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SHIP, 1776-1976 

^Jvyom^nas. loucrn±niti 

1776 7976 


To write a history of a township is an awesome task; to put 
together a collection of memories is almost as frightening. Without the 
help of many people it could not have been done. For all those gracious 
people who came to my aid with books, documents, newspapers, 
pictures and generous amounts of time I am truly grateful. They are all 
acknowledged at the end of the report, for they are as important as the 
books and articles which I read. It is regrettable that there are many 
whom, for lack of time I did not see; they, too, could have added much 
of interest. 

There are inaccuracies in this writing, for historians do not always 
agree and people's memories differ. There are omissions caused by lack 
of time, or by a judgement made on what to include and what to leave 
out. I hope that the inaccuracies are not too great, and that the 
omissions are forgivable. 

Current problems are not discussed, for this is a collection of 
memories. City and township residents are well aware of such problems 
as river pollution and drainage, particularly at the extreme western 
edge of the township. Their solutions will be the subject of a historian's 
report in the year 2076. 

Momence, Illinois- 1976 Elizabeth B. Morrison 




Introduction i 

I Indians Fur Traders Pioneers 1 

II A Town A County A Township 8 

III People and Places 13 

IV Pleasures and Pastimes 24 

V Disputes and Discussions 28 

VI From the Model "T" to Apollo 17 33 

VII From THE-A-KI-KI to Kankakee 41 




This is the symbol for Kankakee County's Bicentennial celebration. The outline is of the 
county itself inset over the outline of the State of Illinois. The three stars stand for county, 
state, and nation; the double arch of the bridge spans the two rivers (Kankakee - Iroquois) 
which figured so significantly in the development of the county. The 1850 locomotive 
climbing a sharp grade indicates the forward and upward growth of the area, and the 
influence of all of the county's railroads in that endeavor. 


In putting together this history of Momence Township many things have been 
encountered that do not agree. The writers have done their best to check on details, but it 
has not always been possible to completely verify them. Any errors or mis-statements are 

Spelling is generally as we have found it, and spellings vary from document to 
newspaper items, to family usage as we find it today. 

Census information is known in some cases to be in error, but that is the way it was 
recorded by the census takers. 

Stories that are handed down through the years grow or fade in the telling. We hope 
you will enjoy the information, but always keep in mind that in reality it may have been a 
little different. 

Memories is a project of the Kankakee Bicentennial Commission. 

! Indians Fur Traders Pioneers 

1976 is a very special year. It not only marks the 
beginning of the last quarter of the twentieth 
century, it is the two hundredth birthday of the 
United States of America. All across the nation there 
is remembering as each community retells the story 
of its beginnings and rediscovers its roots. For all 
Americans, but especially for the citizens of 
Momence township, it is hoped that this look 
backwards will renew their pride in their heritage and 
their faith in themselves and their future. 

Yet, where or what, exactly, are the beginnings? 
History is, in reality, a chain of events— each link built 
upon a previous event, or link. Perhaps one might 
start with the link called "The Illinois Country". 
Long before there was a United States of America the 
"Illinois Country" was well known and well defined. 
It was peopled by numerous groups of Indians: the 
Illinois on both sides of the Illinois river, the 
Piankeshaws to the east, into present state of Indiana, 
and the Miamis to the northeast. 

French explorers were the first Europeans to 
visit this "Country of the Illinois"; the first dwellings 
were their forts, trading posts and missions. During 
the year 1679 Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle, with 
his companions Tonty and Father Hennepin, 
followed the southern tip of Lake Michigan eastward 
to the St. Joseph river. They ascended this river to a 
point near present day South Bend, Indiana. There 
they crossed the marshy swamp lands to the 
headwaters of the Kankakee river, descending it to 
the Illinois river. La Salle and his voyageurs were, 
thus, the first Europeans to have traveled "our" river 
and seen "our" township. The Illinois country was 
French territory until 1763 when, by the Treaty of 

Paris, it was ceded to the British. British occupation 
ended with the American Revolution, almost one 
hundred years after La Salle's trip down the 
Kankakee river. 

In 1779 the congress of a new nation, the 
United States of America, requested that states 
having claims on western lands, either by grant, 
conquest, or cession by Indians, relinquish those 
claims to the federal government. Thus the "Country 
of the Illinois" became the Northwest Territory. On 
May 7, 1800 the Northwest Territory was divided 
into the Indiana Territory (western portion) and the 
Ohio Territory; during the year 1809 the Indiana 
Territory was divided, the western portion becoming 
the Illinois Territory. In 1818 the state of Illinois 
became the twenty-first state admitted to the union. 

This was frontier land; the process of migration 
and settlement followed the pattern that a century 
had made familiar. First came the trappers and 
traders, isolated men at home in the wilderness, 
capable of dealing both with human and animal 
habitants on equal terms. One such man was Noel 
LeVasseur. When only seventeen, unhappy on the 
family farm in the province of Quebec, he decided to 
"seek his fortune" elsewhere. In May 1817, along 
with some forty other youngsters and the fur trader 
Roche Blave, he set out for the West to trade with the 
Indians. At Mackinac the group found a post of 
Astor's American Fur Company, and were put to 
work. These young Frenchmen were the ones was 
manned the "batteaux", with trade goods for the 
Indians, who hauled the furs on their backs, who 
traveled unknown trails, who often went hungry. It 
was labor often dangerous, always difficult. 

•A r 

The river as it must have looked to de La Salle and later to 
One summer LeVasseur met Gurdon Hubbard at 
Mackinac. Hubbard was another "fortune seeker", 
young in years but old in experience, already in a 
position oi~ responsibility with the American Fur 
Company and one of the "Illinois Brigade". 
LeVasseur became one of Hubbard's voyageurs, later 
his good friend and business partner. In 1821 
Hubbard with his voyageurs, set out from Chicago 
following the route that LaSalle had followed over a 
century earlier. With the aid of Indians they made the 
portage from the St. Joseph river across swampy 
marsh lands to the river that today we call the 
Kankakee. In 1699 St. Cosme called it the "River 
The-a-li-ke"; in 1712 Father Marest called it 
"Han-ki-ki"; Charlevoix wrote of it as "Ki-a-ki-ki" 
which he said was corrupted from "The-a-ki-ki"; in 
1812, in a report to the governor, it was called 
"Quin-que-que" (undoubtedly a French spelling of an 
Indian pronunciation). It is supposed that 
"Kankakee" is an Americanized spelling of the 
French name— a name to which historians have given 
various meanings: wolf, swamp, wonderful land. 
Hubbard, recalling his first impression of the 
Kankakee valley said, "You are citizens of the most 
beautiful portions of our grand state". The aborigines 
so considered it; they designated it the "Wonderful 


Gurdon Hubbard. (A painting by Marilyn Ostrow) 

Land, Wonderful River, Wonderful Home". Indians 
whose villages were on the banks of your river always, 
in naming their residence, would say 
"Ti-yar-ack-nauk"- "wonderful land home". I can 
never forget my first impressions of river, woods and 
lands so delightfully interspersed." 

During the year 1822 Hubbard established a 
track, or trace as it was often called, from his post at 
Bunkum (present day Iroquois) south well beyond 
Danville and north to Chicago. The Indians with 
whom he traded were the Pottowatomi, described by 
early French missionaries as hunters and fishers of 
war-like bearing living north of Lake Huron, then 
later along the coast of Lake Michigan. Early in the 
eighteenth century they had migrated to northern 
Indiana and northern Illinois. The men hunted and 
Fished, the women raised the crops: corn, beans, 
squash, melons. There were several of their villages in 
the Kankakee valley; Chief Yellowhead's village near 
Sherburnville,Wais-kuks near Waldron, She-mor-gar or 
Soldier's village, and the largest, Shawanassee's village 
at Rock Creek. These Pottowatomi were excellent 
trappers, no longer war-like, but acustomed to the 
white man and his trade goods: guns, blankets, 
copper pots, clothing and whiskey. Although they 
had lived in the Kankakee valley just a little over one 

hundred years, it was indeed their wonderful land. 
Beaver Lake and the marshes eastward were natural 
fish hatcheries; water fowl and food animals were 
plentiful and crops grew well. Yet they were 
persuaded to give it up. President Jackson needed 
more frontier land for the the pioneer families; he 
wanted the nation to grow westward. Since the 
Indians were in the way he requested Congress to pass 
an Indian Removal Act authorizing treaties with the 
Indians for their land, and resettling them on 
reservations west of the Mississippi. At Tippecanoe, 
Indiana, in 1832, the Pottowatomi sold their lands in 
what is now Kankakee county to the United States 
government. Certain choice land was reserved for 
chiefs or their families, principally in the area that is 
now Kankakee and Bourbonnais— reservations ranging 
from 320 to 3200 acres in size. However, these 
Indians chose to sell their reservation and go with 
their people to Iowa. The upheaval took place 
gradually, a few groups at a time. By 1838 almost all 
the Pottowatomi had left their "wonderful land 

According to the pattern of settlement, after the 
trails were defined the pioneer families 
followed— hardy men and women who wrested aliving 
from the land, and whose children grew tough in the 
struggle to survive. In their wake moved the agents of 
civilization— land speculators, lawyers, officials and 
shopkeepers who established the links that drew the 
frontier close to the rest of the world. 

Thus it was in Momence township. The 
Hubbard Trace from Danville to Chicago was well 
defined and well traveled. The finest and most 
practical ford of the river was a spot about a mile 
above the present bridge at Momence. The river was 
shallow, the bed of the river consisted of large flat 
stones making a fairly smooth road. It became known 
as the Upper Crossing because there were two other 
fords some five hundred yards apart about a mile 
downstream called the Lower Crossing. These fords 
were the only practicable crossings for almost the 
length of the river; all travel north and south 
converged at these spots; this was the route for 
emigration and tiade from western Indiana and 

A painting by local artist Marilyn Ostrow, of the Pottowatomi departure from the Kankakee valley. Letourneau wrote that reliable 
pioneers had described it as a heart rending experience. "The squaws wrung their hands and tore their hair; bitter tears fell in the 
furrows of dark chieftain faces; little children felt the sob of premonitory desolation rising in their throats. They had bartered their 
lands, their peace of mind, the heritage of the little ones for gold, and over their dull consciousness swept the gripping chill of a 
regretted and unalterable fate. " 

southern Illinois to Chicago. 

Upper Crossing, directly on Hubbard's trail 
attracted the first settlers. In 1833 William Lacy put 
up a log cabin on the north side of the river at the 
crossing; the next year Robert Hill put a cabin on the 
south side of the river and opened a tavern. (At that 
time tavern meant hotel.) 

1 834 was also the year that the state put in a 
mile-stone marked road from Vincennes to 
Chicago-a road that followed Hubbard's trail from 
Danville to Chicago. In a letter Hubbard wrote, "The 
legislature of Illinois caused a state road to be laid out 
in 1834, designated by mile-stones, from Vincennes 
to Chicago. The commisioners who located it and 
planted the stones tried hard, so they informed me, 
to get a straight line, and better ground than the 
Hubbard trail, but were forced with slight deviations 
to use mv old track ..." 

The William Nichols home, on the Hubbard Trail, is one of the 
oldest homes still standing in the county. 

The Graham farmhouse, another of the oldest in the county is 
situated on a high wooded hill overlooking the 400 acres of 
the Graham farm. 

