town was needed. Many of the lots were donated or sold at $5 or $10 each by McDonald and Dan Fairchild, Sr. In a surprisingly short time the town sprang up. A town without a name. As many of the men in this locality were Civil War Veterans, they decided the town should be called DeMotte, in honor of Colonel Mark L. DeMotte.

With the coming of the railroad, two new markets were available. A market for prairie hay to feed the teamster's horses in Chicago and a market for fire wood, as there were not many coal mines at that time. Both the above mentioned items could be had for the cutting and hauling.

After the coming of the railroad many notable people visited this locality. Among these were: Theodore Roosevelt, Gen. Lew Wallace, princes, dukes, senators, congressmen and millionaires. Many of them came to hunt and fish in the Grand Marsh of the Kankakee.

When Keener Township was formed it included a goodly portion of Union Township and was named for Jacob Keener, who lived near what is now Virgie.

At the early elections a trustee, road supervisor and an assessor were elected. The first trustee was Willian Vant Woud, the second was a Mr. Guild and my father, Fred Schwanke was the third.

The first school was a log building that was built near where Wesley Mosier now (1958) lives. More schools were built as people moved in. They were the Gleason School, Drent School, DeMotte School and the Pleasant Valley School. Later the Tyler and McKinley schools were built. From these schools came doctors, lawyers, statesmen and professional men and women.

Prior to the year 1878 most of the farming was done on high sand, but the need for drainage of the more productive black soil was apparent. Two ditches were dug, the Schwanke Ditch, which began in the C. Evers farm and ran west of DeMotte to enter into the Grand Marsh, and the Tyler Ditch to the east of town. Both of these ditches were dug by horse power.

I need not say more of the past, the old boardwalks have disappeared, Halleck's big hay barn, the Troxell Hotel and many of the other old things are also gone.
The mower replaced the scythe, the Grand Marsh is no more. The giant forests have been removed. Nearly all the old people are gone. But let us not forget them. They did not have the modern things of today. They came to a wilderness where there were no doctors or hospitals, to battle on against hardship and diseases that we might live here in peace and comfort. I honor them. Do you?

Next year (1959) is Keener Township's and DeMotte's 75th year of progress. The so-called Diamond year the year for a Diamond Jubilee. I think we should hold one. It is being done in many places in the U.S. The people of the past would want us to. They possessed a determination and bravery long unsung.

I have told you in simple verse of men with hearts like the oak and of women with souls as pure as the flowers that grew on the hills. They are the ones who built our foundation our frame work. We of the present have the easy job of painting it better. Let us grow chin whiskers and hold a Diamond Jubilee. Are we in favor of it?


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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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