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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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Fire almost destroys DeMotte in 1936

 

April 15, 1936 dawned a beautiful day in DeMotte. Little did anyone know, or suspect that before the day was over almost the entire business district would be in a smoldering ruin.

During the day the weather had changed, the wind had picked-up and was now out of the northwest. In the alley behind the stores on the west side of the main drag a trash fire was burning. It was about 3 p.m. and a strong wind was coming from the northwest fanning the fire out of control. The fire is believed to have first spread to Al Konovsky's Lumber Yard nearby.

Once the lumber yard was on fire, conditions produced a domino effect on the rest of the businesses. The fire quickly spread to William Swart and Co. store and Mary's Restaurant next door. The fire was out of control and spreading south. Hank Starkey's Model T was in the alley behind the stores and it went up in smoke.

Embers were blown by the strong northwest wind across the street. Soon buildings on the east side of the street were also in flames. The Keener Township Volunteer Fire Department had only been organized only a few weeks before the fire. The department had 10 members. They had bought a Model T truck from Hebron which hadn't yet been delivered.

Scene of the rubble after the 1936 fireAs a bucket brigade was being formed, the alarm went out to fire departments in the surrounding towns asking for help. Hebron, Wheatfield, Crown Point, Lowell, Schneider and Rensselaer responded to the call. Lack of vehicles and a central water supply hampered the firefighters. Water had to be transported from the Sekema Ditch about a half mile away.

On the west side of the street the fire was brought under control at John Terborg's Colonial Coffee Company. Only three businesses were left standing on that block. At that time Lageveen's store was on the west side of the street and was rebuilt on the east side after the fire.

A bucket brigade was credited with saving the Bank of DeMotte but the bank's plate glass windows were blown out from the intense heat.

Sam McGinness had left home and come downtown to help fight the fire. While he was gone, flying embers caught his house on fire three blocks away and burned it to the ground. The McGinness house and John Bunning's place were the only two homes burned that day.

 

The fire had leveled or damaged 19 businesses and two homes in town. Three buildings in Al Konovsky's lumber yard had burned. William Swart grocery and hardware building was gone. Mary's Restaurant, Art Burk's barber shop, H.C. DeKock & Son grocery, Herman Osting's shoe store, Otto DeYoung & Sons hardware & implements (authorized John Deere dealership), DeYoung pool room, the new post office, the Hart Building which housed Ruth's Restaurant and Bakery, were all destroyed.

Jake Bonstra, shoemaker, lost his shop. Roy True lost his barbershop. John Bunning was justice of the peace. He watched as his real estate office and home went up in flames. Miraculously, no one suffered any serious injuries.

Crowd looking over damage of 1936 fireGeorge Konovsky, who was a very young boy at the time, lived in the stone house which sets across the street from Holley's Restaurant and Lounge. Konovsky said before the fire got a good start, he remembers telling his mother that smoke was coming from the lumber yard. He said he remembers the sounds of cans of groceries exploding all night long while the fire was still smoldering.

In a 1988 interview given to the Kankakee Valley Post-News concerning the fire, Helen (Watson) Swartzell remembered the excitement and how people tried to save what they could. She was working at Curtin Bros. Restaurant at the time. The restaurant was owned by her two brothers. She told how they had a marble soda fountain in their restaurant, "In the excitement, a group of men carried it out. After the fire we could not get it back into the store. It was too heavy. No one could lift it. We finally had to break it up and get a new one."

The day after the fire about 25,000 people came from as far away as Chicago to see the damage and devastation. About 500 people lived in DeMotte at the time. It was estimated about 6000 cars came into the small town, creating quite a traffic jam. The state police were called in to prevent looting.

The fire did an estimated $150,000 damage which was a large sum in the middle of the Great Depression. About half that amount was covered by insurance.

Within a couple of days, the store owners were doing business. They reopened wherever they could. Coming through the 1936 fire and rebuilding the town into the DeMotte of today is a tribute to the people of DeMotte and the way they face adversity.

   

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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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