Milestone 179 as it looked in 1909. Today, showing the 
ravages of vandalism and weather, it is set in concrete— a 
project of the Worcester Women's Relief Corps. It is almost 
directly across the road from the William Nichols home. 

The Melcalf farmhouse, on the north bank of the Upper 
Crossing. The great-grandchildren of Silas tell of finding 
timbers from the old bridges when they playcd,as children, in 
the river. 

Three years later ( 1837) William Nichols settled 
near the trail on the north side of the river. The only 
mile-stone remaining of the state road, number 179 
(number of miles from Vineennes) is still to be seen 
across the road from the Nichols home, one of the 
oldest houses still standing in Kankakee county. In 
1838 James Graham settled near William Nichols and 
Silas Metcalf settled on the land where Lacy had put 
up a cabin just four years earlier. In 1839 Walter B. 
Hess arrived from Canada and settled a few miles up 
river from the Crossing. He acquired a farm of 40 
acres which he gradually increased until he owned 
some 560 acres. He is an example of the sturdy hard 
working pioneer farmer of Momence township, for 
the land, covered with tall prairie grasses had to be 
cultivated by hand. It was a back breaking job that was 
accomplished a few acres at a time. As W. W. Parish, 
Sr. recorded in his diary, "Our tools were all hand 
made and we made them. They consisted of a 
wooden plow, a wooden drag and a hand sickle". 


A monument to the Hess family, on Highway 1 14 several miles 
east of Momence. 

By 1845 there was a settlement of about a 
dozen families at the Crossing, fairly evenly divided 
between the north and the south sides of the river. 
Robert Hill's tavern was so well known that the 
crossing was often called Hill's Crossing. His business 
outgrew the log cabin and, in 1840, he built a larger 
house -a frame house whose finishing lumber was 
hauled from Chicago by wagon. Two years later a 
bridge was built at the crossing site. The eldest 
daughter of James Graham remembered watching the 
building of the bridge. All the settlers came to help; 
meals and generous amounts of whiskey were served 
at Hill's place. Unfortunately ice jams destroyed the 
bridge some three or four years later. It was rebuilt 
only to be destroyed again in 1849. 

At the same time that a settlement was 
developing at the Upper Crossing, another was 
growing at the Lower Crossing. Asher Sargeant built a 
log cabin— a large double cabin— on the north side of 
the river some time in 1 834. He had a store in a part 
of the cabin, and two years later, when A. S. Vail and 
the Beebes came, a room of his cabin was used as a 
school. Orson Beebe and A. S. Vail built a cabin on 
the south side of the river. Orson's sister Lorraine, the 
settlement's first teacher, recalled, "I taught school 
during the winter of 1837 in Asher Sargeant's house. 
The two children of the Sargeants were all the 
scholars I had. I only taught three hours a day when I 
could cross the river on the ice. My sister, who 
married Mr. Vail, and myself kept house for my 
brother Orson and Mr. Vail at their house on the 
south side of the river." The next year she taught in 
the empty Lacy cabin at the Metcalf place. She was 
able to borrow a boat and rowed herself as well as the 
south side children to the school each day. 

Algernon Sidney Vail, at the age of ninety-six, a 
tall, erect man whose firm handshake belied his years, 
recalled those first years of the settlement. "In 
1836", he said, "I came West with Mr. Hardin Beebe 
and his family. They settled on a claim later known as 
Beebe 's Grove, near what is now Crete, Illinois. In 
October of that year I made a trip to Chicago. It was 
then a crude looking place. It was not an unusual 
thing to see a team stuck in the mud on Lake Street. I 
could have purchased lots on this street for twenty or 
twenty-five dollars each, while on State Street lots 
could have been had for a song. Had I acted upon my 
own judgement I should certainly have secured some 
of the ground in the business section of the city 
instead of the claim of 160 acres which I purchased 
here for $2200. 

In 1837, I married Miss Anna Beebe, and when 
we settled on our claim there were just two shanties 
where Momence now stands. The next year (1838) I 
drew my wheat to Chicago with an ox team and sold 
it for 37'/2 cents per bushel. It took three days to 
make the trip. In those days neighbors were few, and 
in our little colony reciprocity was a prominent plank 
in our community platform. Each had a desire for the 
common good of all. 

When our little community consisted of six 
families, the need of school advantages was keenly 
felt, and I have always held in grateful remembrance 
my humble effort to provide for this necessity by 
erecting a little building which was the first frame 
schoolhouse in Kankakee county. This same building 
is now the kitchen part of our home, for, after being 
used for five years for school purposes, it was 
outgrown and gave place to a larger building." 

He recalled that red and black raspberries, grapes 
and wild turnip grew along the river, brought 
undoubtedly by the French voyageurs and distributed 
among the Indians. These Indians were converts and 
buried their dead, marking the graves with rude 
crosses. He also recalled finding the body of an Indian 
buried above ground in a sitting position in a little log 
hut on an island east of town, as Bloom had described 
the burial of Chief Shawanassee. 

Mr. Vail was the first postmaster of the 
community. He had served as supervisor and grand 
juror. At 96 he was, and had been for twenty years, 
justice of the peace. Momence people, young, 
middle-aged and old, for miles around came to Uncle 
Algernon to be married, firmly believing that "a 
nuptial knot could be more cleverly and permanently 
tied by him". At 96 he was truly a patriarch of 

It was the year after "Sid" Vail came to the 
settlement that Asher Sargeant built a dam on the 
north fork of the river and set up a sawmill.A year 
later (1838) he put in a dam on Trim creek one and 
one-half miles east of the town (on the farm later 
owned by J. H. Nichols) and built a grist mill. No 
longer was it necessary for the settlers to go as far as 
Wilmington or Lafayette to have their grain ground. 

W. W. Parish, Sr. came to the Lower Crossing in 
1840 when choice farm land was selling for $1.25 per 
acre, wheat delivered in Chicago brought 35 cents a 
bushel, corn and oats 10 cents a bushel, and dressed 
pork $1.50 per hundred. Although most of the 
Pottawatomi had left, Mr. Parish remembered that 
when he came there were still Indians occupying 
teepees along the river. The Grahams at Upper 

Crossing recalled that each spring and summer there 
were Indians who came to visit them and to sell bead 
work or buck-skin apparel that they had made during 
the winter. In particular, there was old Joe Barbee. 
His place was known as Indian Garden (a little east of 
the present Garden of Eden subdivision) where he 
lived with his wife and two daughters. He was 
remembered as a working Indian who grew vegetables 
and fruit— an Indian with a white man's name. 

Thus Momence, one of the oldest towns in 
northeastern Illinois began as a river settlement that 
existed for years without a name. It was, said Bert 
Burroughs, a sort of rallying point. Here came the 
coureurs de voyage from Canada, southern pioneers, 
sturdy settlers from the Wabash and Yankees from 
the East. Mr. Parish remembered that often there 
were as many as one hundred wagons at a time 
camped around the ford. "It was a wide open river 
town", wrote a Momence editor, "with gambling, 
profanity and dissipation in full sway" The marshes 
to the east attracted not only hunters but criminals. 
The islands were difficult to reach and afforded a safe 
haven for all kinds of wrong-doers. The editor 
continued, "At that time (1838) the old Indian chief 
Bourbonnais was living in his double log cabin which 
stood almost exactly where our court house now 
stands; old Min-e-maung (Yellowhead) in his cabin on 
the farm of J. P. Stratton about four and one-half 
miles east of Momence, old Joe Barbee up the river at 
what is known as Blue Grass. The dried corpse of an 
Indian was in a rude birch bark hammock hanging in 
a large tree on Miller's Island, and the Indian villages 
near the present sites of Waldron and Altorf were the 
fonly villages in the county. Along the river were the 
cabins of frontiersmen engaged in hunting, trapping 
i and cutting and rafting logs, and in the neighborhood 
iof Beaver Lake counterfeiters, gamblers, horse thieves 
_and all manner of outlaws were in hiding. Schools 
were kept in log cabins devoid of what now we think 
would be indispensable. Often one or two books 
would have to suffice for the whole school, the 
system of instruction being after the fashion of the 
old Greeks, the teacher again and again rehearsing a 
lesson until the pupil learned it." 

A Town A County A Township 

By 1841 the little community was large enough 
for a postoffice, and was named Lorraine in honor of 
the first teacher, Lorraine Beebe. The postoffice was 
in the home of Postmaster A. S. Vail at Lower 
Crossing. He was a Whig, however, and soon lost this 
political job to a Democrat, David Lynds. Since Dr. 
Lynds was the husband of Lorraine Beebe, the name 
of the postoffice was not changed-just its 
location-to Lynds' home at Upper Crossing. 

The land on which the Lower Crossing 
settlement grew was the reservation of the Indian 
princess Ja-neir, her husband, and his two brothers 
Wa-be-ga and Saw-grets. The three brothers were the 
sons of a French trader Pierre Moran and his Indian 
wife. Ja-neir's husband has been called, by various 
historians, Mo-mentz, Momence, Mo-mess or Mo-ness. 
Mr. Vail, who knew him well insisted that his name 
was Mo-ness. In 1843 Dr. Hiram Todd acquired this 
land bringing his holdings in Kankakee county to 
8,000 acres. He had the land surveyed, a town platted 
and recorded in the Will county court house in Joliet 
in 1846. It was a town of about twelve blocks, 
bound on the north by Fourth Street, on the east by 
Maple Street, on the west by Range Street and on the 

south by the river. There were six or eight houses 
within the town limits and the flouring mills of Todd 
and Chatfield. Mrs. Chatfield recalled that one 
evening at Todds they were discussing a name for the 
town. Dr. Todd proposed two names, Momence and 
Sawgrets. Mrs. Chatfield suggested Toddsville. After 
some discussion they chose the name Momence. Soon 
afterward the townsite was bought by James Mix, W. 
A. Chatfield and John Strunk as a real estate venture. 

Isaac Olds wrote in a letter, "In 1845 I built the 
first bridge over the north channel of the river from 
the foot of Range Street to the island. The one over 
the south branch was built by John Force and was 
put in by subscription. I bought the first lot sold in 
the town for which I paid the sum of $30." 

Milan O. Clarke, who later published the 
Momence Reporter, came to Momence in the spring 
of 1846 to join his brother, Bela. He wrote to his 
New York relatives, "We have the best country, the 
best land, and right here before long will be a place of 
importance. We have water privileges and the canal 
will come within thirty miles of us. Even now, with 
our market at Chicago fifty miles away we do as well 
as Naples as we can get things very cheap there." 

' .*»«* *r 

Early settlers, from the 1883 Atlas 

By 1851 there was quite a business center on 
River Street: three general stores, a drug store, a tin 
shop, a blacksmith shop and two hotels. The three 
mills, a grist mill, a saw mill and a carding mill were 
the life of the town since they brought in trade for 
the stores. Chauncey and Albert Chipman had built a 

First Brick Schoolhouse 

hrst brick schcolhouse ever built in Momence. It was located 
on Locust St. ulicre the Wilbur King residence is today. 

From the Momence Press-Reporter, July 1939. 

buck school on Locust between 3rd & 4th streets. The 
ice jams of a particularly cold winter took out the 
bridges in the late forties (no one remembered 
exactly when) and Hill's bridge went down in the 
spring of '49. During the summer, when the river was 
fordable, one could cross at Momence or at Hill's; at 
other times it was necessary to use the ferry at 
Momence. Sometime in 1852 the business men of the 
town formed the Momence Bridge Company and sold 
stock to finance the building of new bridges. The 
project was completed the next year and a house was 
built on the west tip of the island, between the 
bridges, for the toll collector. The toll for a team 
crossing was 15 cents, 10 cents for a single horse, and 
5 cents to walk across. One could get a reduced rate 
by purchasing a quantity of tickets at a time. 

