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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(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.
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
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
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
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?