Perhaps it was the new toll bridges, perhaps the 
new flouring mill that John Strunk built on the 
island, or perhaps the new church congregations-the 
few Methodists who had met at Nichols farm formed 
a congregation in 1844 and met at the new brick 

school; the Baptist congregation, organized in 1851, 
built a church the next year. Whatever the reason, the 
little Momence settlement continued to grow while 
the community at Upper Crossing began to disappear. 
Hakestraw's dram shop, Glover's store, Green's 
gunshop, the blacksmith, one by one they moved 
down river to Momence. Only Hill's tavern was left. 
In the spring of 1850 there was a Grand Ball at the 
tavern in honor of Hill's son Sam. Philip Worchester 
and a dozen other men who would soon be leaving 
for the California gold fields. It was the tavern's last 
celebration. Three years later, after the death of 
Robert Hill, the building was moved to the corner of 
River and Market Streets where it became a home. 

New families moving to the community, new 
businesses being formed as well as jury duty made the 
day long trips to the county seats intolerable. There 
were two of them, for the river was a dividing line. 
Those living on the north side were in Will county, 
formed from Cook in 1836, whose county seat was 
Joliet; those living on the south side were in Iroquois 
county, formed in 1833, whose county seat was 
Middleport (near present day Watseka). The diary of 
William Parish, Sr. says, "It was a day's journey to the 
Middleport county seat. Lawyers from Joliet would 
ride horseback to Middleport to try their cases, and 
Iroquois county lawyers would ride horseback to 
Joliet to try their cases." He as well as other 
townspeople frequently served as jurors in the circuit 
court, making the long trip to one county seat or the 
other. By 1850 the Vails, Perrys, Worchesters and 
Beebes with settlers from other communities along 
the river, decided that they needed their own county 
and county seat. Accordingly, petitions were sent to 
the state legislature requesting a new county to be 
taken from both Will and Iroquois. The legislature 
ordered an election to be held in April, 1851, 
requiring a majority vote from both counties. Will 
county had no objections; Iroquois objected 
vigorously; its vote was against the formation of a 
new county. Thus the whole process of petitions and 
elections had to be repeated. In the elections of 1 853 
both counties had majority votes for the new county. 
Although there was strong evidence of fraud in the 
Iroquois county vote, it was finally allowed to stand, 
and the county of Kankakee was organized. The first 
election was held in Momence, the largest town in the 
new county, in May, 1853, and county officers were 
chosen. The vote for a county seat showed no clear 
majority for any town. The first county court thus 
met at Momence and ordered an election for a county 
seat to be held June 21. The court laid out six 

townships: Yellowhead, Bourbonnais, Aroma, 
Rockville, Limestone and Momence. Momence 
consisted of what is now Sumner, Ganeer, Momence, 
Pembroke, and six sections of the east side of St. 
Anne. Each township had at least one population 

A little before the county seat election, a town 
of 43 blocks was platted and given the name 
Kankakee Depot. It was on the new Illinois Central 
railroad line and the railroad interests were 
determined that it become the county seat. They 
offered a block of land for the court house square 
and $5000 toward the court house building. 
Momence was equally determined to become the 
county seat. The town's leading citizens worked to 
get out the vote. The Indiana marshes and the Beaver 
Lake region were searched for voters. The final vote 
was about fifty percent greater than its registered 
voters. The Illinois Central interests sent all their 
construction crews and clerical workers to vote in 
Aroma, Bourbonnais and Limestone. The vote was 
double the population, but, as the newspapers 
reported, "Momence was tarred too badly with the 
same stick to demand a searching investigation". 

Losing the election was a blow to Momence but 
there was no time for bemoaning the decision. 
Another matter of pressing importance was already 
being debated. Momence was indeed the largest 
settlement in the county— it was time to incorporate 
as a town. 

For years it had been called a "wide open" river 
town with as many saloons as stores and a meeting 
place for trappers, hunters, loggers, and from the 
marshes to the east, gamblers and thieves. Bert 
Burroughs wrote of these men, "they stood straight, 
talked straight, shot straight and took their whiskey 
straight. Their pastimes were poker, boxing, 
wrestling, foot racing, horse racing and now and then 
an honest-to-goodness fight". The early settlers and 
the business men who followed them to this 
community represented a new type of citizen. They 
were people who formed church congregations and 
built churches, who built schools, who formed 
businesses and industries, who wanted a "decent" 
town to live in. The Methodist group had been served 
for many years by S. P. Burr, a well-loved circuit 
rider. A parsonage had been built for him when, 
because of a throat ailment, he had resigned as a 
circuit preacher. Elder Burr led the fight for 
incorporation— for fight it was! The backwoodsmen 
were actively opposed; they wanted no restrictions. 
Elder Burr's life was threatened; there were open 

street fights; men who had long been friends became 
enemies. Old Dan Parmelee, whose place was just east 
of Joe Barbee's Indian Garden, lived alone in a little 
cabin and spent his time hunting and trapping. He 
was a crack shot— none but his good friends dared to 
go near his place. One such good friend was William 
Graham, but in a dispute over incorporation, (Bill was 
for, Dan against) Bill hit Dan over the head with a 
neck yoke. The story is told that for some time 
thereafter Dan came into town without his gun, for 
fear of what he would do if Bill continued the 
argument. Other fights did not end so peaceably, but, 
in due time the election was held and the proposition 

The citizens who had hoped for a peaceful, 
law-abiding community soon discovered that winning 
at the polls was not enough. When a corporate tax 
was levied both sides objected vocally and actively. 
Not only would men not pay the three dollar tax, 
they would not work out the tax on the streets of the 
town. There were arrests, trials and appeals, all of 
which took years; "getting used to the idea" also 
took years. Finally, some eight or nine years later 
incorporation was a recognized fact; Momence 
became a law-abiding town. 

There were disputes and elections in the 
township as well. Sumner township was formed in 
1856, St. Anne (which included Pembroke) in 1857, 
and Ganeer in 1859, reducing the township to its 
present size. The split with Ganeer was down the 
center of the main route which thus became the range 
line of the two townships, and was named Range 
Street. It was decided to name the new township for 
Ja-neir, the wife of Momence; evidently a clerical 
error in recording changed the J to G. Old records 
spelled the name Ganeir; it is not certain when the 
spelling changed again, or why. (Ganeer) 


Dan Parmclcc's cabin, sketched by Marilyn Ostrow. 


Tte Slocum Wilbur home, just east ofMay-lan candles, looks much the same today. 

- *fEBm- 

Wml. B^wn's Yard and Cider Mill, riomence, Illinois 

Looking West Irom the Bridge. 


People and Places 

The county seat and incorporation struggles did 
not deter newcomers to the town or the township. 
French Canadian farmers Peter Brassard, F. X. 
Longpre and Peter Blanchette settled in the township. 
The blacksmith, J. B. Paradis, started a wagon 
factory. He also built a steam boat and made one trip 
a day between Momence and Waldron. Slocum Wilbur 
was a pioneer seed grower who, one year, raised and 
shipped 15,000 pounds of cucumber seeds alone. 
Most of today's residential area east of the Dixie 
Highway was his seed farm, where he produced great 
quantities of pepper, cucumber, water melon, squash, 
peas, beans and other vegetable seeds. Many of the 
town's businessmen got their start as boys working on 
his farm. 

William J. Brown emigrated to Momence from 
England in 1850. He was an excellent machinist who 
was always called upon to repair engines and all kinds 
of machinery. He built a cider mill (where the present 
city hall and fire department now stand). The 
townspeople called him affectionately "Old English" 
Brown and he was a favorite of the children. They 
were always at his cider mill with their buckets or 
cups when he drew off cider. No child was ever 
turned down. The home that Brown built (1850) at 
Second and Pine Streets still stands, owned, until 
recently, by his granddaughter, Lucy Brown. 

William Astle, who also emigrated from England, 
came to Momence in 1855, worked and saved, and 
opened his own hardware store on River Street in 
1862. In 1863 the toll bridges went down, to be 
replaced by free bridges. A toll collector was no 
longer needed and the little house on the western tip 
of the island was rented out by the Momence Bridge 
Company. The brick schoolhouse became L. B. 
Clark's carpenter shop. The Methodists built a new 
stone church. It was also in 1863 that the thirty 
Catholic families, under the guidance of Father P. 
Paradis built a church. The members themselves cut 
the timber, rafted it to the saw mill and built the 
little chapel on the site of the present church. 

All of these events were overshadowed by the 
tragic war which began with the shelling for Fort 
Sumpter April 13, 1861. The year 1860 had been an 
exciting one, politically. Abraham Lincoln, an Illinois 
man, was very popular in this area. In his diary 
William Parish wrote that he had met Lincoln some 
twenty years earlier when he tried a case at 

Middleport. He remembered how the men gathered 
round him to hear his stories. The next time he saw 
Lincoln was at his home in Springfield after his 
nomination for the presidency. Although Lincoln did 
not campaign in Kankakee county, visitors from 
Chicago, Springfield and other large cities retold his 
stories to eager Momence listeners who, in turn, 
amplified them and repeated them to anyone who 
would listen. Lincoln had received seventy percent of 
the Kankakee county vote, and when, through 
Governor Yates, he asked for soldiers, the response 
was equally great. There were meetings in all the 
townships to urge men to enlist. Company D of the 
42nd Infantry was made up almost entirely of 
Momence men. A report of the Adjutant General 
showed that Momence and Ganeer townships paid 
$26,047.75, the highest amount paid by any county 
township, for bounties, support of soldiers' families 
and other expenditures in aid of supressing the 
rebellion. There is no record of the additional 
thousands of dollars paid out for care of families and 
wounded men as well as for draft substitutes. The 
cost of the war, the loss of so many men as well as 
the economic difficulties that their going created, 
caused untold suffering and hardship for those left 
behind. Nothing surpassed, however, the misery of 
the soldier himself. Although their reunions later 
emphasized the glory of the campaigns, exerpts from 
the diary of Lieutenant B. F. Gray, during the 
Mission Ridge engagement, showed clearly that the 
war was not glorious. 

August 6, 1863 

Cars arrived at noon today. I got just 
no mail at all, as usual. I read 
Shakespeare. Some of the officers got 
on a high. All of us are just sweating 
to death. The Gewalaker stood at 98 
in the shade. All quiet on the 

September 17 QUIT SMOKING 
Camped last night in Walker county. 
The enemy is massing on our left. Our 
Division lay in camp until noon when 
we went out on the right about half a 
mile and deployed as skirmishers. 
Thomases corps moved up on the left 
and Johnson and Davis came up. 


Some cannonading on the left and 
skirmishing all along the line. All quiet 
at night and company maintains 

September 19 

Started toward the left. Marched some 
12 miles. Our brigade was then 
brought into fight. We were engaged 
about one hour. Loss in the right, 14 
wounded and 2 killed. Our company 
sustained no loss. Lay on the battle 
field all night and built breast works. 
September 20 

Early in the morning our lines fell 
back to a new line of battle. Heavy 
cannonading commenced at 9 a.m., 
also musketry. We were thrown in at 
10 and were repulsed with heavy loss. 
Our company lost 30 killed, wounded 
and missing. We fell back 8 miles. Our 
whole army was entirely routed. Loss 
very heavy. 
September 21 

Cold last night and poor show for 
sleep. We stayed all day where we 
camped last night at the cross roads. 
We built some breast works. The Rebs 
felt at our lines on the left but did not 
break them. Twelve more of our boys 
came in today, making it up to 21. 
Graham, T. O'Brien, Watson and 
Dutcher are reported killed. 
September 22 

We fell back to Chattanooga last night 
and are going to hold the place or die 
trying. Commenced building rifle pits 
and breast works. The Rebs came up 
and felt us. Night cold. 
October 26 

General Wood's Division left last night 
for the purpose of trying to open 
communications by rail or river. We 
got % lb. of bread for 1 lb. of flour. 
Ate one loaf for dinner and one for 
supper and have got two left for 
October 27 

Got up this morning feeling rather 
hungry. Our troops let into the Rebs 
at daylight this morn. We have not 
ascertained yet with what results. Rice 

and gravy for supper. Are going to get 
quarter rations in the morning. 
October 31 

Cleared off last night and I finished 
the muster rolls. We were not 
mustered today as the officers were so 
slow. The boats are within 1 1 miles 
and we expect to be on full rations in 

3 days 

December 31 Strawberry Plains, Ga. 
Rains today, also last night. The men 
are in a miserable condition, no tents 
or covering of any kind. Their rations 
are very small too, not nearly 
adequate to the exposure or even to 
sustain life. It seems as though we 
were needlessly detained here in this 

(After the war B. F. Gray lived and worked in 
Washington D. C, studied law at Columbia Law 
School and returned to Momence in 1872 to practice 
law. For many years he was attorney for the city.) 

After Lee's surrender, April 9, 1865, whole 
regiments were mustered out as units, soldiers 
returning home singly or in groups in any way they 
could. Military records were thus incomplete or 
inaccurate; compensation for the wounded and sick 
was slow in payment or not paid at all; hardships 
continued long after the war had ended. 

After a three or four year absence, the returning 
veterans saw changes in the community. There were 
new free bridges, a new Catholic church, new stores, 
and, of course, newcomers to the community. On the 
farms, corn was replacing wheat as a money crop and 
the new reaper was making grain harvesting easier. 
William Brown had built a self-raking reaper, from the 
patented plan of J. Atkin, for John Wright, the owner 
of The Prairie Farmer. Cyrus McCormick had also 
invented a reaper, and, by the end of the war, was 
manufacturing it and selling it to midwest farmers. 

The economic slump caused by the war was 
alleviated somewhat by the news that a railroad 
would come to Momence. The Chicago, Danville and 
Vincennes railroad was chartered by the state 
legislature to build a railroad from Chicago to the 
southern part of the state. Work was begun in 1868 
anil the road finished to Danville in 1871. The 
townships through which it passed had issued bonds 
to raise money for the railroad: Momence gave 
S24,000. The road was almost parallel to the Illinois 
Central and was very important to the continued 


growth of the township. Some years later the railroad 
added a "coal branch" from Brazil, Indiana to 
Momence where it was connected by the main line 
with Chicago. The railroad had relied on township 
funds for a part of its financing; St. Anne never paid 
the $30,000 promised and that, in part, was the cause 
of its failure. The assets were sold and a new charter 
granted in 1877 to the Chicago and Eastern Illinois 

One of Ihe earliest engines of the C and E I. 

A year before the railroad was completed, J. B. 
A. Paradis established a weekly newspaper, The 
Momence Reporter; four years later (1874) Dr. Milan 
O. Clarke took over the editorship. The historian 
Daniel Paddock said of it, "The Momence Reporter, 
edited by Dr. M. O. Clarke of Momence is one of the 
most rigorously edited and spicy sheets in the 
county". An article in the Kankakee Times of 
February 19, 1885, reporting that Steven Dennis had 
purchased the Momence Reporter from Dr. Clarke 
(disabled by paralysis) concluded, "Mr. Clarke is one 
of the very best editorial writers of the country press 
in Illinois". 

The Church of the Good Shepherd was 
organized as a parish during the year 1870, meeting in 
the hall above what is today Stanley's Farm Store. 
Six years later a small chapel was built near the north 
end of the bridge on River Street. It was soon 
outgrown, and in 1881 the present church, on the 
corner of Second and Locust Streets was erected. 

The C and E I Depot around 1900. 

Central School with its iron fence and post gateway. 

Although both Momence and Ganeer townships 
had school districts, a special bill enacted by the 
legislature in 1868 created the Momence Union 
School District, two by three miles in size, partly in 
Momence township, partly in Ganeer township, and 
including the city of Momence. In 1871 the Central 
School (where Range Elementary School now stands) 
vas built at a cost of $20,000. William Sweeney 
remembered that he was ten years old at the time of 
the school construction. One September morning his 


mother sent him to the school for a fresh pail of 
water from the well. He had orders not to go into the 
building, but the temptation to climb up to the 
cupola was too great. He climbed up, uneventfully, 
but on the way down he fell between the joists. At 
the third floor his suspenders caught on a nail and he 
hung there for a time. The suspenders finally broke 
and he fell to the basement where Mr. Hubbard, the 
contractor, rescued him, revived him and took him 
home to face his mother's anger-with broken 
suspenders and a few bruises. 

The school, when completed, was enclosed by a 
four foot iron fence with posts for a gateway -spaced 
so that people could get in but cows could not. 

The high school department was completed by 
Professor G. H. White in 1875; the enrollment was 
85, nearly half being tuition pupils. The first class of 
seven young women and one young man was 
graduated June 1, 1877. 

Mr. Ernest Griffin of Grant Park, who graduated 
in 1896, said, "It was the ambition of every boy in 
school to climb the flagpole on top of the cupola and 
write his name on the silver ball above the flagpole". 
He added that only two boys were able to do it, 
Mitch Cantway and Fred Clarke. 

Class of 1892 M. H. S. 

* is the first class graduated under Professor H P. Little. 
ie Commencement Exercises were held in the old Murphy 
pera House. The graduates are left to right: Florence (Riker) 

rieins. Martha (Clark) Watson. Mary (Knighthart) Meinzer 

Martha (Chipman) Henry. Nora (Culver) Paradis. Frances Mc 


From the Momence Press-Reporter, July 1939. 

In 1894, just twenty-three years after the 
completion of the Central School, another was 
needed and the Lorraine School was built on the 
south side of the river. 

This rapid population growth began before 
1870 and was responsible for a great deal of building 
in the early seventies. J. B. Durham organized a bank. 
He and J. B. Wickes felt that Front Street (present 
Washington Street) would soon replace River Street 
as the business center. Each man had two brick 
buildings erected on Front Street east of Range 
Street. J. B. Worchester put up the next building and 
the block began to be called the "J. B. Block". A few 
years later W. G. Nichols built two more brick 
buildings, completing the block. William Astle, who 
had established his hardware store in '62, moved into 
the new building (present location) in October 1871 
by the light of the Chicago fire. While this sounds like 
an exaggeration, those who know insist that it is 
true-that great fire lighted the heavens for more than 
fifty miles. There has been an Astle Hardware 
business in Momence for 114 years-in the same 
location for 105 years. It is the oldest continuous 
business run by the same family in the township. 
William Astle was a leader in the Episcopal church as 
well as a civic leader and Astles ever since have 
have followed in that tradition. 

William Astle who founded the oldest business in Momence, 
now run by his great-grandson, Charles Astle. 


There was building, too, on Range Street north 
of Front Street in spite of the creek that developed at 
flood times. When the river was high, water used to 
back up from a spot beyond the C and E I depot, 
forming a creek that ran southwest, crossing Range 
Street in front of the livery stable (Plaque Village), 
then back of the bank building (Karlock Enterprises) 
until it rejoined the river. In the spring people used 
the foot bridges to cross it; wagons often mired in it. 
In the winter the children skated on it; in the summer 
it was a dirty ditch. Finally in the late 1890's the 
ditch was cleaned out. Bustles, old shoes, tin cans and 
other rubbish were removed, the ditch was filled in 
and the street leveled off. 

Home built by William Astle about 1861 on the corner of 
Washington and Pine Streets. It was torn down in 1970 and 
replaced by the new Momence Federal Savings and Loan 

The Astle Hardware Store in 1924. From left to right, Lance West, Charles B. Astle (grandson of the founder), William Birch, Milan 
Astle (great-grandson of founder), John Cummings, Tom Newsam, 


Range Street (looking north) showing the foot bridge over the creek. This picture shows a funeral procession starting from the Opera 

J. B. Paradis had built a steamboat to carry 
produce and merchandise between Momence and 
Waldron in 1854; by the 1880's river steamboats were 
a common sight in the Momence area. The "Union 
Club" made excursion trips from Momence east to 
Olds Landing, Indian Town and the state line. There 
were smaller craft also for hauling produce and 
supplies between Momence and the farms east of the 
city. Dr. Clarke, editor of the Momence Reporter 
took the Union Club trip to the state line and back. 
He reported that it was an excellent trip, the boat 
itself a marvel, the ride most enjoyable. In the same 
paper his editorial commented on the danger to the 
bridges that cattle crossing caused. "The village 
authorities should see to it that all cattlemen who 
violate the ordinance relating to driving cattle across 
the bridges should be prosecuted to the full extent of 
the law", he wrote. Not long after, a front page 
headline read, "A BIG SMASH AND A BAD 
AFFAIR". The story related that as Levi Croman was 

hurrying a drove of cattle over the bridge, one of the 
spans gave way and the bridge, cattle and all, were 
dumped into the river killing five or six head of 
cattle. The article further said that it would take from 
$2000 to $3000 to put the structure in shape and in 
the meantime everyone who wished to cross would 
have to ford or ferry the south branch. Evidently 
cows, allowed to wander about as they chose, as well 
as cattle driven carelessly across the bridges were real 
civic problems for a long time and were finally solved 
by a town ordinance in 1888. The following year 
editor Stephen W. Dennis of the Momence Reporter 
wrote, "When the board, by a narrow majority, 
passed the ordinance prohibiting live stock from 
running at large on the streets there was considerable 
dissatisfaction. After a year's trial, however, very few, 
if any, can be found who wish to return to the old 
order of things. People have been encouraged to plant 
shade trees and to better care lor the streets and 
walks in front of their premises. It would now be 


almost impossible to return to the old way 

The completion of the new railroad with its 
innumerable side tracks, all unenclosed, would render 

the life of the village cow rather precarious 

Thus it may be said that one of the vexing questions 
has forever passed out of the area of village politics. 
The cow question is a dead issue." 

The Illinois, Indiana and Iowa Railroad came 
into Momence in 1882. By 1900 there were four 
railroads serving the city and the township. 
Letourneau's history says that Momence was entering 
a period of great business and commercial growth. 
This growth had begun a little earlier than 1900, 
however. By the late 1870's there was growing ice 
business; one winter James Mix harvested 1 5 ,000 tons 
of ice. In 1884 the Tiffany Brick Works was 
incorporated. The natural clay was to be used for 
sewer pipe and for tile; Goose Lake clay from the 
northern part of the state would be shipped in by rail. 
At first brick was made only for the construction of 
the company's buildings and kilns. By 1886 there 
were six kilns and a foundation for the drying room. 
The next year red pressed brick (the press was L. J. 
Tiffany's invention) was being manufactured; fifty 
men were employed. By 1889 two more kilns were 

completed as well as a central heating system with 
tunnels supplying heat to each kiln and to the drying 
room. One hundred men were employed, most of 
whom lived in town and walked to work. The fine red 
pressed brick was sold for buildings in Chicago and 
other large cities and was acknowledged to be the 
best in the world in quality and design. However the 
Tiffany brothers had read articles in English journals, 
by ceramist Isaac Hardy, of an enameling process for 
brick. After much correspondence Isaac Hardy agreed 
to come to Momence for a year to introduce the 
process at the Tiffany Brick Company. He came in 
1893 with three sons, Ernest, Ralph and James 
Edward. With his special formula he started up the 
process by means of which the face of the brick was 
covered with a coating of procelain in any shade or 
tint desired. The Tiffany Enameled Brick Company 
became even more well known world wide, winning 
prizes and recognition at expositions across the 
country and in Europe. Isaac Hardy, who had 
promised to stay one year, stayed six years and 
returned to England without his sons. In spite of his 
urging, they liked America, they liked Momence and 
decided to stay. Ernest was made superintendent of 
the company, although all three brothers were 


employed there. Many of the store fronts on South 
Roosevelt Road in Chicago and on State Street were 
made of this enameled brick. As many as two 
hundred men were often employed, depending on the 
size and the number of orders. 

Isaac and Mary Hardy in 1902 on their 50th wedding 

The Tiffany Brick Company employees in front of the yards in the early 1920's. First full row, 5th from the left, Ernest Hardy, 6th 
from the left, L. J. Tiffany, 7th from the left, E. O. Hermann, 9th from the left, Ralph Hardy, whose three daughters, Irene Hardy, 
Mrs. H. Hungerford and Mrs. G. H. Hertz still live in Momence. 
Directly behind Ralph Hardy is Ernie Usher who supplied this picture. 


The Tiffany Brick Company 

Even before the Brick Works was organized. 
Frederick Knighthart built a big three story hotel 01 
the southeast corner of Range and Front streets. He 
had come to Momence in 1869. He kept a saloon and 
ran a livery stable as well as managing his farm. His 
hotel (built in 1882) was known as the Central 
House; it was considered one of the finest in the 
country. There were residents who made their homes 
there. The two large dining rooms (one a family 
room) served the finest foods, almost entirely 
produced on his farm. Businessmen ate dinner there 
at noon for 25 cents; at the large tables in the family 
room entire families came every night for supper. 
There was a sample room for salesmen to show their 

wares: bin ers came from St. Anne. Watseka, Manteno 
and other nearb> towns to place their orders. 

Almost across the street, text to the Parish Bank 
building, was W. .I.Dixon's bakery and restaurant. 
Clara Dixon Mc!b\ remembers the children coming in 
for penny candy, the businessmen for dinner or 
supper, the families who always ate there. Whether in 
the restaurant or at home, dinner was at noon, supper 
in the evening. Mornings were spent baking pies, 
cakes and preparing the noon meal. Dessert at noon 
was always pie. For supper one had fried potatoes 
(left over from dinner) and dessert was always cake 
with fruit or pudding. 

The Central House and the restaurants were 
busy places, soon to be even busier. The C and E I 
purchased land south of the depot and south of the 
island in 1887. Two years later a round house, rip 
track and repair shops were located on the land south 
of the island (about where the Tuthill plant now 
stands) hiring from forty to fifty men. That same 
year the railroad purchased the eastern half of the 
island and turned in into a resort area. Boat houses 
were built, a dancing pavilion and bandstand erected, 
rope swings and a merry-go-round set up for 
children, picnic tables and a refreshment stand 
prepared. Opening day was a huge success, reported 
in the paper, "The picnic season at the new and 
beautiful park owned, controlled and recently highly 
improved by the C and E I road was opened last 
Saturday. June 16, 1 887. The Momence band met the 
visitors at the station and rendered very acceptable 

music. They then repaired to the dance hall 

The swings, teeters and shooting gallery also attracted 
attention, but it was the river and boating facilities 
that asserted the great superiority of these grounds 
over all others. Twenty or thirty boats were kept 
constantly on the water and the little steamer of 
Captain Gibeault was in great demand." Island Park, 
well advertised by the C and E I became famous; 
excursion trains from Chicago were filled with 
pleasure seekers during the summer: special holidays 
often saw several thousand tourists arriving. Many of 
them picnicked on the island, many more went to the 
Central House or Dixon's for meals. Lou St. Aubin. 
Knighthart's granddaughter remembered Central 
House often serving 300 to 400 persons on a fourth 
of July. She and her friends were pressed into service 

as dishwashers, much to their displeasure. Other 
children were more fortunate and sneaked onto the 
island to ride the merry-go-round, enjoy the swings or 
join in the games and contests. In 1889 the 
newspaper reported, "On July 4th, 9000 people 
visited the island, from Kankakee, Brazil, Morocco, 
1 100 from Chicago and from as far south as Danville. 
Speeches were made, there was dancing in the hall, 70 
boats of the park were constantly in use. a 

merry-go-round entertained the children 

toward night the crowd gradually dispersed, though 
dancing continued until morning, but at last the great 
fourth of July celebration became a thing of the 
past." What a contrast this was to the first fourth of 
July celebration in 1837 on the south side of the 
river-a gathering of some forty or fifty people who 
feasted on venison, fish chowder and pie and listened 
to the speeches of Philip Worchester, Newell Beebe 
and A. S. Vail. The same newspaper that reported the 
fourth of July celebration also noted that all the park 
alligators except one had escaped and were cavorting 
up and down the river. "Fond parents will, in future 
years, have a powerful argument to use in preventing 
their youngsters from bathing in the river", 
concluded the article. 

The telephone, which had come to Momence 
about 1880 was no longer a novelty. In 1882 the 
newspaper said, "We saw a woman in the telephone 
office Tuesday morning talking to someone in 
Herscher, and it was not much of a trick either". By 
1889 the telephone office was supplied with a long 
distance transmitter so that conversations could be 
carried on with Chicago with as much ease as with 
Grant Park. 

W. J. Dixon in front of his bakery and restaurant. 




Nichols Cemetery (above) Shronts Cemetery (below) 

In the early days of the community, these two settlers allowed the use of a part of their land as cemeteries, one on the north side of 

the river, the other on the south side. (It was not always possible to cross the river) In 1874 the Shronts family deeded this land to a 

cemetery association governed by a board of trustees; at about the same time the Nichols land was also deeded as a permanent 


* '.'■<• 


IV Pleasures and Pastimes 

In 1888, Knighthart enlarged his hotel and put 
in steam heating, the Building and Loan Association 

was organized, Front and Range Streets were 
becoming as busy business centers as River Street, the 
Tiffany Briek Company and the Anderson Brick 
Company were flourishing industries that kept many 
employed as did the C and E I round house and repair 
shops. Momence was developing as a railroad 
industrial center and people were moving in because 
there were jobs for them. The earliest settlers "were 
French Canadian and New Yorkers. German, 
Swedish, English and Irish immigrants came soon 
after, some settling in town, others on farms east of 
town. There were several Negro families who had 
lived in the community from its earliest days— all 
together creating a mixture of cultures that grew and 
modified side by side. However, many of the 
newcomers of the seventies and the eighties were 
Danish and Polish who, feeling more comfortable 
with their own cultures, stayed together. The little 
group of homes east of the C and E I tracks were 
built by the Danish newcomers: gradually that section 
of town became known as "Danetown" or 
"Denmark". In 1897 the Danish Lutherans built a 
little chapel on the south side of the river where 
services were held in Danish. The homes immediately 
west of the tracks (4th. 5th and 6th streets and west 
to Ash Street) were built by the Polish immigrants. 
Naturally everyone was soon calling that section 
"Poland" or "Polish town". The children, whose 
friends were not just neighbors but scattered 
throughout the town and township, gradually broke 
the pattern. By the second generation "Denmark" 
and "Poland" were not so tightly knit: today there is 
no specific ethnic section of an} kind. 

This home, much chc 

The section cast of the C and K I tracks known as "Denmark". 

While Momence was indeed developing into . 
business and industrial center, it was also known as a 
city of beautiful homes. In the township were the 
gracious farm homes of Chatfield, Hess, and 
Schrontz, as well as the older Graham, Nichols and 
Metcalf homes. In the city one pointed out with pride 
the beautiful W. G. Nichols homes, the Chipman, 
Tiffany, Durham and Hardy houses and, above all, 
the Wikstrom home, "Villa Swea", a stately three 
story twenty room home that was not only a city 
mansion but a little bit of Sweden. Axel Wikstrom 
came to Momence from Sweden in 1865, married 
Cedelia Stratton of this city, then returned to Sweden 
to introduce her to his family. When he returned to 
Momence he bought a large farm, built a long 
rambling farm house and sent to Sweden for 
furnishings. In the early 1890's he decided to live in 
town and so the magnificent Villa Swea was built. 
The lovely Swedish furniture was moved in from the 
farm home, from Sweden came tapestries, family 
portraits and paintings. He and his wife loved people; 
the\ were now able to entertain as much as the) 
hi. cd. They kept open house for friends and lent their 
home lor man tions. Mrs. Rowell. a 

niece, said in an into J Christmas time the 

house was at il room aglow with 

Christmas candles am h flowers, the dining 

room with its blue Swedisl china, its shining silver 
anil glass, its little silk Hags, Swedish and American, 
and the big log of banana ice cream that we always 
hail at Christ 


Cedelia Stratton Wikstrom 

The Wikstroms were not the only gracious 
hosts-Marguerite Durham Keil remembers the many 
times a friend "dropped in" near meal time and was 
always invited to stay for one of her mother's fine 
dinners. She remembers, too, a singing group that met 
often at her home. She and her brother, supposedly 
in bed, used to sit at the top of the stairs to watch 
and listen. The music was delightful. Her mother was 
an accomplished musician who could play anything 
the group wanted to sing and in any key requested. 
There were parties out in the country— guests 
returning by bobsled in winter or buggy in 
summer— well fed and happy. In the winter there 
were ice skating parties along the river; in the 
summer there was a horse fair every month. Roller 
skating became popular and a skating rink was built. 
A dramatic club was formed, performing in Murphy 
Hall (where Lang's garage is now). When Lou Allen, a 
well known actor settled in Momence and took over 
the club, he developed some fine talent. The plays 
became such a success that the hall had to be "done 
over" to accommodate the large audiences. The 
renovated hall with its new stage and scenery was 
renamed the Momence Opera House. The Y.W.C.A. 
organized a library with a membership fee of $1.00 
entitling the member to a book a week. Of the 
literary societies the Historical Club was best known, 
giving such programs as: People of Greece and Their 
Origins by Mrs. B. F. Gray, or, An Account of the 
Trojan War by D. S. McKinstry. Dances were popular, 

A scene from one of the dramatic club's performances. From 
left to right— John Lincoln, Belle Blake, Frank Riker. 

formal elegant affairs sponsored by social or church 
groups and held at the Opera House. For the men, the 
Odd Fellows and the Masons were active 
organizations; the Momence Woman's Club was 
organized in the late nineties. 

Social and business life were, at first, 
inconvenienced by the bad roads of the community, 
but each year the roads worsened until they became a 
real problem. Mud holes grew so large that they could 
not be bypassed and wagons and buggies too often 
mired in the ditch. Newspaper editorials spoke 
eloquently of the need for paved roads as a stimulus 
to business. After endless debate the town purchased 
a stone crusher and began paving the streets. By the 
turn of the century the ditch was filled in and the 
streets were paved. Wooden sidewalks and wooden 
store awnings were eliminated, hitching rails were 
removed, and streets were marked and houses 

In 1891 the village voted to change to city 
government and J. J. Kirby was elected the first 
mayor. The year before the village board had voted 
unanimously to install an electric light plant with 
eight or ten lights strategically placed to light the city 
streets from early dusk to midnight. The plant was 
installed in 1890 with L. W. Calkins as 
superintendent. He was often called out at night to go 
to the plant and throw on a few more com cobs when 


the lights suddenly went out. Ocassionally, when 
there was a dance, the "boys" chipped in and paid 
Mr. Calkins to leave the lights on after midnight. 

Some of these same "boys"— a group of men 
who always went together to put out fires— organized 
a fire department and raised enough money to buy a 
fire engine. Mitch Cantway said that at the call of 
"fire" twenty or thirty men would grab the rope (the 
engine came equipped with about thirty feet of rope 
for pulling), but often the roads were so bad that 
someone would have to go to the livery stable for a 
team and wagon to come pull the fire engine out of 
the mud. 

When, during these same early nineties, 
surveyors for the Big Four Railroad arrived in 
Momence to consider locating a terminal there, the 
editor of the Reporter wrote, "It's a cold day when 
Momence hasn't got something new to worry poor 
old Kankakee". 

The Inter-state Hay Palace housing the fall 
festival for the interstate district (eight Illinois 
counties, seven Indiana counties) was another 
something new to worry Kankakee. The palace, at 
the west end of town, covered about an acre of 
ground, its wooden frame completely covered by 
bales of hay, giving it a look of masonry. The towers 
were from 60 to 80 feet in height, the central dome 
was 90 feet high. With its towers and halls spreading 
out from the central building it resembled a medieval 
castle. Inside were exhibits of farm products and 
machinery, art exhibits and a flower show. Outside 
were many kinds of races and a baseball tournament. 
The festival lasted ten days, one of which was a 
children's day with special games for the youngsters 
and a baby show. It was a great popular and financial 
success; the second year it was "bigger and better". 
There was no third year. The Hay Palace and festival 
did not continue, undoubtedly for a number of valid 
reasons, although there were townspeople who would 
have said that it was because everyone had gone crazy 
over bicycles. 

The new craze was sweeping the country, 
invading even small communites. By 1890 there were 
17 men's and boys' bicycles and 5 girls' bicycles in 
Momence. Clara Deerson, Meta and Grace Scramlin 
and Bertha Longpre were among the first 
enthusiasts— riding occasionally to Grant Park and 
back. Billy Brassard, R. L. Edwards and Steve 
Wheeler often bicycled to Manteno and back-quite a 
feat over the rough roads of the day. In 1891 Leon 
Tiffany had a bicycle with a small chair and extra 
wheel on the side, made especially so that he could 

take his small daughter for rides. By 1895 there were 
almost 50 bicycles in town. For the safety of 
pedestrians an ordinance was passed prohibiting them 
on the sidewalks. An editorial said, "Momence is 
becoming desperately addicted to the craze and it 
sometimes keeps a fellow guessing pretty lively which 
way to dodge". 

During the "bicycle craze " such a group scene was not unusual. 

Mrs. Leon Tiffany 


A horse auction, about 1890. The scene is looking west on River Street. William Brown's cider mill is in the background. 

The famous Hay Palace which is still remembered by many county residents. 


V Disputes and Decisions 

During the years of Momence's development its 
citizens had many disputes, settled by vote, by court 
decisions, or a good street fight. None were more 
heated than the "battle" over the city water works 
project. The city council voted for an ordinance 
providing for a city water works; Mayor Atherton 
vetoed it; the city council passed it over his veto. 
During this time bitter debates raged throughout the 
town; W. W. Parish, Sr. received letters threatening to 
burn his buildings and poison his stock if he didn't 
stop his alderman son from working for the water 
plant; C and E I officials received letters threatening 
to burn the station and wreck trains if they didn't fire 
Alderman (pro water works) Pittman; the editor of 
the paper received letters telling him to warn pro 
water plant aldermen to insure themselves against 
fire. When, in spite of these threats, the ordinance 
was passed, the opponents filed a suit and a hearing 
was held before Judge Small in Kankakee. One 
hundred sixty objectors lined up to testify. The jury 
sustained the ordinance and the opponents took the 
matter to a higher court, lawyer Gray saying that he 
would fight the ordinance all the way to the Supreme 
Court if necessary. The Supreme Court reached a 
compromise agreeable to both sides and a contract 
was let. It was almost election time; three of the 
"pro" aldermen were finishing their terms; Mayor 
Atherton refused to sign the bonds and the work 
could not begin. The town went "election mad". 
There were more threatening letters, there were 
meetings night after night, there were letters and 
editorials in the newspaper, there were debates or 
arguments whenever a "pro" met an "anti"; the 
"antis" had to elect only one alderman to replace a 
retiring "pro". Although highly vocal, their number 
was not great enough. Mayor Atherton was defeated 
and the water works ticket won with a greater 
majority than anyone had anticipated. A great 
celebration was staged. The band was called out, the 
fire wagon was hauled out. the newly elected officials 
were put into carts and led the procession through 
town amid bonfires and fireworks. 

Just before the turn of the century the Durham 
bank closed and a new bank, the First National Bank 
was organized by W. P. Watson, rid Chipman, J. J. 
Kirby and W. W. Parish. Jr. In 1907 their new 
building on the northwest cornet- of Front and Range 
Streets was built and the bank moved into its new 
quarters. W. W. Parish sold his interest in the bank to 
V. T. Brassard. In 1914 he organized the Parish Bank. 

The C and E I, already employing forty to fifty 
men with its round house and repair shops, began a 
new industry in 1899— quarrying stone. Until it 
halted operation in 1 904 it was an important part of 
the growth of the city. The stone pit, 350 feet by l A 
mile, dug out in shelves varied in depth from 30 to 60 
feet. Stone was loaded into the cars by hand and 
hauled by horse up to the crusher. At the bottom of 
the pit were tracks and switching levers on which the 
loaded cars went up to the crusher and the empty 
cars returned to the pit. A system of pumps kept the 
pit from filling with water which constantly seeped in 
from underground springs and from the river at the 
north end of the quarry. When operations ceased in 
1904 the pumping stopped and the quarry soon filled 
with water. It was a perfect swimming hole for 
Momence children. The C and E I offered to sell the 
property to the city, but the city council refused to 
buy. Eventually the land was sold to a Mr. Barnhill 
who fenced it off. Today it is Mirror Lake privately 
owned by the Rex Petersons and the Donald Reisings. 

In 1904 the closing of the quarry probably 
caused less excitement than the appearance of the 
first automobile on the streets of Momence. It was a 
Jackson, owned by the Wennerholms. (Gus had come 
to America in 1886 and settled in Momence with his 
brother who had come three years earlier. In 1893 
they bought Knighthart's livery stable and a farm in 
Ganeer township.) Other automobiles appeared on 
the streets a few years later. The building at Seventh 
and Market Streets (present dog food plant) was, for 
a few years, an assembly plant for Blackstone 
automobiles. It was a short-lived venture; a company 
making ladders had moved into the building by the 
time the Condon family came to Momence. 

In his book We Called It Music Eddie Condon 
recalled his Momence childhood in the early 1900's. 
He spoke of the river where the kids all learned to 
swim and the quarry for those who had graduated 
from the river. He remembered that the first ledge 
was ten feet under water-no place for a beginner. To 
be a member of the gang, one had to dive in, find the 
track that ran to the bottom, follow it hand over 
hand until he reached the switching lever at the 
bottom and pull the switch. Those on the surface 
could hear the click as the switch was pulled, proof 
that the deed was accomplished. In the summer and 
fall the boys hunted. They picked up little metal bits 
lying around at the ladder factory to put in their sling 
shots. Anything moving was fair game. He recalled. 


From Stone Quarry to Swimming 
Hole: That's Story of C&EI Pit 

too, his "pals in crime"- Goats Bukowski, Rats 
Bukowski, Kitty boo Chipman, Posy Gibeault and 
Snake Kirby. Their only worry was getting caught 
taking a shot at someone's cat, climbing someone's 
tree or running someone down with a bike. He 
remembered the iron bridges with their heavy curved 
side rails which were a source of amusement for 
Momence children. Lucy Brown, who crossed the 
bridges several times a day going to the Lorraine 
School, said that she and her friends always walked 
on those curved rails. When asked about such 
dangerous play, Effie Berglund said, "Oh, my, yes, all 
the children did that". Evidently no one fell into the 
river; their parents never knew. Eddie Condon wasn't 
so fortunate, or perhaps his game was more 
dangerous. In his book he told of the time that he 
tied up a boy and hung him over the bridge, only to 
be caught in the act and reported to his father. 

C&EI Stone Quarry In About 1900 

Mr. Condon ran a saloon, one of five in town. 
One writer suggested that drinking must have been 
quite a pastime in Momence. In the early 1900's 
saloons were coming under increasing criticism. The 
influence of Women's Temperance Societies coupled 
with a strong religious revival was making itself felt 
and the words "local option" invariably brought 
forth debate. Every community could vote for or 
against the sale of liquor. The Momence Municipal 
League favored the licensed sale of liquor for better 
moral and financial conditions, the anti-saloon forces 
vehemently opposed such thinking. In 1906 
Momence voted "wet"; in 1908 the headline read, 
whose lather was a saloon keeper recalled those local 
option years. "The saloon", he wrote, "was on one 
side of the street or the other, depending on how the 
people voted. Range Street ran through the middle of 

The north span with its curved iron rails that the children balanced on when crossing. (An original sketch by Marilyn Ostrow) 

The bridge over the south channel with its high girders that the boys liked to climb. 


Condon's Tavern where Stanley's Farm Store is now located. John Condon is third from the right. 

One of the many "local option" parades staged during the years 1906 through 1916. 


Momcncc and down the middle of Range Street went 
l ho line dividing Momence township from Ganeer 
township. Local option was a popular political 
diversion and one or the other of the townships was 
always voting the drys in and the wets out or the wets 
in and the drys out. A girl named Laura Brady had a 
hat shop across the street from the saloon and they 
changed sides according to the vote.'" 

During those local option years an accident on 
the C and E I was used as an argument against 
saloons. A group of children, some fifty or more, had 
come from Chicago for a day at Island Park. On the 
return trip there was a serious accident near Chicago 
Heights and most of the children were killed. Some 
said that the engineer had spent too much time in the 
saloon across from the island. Whatever the reason, 
after the accident the excursions to Island Park 
became less popular. Finally the C and E I gave up 
the park, turning the property over to the city of 
Momence. It was used as a picnic area, the American 
Legion keeping the grounds in order for many years. 
The huge pavilion which housed the dance hall and 
restaurant was bought by P. Brouillette and moved to 
the south bank of the river just east of the bridge 
where it became a skating rink. When its days as a 
rink and dance hall were over W. W. Parish . Jr. 
bought it and moved it to his south side farm for a 
sheep barn. 

Oscar Conrad had established a baker} at the 
corner of Front and Range Streets when he came to 
Momence from Germany around 1 900. By 1909 lie 
had moved to a new location on the island. He 
announced in the Press Reporter that his new bakery 
was completed and in operation, the most sanitary 
and up-to-date in the county. The "New Era" mixer 
was driven. b\ electricity, d-,)d the ovens had a 
capacity for 300 loaves. Bread was delivered fresh to 
the stores each morning where it sold 6 loaves for 25 

The Momence Reporter had consolidated with 
the Island News in 1906 and was called the Momence 
Press-Reporter. There was a second newspaper, the 
Momence Progress. Both papers reported the 
dedication of the new St. Patrick's Academy in 1 908. 
the building of a new Catholic church and the 
organization of the Parish Bank in 1914. 

Eddie Condon (as a child in Momence he was 
called Albert) went to St. Patrick's Academy. He 
remembered his first job as a water boy for the 
workmen building the new Catholic church. They 
were slating the roof and although too young for such 
work, he carried bucket after bucket of water up the 

ladder to the men. At the end of the da> Father Brie 
paid him by check-$1.00. "The next day I went to 
the bank to cash it", he said. "The teller took it and 
disappeared from his cage. Then Mr. Parish, the 
president of the bank came out and asked me into his 
office. I sat down in a big leather chair. 

'I am glad that you came to us| with this 
transaction, Albert', he said. "However, we do not 
normally handle deals of such magnitude.' 

I thought he meant it was too small, so I said, 
'Haven't you got a little guy who can do it'.'' 

He shook his head. 'I think our biggest man 
should expedite this,' he said. Then he went out and 
brought back the tallest man in the place. The man 
shook hands with me and we all had a nice talk. 
Finally I got my dollar, a brand new one, and Mr. 
Parish saw me to the door. 

'If you have any business in the future. I hope 
you will remember us', he said." 

On the right, W. W. Parish, Sr., one of the pioneer settlers of 
Momence; on the left, his son, W. W. Parish, Jr., founder and 
president of the Parish Bank. (It was he whom young Albert 
(Eddie) Condon remembered.) In the center, William Jr.'s son 
Varnum A. Sr. holding his infant son Varnum A. Jr. Varnum 
Sr. was State's Attorney for Kankakee County during 
Roosevelt's first term of office and attorney for the city of 
Momence for twenty years. His brother, Anthony, and a son, 
John, are still associated with the bank, and a daughter, Mary, 
practices law in Momence and is attorney for Momence 


VI From the Model "T" to Apollo 17 

Describing the Momence of those childhood 
days Condon said that there were Irish, Polish and 
French Canadians— and a lot of chickens. He might 
also have said that there were a lot of cars, for the 
automobile was no longer a curiosity. The 
heavier-than-air machine that could fly was capturing 
everyone's attention. There were fliers who went 
about the country exhibiting their planes in 
"death-defying" stunts. The Inter-state fair in 
Kankakee had one such demonstration in 1911. 

In Momence there were two young men, John L. 
Brown (a grandson of the early settler, William) and 
Pat O'Brien who became seriously interested in 
flying. Pat learned to fly and joined the American 
Flying Corps when, in 1916 there was the possibility 
of war with Mexico. There was no actual fighting and 
he soon grew impatient with inaction. He went to 
Canada where he joined the Royal Flying Corps, 
trained for service in France and left for England and 
active duty in 1917. President Wilson was maintaining 
American neutrality, but the next year this was 
impossible; Congress declared war on Germany. 
Although many Momence men volunteered or were 
drafted and served heroically, no war story is quite so 
dramatic as that of Pat O'Brien. Soon after his service 
began he was shot down and taken prisoner. After his 
hospitalization and recovery in Germany, he managed 
to escape and find his way to Holland, and from there 
to England. He had an audience with King George 
and a hero's welcome on his return to Momence. The 
war ended before he could return to active duty. He 
wrote a book Outwitting the Hun, toured the country 
telling his story, married a movie actress and appeared 
in a movie. His suicide two years later was a shock to 
the country and unbelievable to his family in 
Momence. They insisted that he had been killed and 
one day the truth would be revealed. No further facts 
ever came to light, his death remained a mystery. 

John Brown, who had also learned to fly, served 
during the war as a flying instructor at Rantoul. After 
the war he bought a World War I trainer and spent his 
time "barnstorming" at fairs and exhibitions, and 
giving airplane rides. He was one of the first to fly a 
Curtiss Jenny, flying it in exhibition at the 1933 
Chicago World's Fair. Later he donated the plane to 
the Museum of Science and Industry. 

When Oscar Conrad's son Henry returned from 
the war he went into the bakery business. During his 
school years and until Oscar retired he had worked in 
his father's bakery, learning the business well under 

that stem teacher. The building was empty when he 
returned to Momence in 1918. He borrowed money 
for equipment and supplies, went to all the stores 
getting orders, and he and his wife did all the work. 
Gradually the business grew and expanded giving 
employment to Momence people— many of them 
women. It was not uncommon to find women 
working in the stores, factories and businesses. They 
had taken men's places during the war and were 
proving to be capable workers. Cora Nichols who, 
before a serious illness had been a teacher in 
Momence, was, during the war and for a number of 
years after, a rural mail carrier. Lucy Brown 
remembered her making her rounds with a horse and 
buggy, then later by automobile. 

By 1920 automobiles and airplanes were an 
accepted way of life, the motion picture was no 
longer a novelty and radio was the new curiosity. Mrs. 
Houde in Of the People says that Governor Len Small 
was one of the first county residents to take part in 
radio broadcasting. He gave a speech on the subject of 
good roads over the station WJAZ located at the 
Edgewater Hotel. This was in 1923; in 1921 the Dixie 
Highway was officially opened. There was a parade 
from Danville to Chicago led by the governor. When 
the parade reached Momence there were marshals on 
horseback to lead the parade through town, the 
streets were decorated, and between three and four 
hundred autos joined the procession to Chicago. The 
name of Range Street was changed to Dixie Highway 
and Front Street became Washington Street. 

A headline of the Press- Reporter in June, 1924 
HEAVIEST EVER". The article began, "Saturday 
and Sunday were probably the largest days in the 
history of Momence since the opening of the Dixie 
Highway". While much of the traffic was headed for 
the Indianapolis races, much was also headed for 
Momence. The article continued, "All of the resorts 
along the river entertained record breaking crowds. 
At Bob's Resort, the Log Cabins and other places 
every possible reservation was taken days in advance. 
At Island Park the number of visitors was one of the 
largest yet entertained. Many came for the two days 
and camping outfits were scattered over the entire 
park. Parking space along the river was at a premium 
and the river banks were lined with cars for miles . . . 
. . Some of the eating places report that Saturday was 
the largest day in the history of the city." 

The ditching of the Kankakee river in Indiana 


(finished in 1917) had closed the Indiana resorts; 
across the line in Momence township they were 
flourishing. Sam Gibeault's son Bill had built the Log 
Cabin Resort. The German Club was on the site of 
old Joe Barbee's Indian Town. The German Club, a 
private club, had been organized as a hunting lodge 
for Chicago businessmen in the 1890's. In the early 
20's they sold the site to a land developer (it became 
the present Shadow Lawn) and moved to the north 
side of the river where it is today. In 1924 a new 
resort was opened, the Garden of Eden. 

"There is no spot in all eastern Illinois more 
redolent of memories of frontier days than that spot 
known as the 'Metcalf Farm' situated one mile east of 
the present city of Momence on the Kankakee river. 
Here, in 1833, the first white settlement in eastern 
Illinois was started", wrote Bert Burroughs. Neil 
Metcalf, grandson of the pioneer settler, Silas, grew 
up at this spot, immersed in its history and with a 
great love for the river. He was particularly fond of 
the tales of Dan Parmelee, and remembered that old 
Dan had said of his spot on the river, "it's the most 
wonderful place in the world-it's a Garden of Eden". 
The old Parmelee farm was now owned by Vic 
Brassard. Neil Metcalf bought some 100 acres, built a 
golf course and laid out a resort subdivision. In 
memory of old Dan he called it the Garden of Eden. 
The year before he had laid out a subdivision just east 
of his home (next to the Anchor Club) naming it the 
Vincennes Trail subdivision; in 1932 he developed 
another, across the river, calling it the Lorraine 
subdivision. In his Tales of an Old Border Town 
Burroughs had further written, "Upper Crossing 
today is but a memory. It has faded completely from 
the face of the earth". In the margin of his well read 
copy Neil Metcalf had written, "Not so. In 1948 
there are more homes at the Upper Crossing than 
when the town of Momence was here. On both sides 
of the river there is a home about every 50 feet-and I 
put them there". 

The subdivisions of permanent homes near the 
Upper Crossing site remain today a part of the 
township. The resorts, including the Garden of Eden, 
no longer exist as they did in the 20's and 30's. 
However their names live, and there are, today, some 
permanent homes in those areas. 

By the late 20's there were radios in many 
homes. Friends and neighbors gathered together with 
the fortunate radio owners to hear the election 
returns for Hoover in 1928. Some even remembered 
the McKinley election of 1896 when the office of the 
long distance telephone stayed open all night, and Mr. 

Lamport announced each bulletin as it came over the 
wire-to be relayed through town by someone in the 
waiting crowd. News of the 1929 Wall Street panic 
was also heard over radio before the newspaper 
headlines reported it. Hard times did not follow 
immediately, but by late 1930 the numbers of poor 
and jobless were mounting. By 1931 the depression 
was a main topic of conversation and the future 
looked bleak. Grain prices were very low; the farmer's 
situation was almost desperate. When President 
Roosevelt declared a "bank holiday" in 1933, the 
First National Bank was not able to reopen. 

In spite of the depression a new business came 
to Momence in 1930. The Whole Grain Wheat 
Company moved into the plant at Seventh and 
Market, which had recently been a ladder factory, 
then, briefly, a typewriter assembly plant. The Whole 
Grain Wheat Company processed wheat in cans, 
producing a health food product. It failed almost 
immediately; the assets were sold and the company 
reopened under new management at the corner of 
Washington and Pine (the present Wille Implement 

When the Whole Grain Wheat Company moved 
to its new quarters, a garlic processing plant moved 
into the Market Street building. Shortlived, it left a 
residue of odor for several years. In 1933 word came 
into town that a new company was going to occupy 
the building. Harold Cromwell, just out of school and 
desperate for a job, waited day after day near the 
building for some officials to arrive. When they came 
he was waiting and introduced himself, asking for a 
job. His initiative was rewarded— he not only got a 
job, he was soon placed in a position of 
responsibility. That business was the Strongheart 
Products Company. 

The new plants helped a little, but there were 
still many jobless. The Baptist Church started a "soup 
kitchen" to feed those unable to help themselves. The 
Kankakee county relief fund, under the direction of 
Lucy Brown (for Momence) set up a sewing project 
for those on relief. The women met daily in a building 
equipped with machines and teachers and were given 
material and patterns for whatever clothing they 
needed. Next there was a canning project, followed 
by an educational project teaching such skills as 
sewing, knitting, and furniture repair. The 
government, by 1935, was helping home owners and 
farmers with the Home Owners Loan Corporation, 
the Federal Emergency Relief Act and the Farm 
Mortgage Refinancing Act. The W P A continued the 
sewing project, paying the women for their work. 


Another project was the building of a new school, the 
present high school on Franklin Street. Money was 
also appropriated for walling the north side of the 
river opposite the island and for renovating Island 

The Conrad bakery which had dominated the 
west end of the island for 15 years was closed. Henry 
Conrad and his wife were killed in an automobile 
accident November 10, 1933 and without Henry's 
able management the business went bankrupt. In 
193^> the equipment was being auctioned. A retired 
Chicago baker, Edward Litoborski came to look it 
over, but was so pleased with the bakery and the 
town that he bought the business and settled in 
Momence. An able baker and manager, Edward, in 
partnership with his son and four daughters soon had 
a successful bakery although still operating under the 
name of Conrad. 

The Chicago World's Fair of 1933, in which 
John Brown of Momence participated, was a bright 
interlude during the dark depression days. Another 
even brighter highlight was the Momence Centennial 
celebration in 1934. The entire town was decorated, a 
pageant was presented telling the story of the 
beginnings and the development of the city. There 

were parades, floats, a carnival atmosphere, and for a 
time the citizens almost forgot the great depression. 
A comparative newcomer to Momence, E. O. 
Hermann was impressed by this pageant. He had 
come to the city about ten years earlier as a 
consultant for the Tiffany Brick Company. He had 
grown up in Boston Harbor, spending much of his 
time with his uncle, a tugboat captain. He was a 
graduate engineer from M I T but was very 
knowledgeable in several fields— metalurgy, ceramics, 
soil, steam engines and as avocations, art, music and 
literature. He had come to improve the quality of the 
enameling process of the brick. When his consulting 
work was finished he accepted the job of plant 
superintendant, bought the lovely W. G. Nichols 
house and he and his wife became active Momence 
residents. The Brick company benefited, too, from 
the Hermann's decision to stay. The White Castle 
Hamburger Company gave the Tiffany Enameled 
Brick Company the contract for the brick used in 
building all its "white castles". When the Coca Cola 
Company expanded and built bottling plants from 
New England to Georgia, it was Tiffany brick that 
was used. 

Elvin Butterfield photographs. 


As economic conditions gradually improved, the 
idea of a continuing pageant or festival persisted. 
Together with the Chamber of Commerce and the 
leading business men a plan gradually evolved for a 
gladiolus festival to be held yearly. Not only would it 
be beautiful and colorful, bringing tourists and 
publicity to the area, it would honor the first Holland 
farmers who grew gladioli in this region. The plan was 
finalized and approved; the first Gladiolus Festival 
was held in August 1938 with Bessie Harris of 
Momence as festival queen. An economic and artistic 
success, the Festival has continued every year. At first 
floats were made entirely of flowers, today other 
materials are also allowed. Businesses and industries 
work for months on their exhibits, keeping their 
plans secret. One of the most memorable floats was 
that of the Gladiolus Growers Association in 
celebration of their fiftieth anniversary-a huge 
locomotive made entirely of flowers. The Conrad 
Bakery float, always beautiful and unusual had 
started a tradition winch lasted until the Litoborskis 
sold the bakery. Hundreds of minature loaves of 
bread were made and tossed into the crowds by those 
on the float. A flower show, held at the high school 
has always been a part of the festival. Since 1952 four 

branches of the Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air 
Force and Marines) have participated; since 1961 
there has been an antique automobile show on the 
island as part of the festival. 

It was the Momence photographer Elvin 
Butterfield who was instrumental in involving the 
Armed Forces in the festival. In 1945 he had been 
employed by the government as official photographer 
at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Aberdeen 
Maryland and had received a certificate of merit for 
his work. In the early 1950's, as a member of the 
Momence Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, he was 
made a captain assigned to the Chicago Wing with a 
roving assignment in public relations. He served on 
the Festival Board and was offical photographer of 
every Festival from 1938 until his death in 1973. At 
his studio, opened in 1939, he was known for his 
portrait and commercial work, but he loved aerial 
photography and was an expert. When he was only 
sixteen he often rode with his good friend John L. 
Brown in his World War I trainer, taking aerial photos 
and developing an interest in this field of 

There had been three festivals and three years of 
good times in spite of distant rumblings of war in 

Voted To Be 

From the Momence Press-Reporter, July 6, 1939. The article said, "On June 10, 1939, at a special election the proposition to tear 

down the old high school building was carried For 68 years the old building with its belfry has been a familiar outline against the 

sky. It has known deep night and morning sun, rain and flying clouds. And now like so many other things that have been built, it has 
served its time. " 


Europe. 1940 had marked the registration for the 
first peace time draft in the history of the country. 
Sunday, December 7, 1941 was shattered by the news 
of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the 
newspapers and radio announced on December 8 that 
Congress had declared war on Japan, a move that 
involved the United States in the European war as 
well. A single newspaper was now reporting the news 
in Momence. In 1940 the Press- Reporter and the 
Progress consolidated. The newspaper, combining 
names was called the Momence Progress-Reporter. 

Momence men went to war; by early 1942 there 
were 57 in the service. Momence citizens saved scrap 
iron and cans, planted victory gardens, lined up for 
rationed goods and waited for news from their 
fighting men as did citizens everywhere. The shortage 
of cans shut down the Whole Grain Wheat Company 
in 1942. However, canning equipment was there, and 
a government project created through the school, 
with Harold Hungerford, the agriculture teacher as 
supervisor, was set up at the plant. People could bring 
in the produce from their gardens and, for a nominal 
fee, have them canned. The project lasted for two 
canning seasons, 1944 and 1945, and helped to 
alleviate the food shortage in the community. In 
1943 the Tiffany Brick Company, a Momence 
industry for almost 60 years, ended its operation. 
There was no coal for the furnaces, there were not 
enough workers and the plant could not convert to 
war materials. 

The war touched the lives of everyone. Yet, 
when it ended in 1945 there was not the wild 
excitement that had greeted the 1918 armistice. 
Undoubtedly dropping the atomic bombs on Japan 
had a quieting, sobering effect on Americans. 
Undoubtedly, too, the new news and entertainment 
medium, television, was influencing people's lives. 
Commercial broadcasting began in 1941 but the war 
and shortages of materials limited the manufacture of 
television sets. In 1946 both the broadcasting and the 
manufacture of television boomed. As more families 
acquired television sets and news and information 
programs improved, national and world events 
affected everyone. The Korean War (1950-1953) and 
the long Viet Nam War (1965-1973) came into 
people's living rooms; one did not just read of the 
assassinations of President Kennedy (1963) and of 
Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy (1968), one 
saw them on television. Earthquakes, floods and 
accidents as well as Sputnik I (the world's first 
artificial satellite) through the last Apollo moon 

landing in 1972 became a part of everyone's life. 
Television programming brought a new way of life as 
well as an awareness of style, customs and attitudes 
around the world. 

In spite of television, day by day living 
continued and local happenings were as important as 
ever. In 1940, before the days of supermarkets there 
were 17 grocery stores in the city. Charles Spieth 
bought Peter Brouillette's grocery store at 533 Ash 
Street, a small two story building which he gradually 
improved and expanded. Ten years later he added a 
new section on the corner. After his son, Jim, 
finished school and military service he joined the 
business. His antique collection, gathered over a 
period of about twenty years, is displayed in the store 
for the enjoyment of the customers— a unique 
innovation in the grocery business. For the last ten 
years Charles has been designing and making the 
leaded lamps that hang in the store. While other 
grocery stores have come and gone Spieth's has 
remained, changing from grocery to supermarket, 
adding a parking facility when it was needed and 
offering a part-time work program for Momence High 
School students. 

In 1953 the Carter-Wallace Company came to 
Momence, employing, at its peak, 300 people. 
Although inactive today as a factory, it is still a 
distribution center with some 1 5 employees, and the 
building with its beautiful grounds are well cared for. 
Also in 1953 the Momence City Hall and Fire 
Department were built. In 1961 the Agar Packing 
Company located in Momence, improving its 
economy but causing sewage disposal problems and a 
new sewage treatment plant was constructed. The 
Baker and Taylor Company, the oldest and largest 
book wholesaler in the United States, chose Momence 
for its midwest division and built a beautiful plant 
which, at present, employs about 400 people. 

In 1962 the Litoborskis decided to retire and 
sold the bakery. The new owner, however, declared 
bankruptcy within six months and the property was 
bought by Merlin Karlock. He turned it into an 
apartment and store complex, the Island Mall. 1964 
saw the new postoffice completed; the Junior High 
School was opened in 1965. The following year one 
of the city's landmarks, the old Lorraine School, was 
torn down. It had been considered unsafe for a 
number of years, but was patched and repaired and 
used for emergency service until the completion of 
the new Junior High School. Many former pupils 
watched the razing of the 72 year old school, some 
taking bits of brick or slate as souvenirs. 


Momence Landmark Comes Down 

Lorraine School, built in 1894 in Momence, 
was ordered razed this year by the Momence 
School District and the job was expected to be 
completed Saturday. The 70-year-old building, 
located on an acre lot on Gladiola Street, was 
the educational center for more than 8,000 
Momence residents during its history. The 

school was named for Lorraine Beebe, Mo- 
mence's first teacher. The building was ordered 
razed after state building inspectors condemned 
the structure. Supt. T. H. Barthobnew reports 
that plans for the lot are "indefinite." (Journal 

From the Kankakee Daily Journal, July 30, 1966. 


It was also in 1966 that F. O. Orr bought 
Tabler's Lumber Company. B. F. Tabler had come to 
Momence and bought the J. E. Paradis Grain, Coal 
and Lumber business in 1890. The coal and lumber 
business was continued by his son, Clyde. About 
1946 Mr. Orr had come to Momence and bought the 
Smith and Hobart Grain business. A former science 
teacher and coach, his success refutes the old saying 
that teachers make poor businessmen. Soon he 
bought the Beaverville Grain and Lumber Company 
and some years later, the Crete Lumber Yard. In 
1966 he bought out Clyde Tabler, the second oldest 
continuing business in the city. (At that time Astle's 
Hardware business was 89 years old.) 

In 1 970. when the new Baptist Church on South 
Dixie Highway was completed, the old church 
building, completely renovated, became the new 
home of the Eastern Illinois Trust and Savings Bank. 

The Momence Park District, a taxing body 
governed by a board of directors, was organized in 
1966 by an ordinance of the city. Its major park is 
the Island Park whose buildings have been remodeled, 
tennis courts added and playground equipment 
improved. The park offers a complete recreational 
summer program for children and adults. The district 
also supervised the Walnut Street park and, in 1972 
leased the Lorraine School lot for a park on the south 
side of the river. 

The island improvement was equaled or even 
exceeded by the "facelifting" of the downtown 
shopping district during the last seven or eight years. 
Three Momence men-Les DuMontelle, Jr., store 
owner; Donald Zeglis, attorney; and Orville Sharkey, 
realtor-finding no downtown spot for a morning 
coffee break, took a good look at the business 
section. There were 40 business buildings downtown, 
almost half of which were empty, including the big 
three story comer hotel (former Central House) and 
two restaurants. Store fronts were dilapidated, 
sidewalks in bad repair, and, here and there, garish 
flashing neon signs. They became a committee of 
three, the Momence Downtown Development 
Committee, to bring the business area back to life. All 
businesses were assessed for sidewalk repair, 
businessmen or landlords were encouraged— even 
helped -to improve their store fronts. Mr. DuMontelle 
prepared inexpensive plans for facelifting the stores. 
The sidewalks were repaired. Those who couldn't 
remodel were encouraged to paint and clean. Most of 
the Washington Street stores availed themselves of the 
DuMontelle plans; on the Dixie Highway, the 
Hoosegow, with its several unique shops, is the work 

of Hugh Butterfield who also designed the exterior of 
Ray Schenk's corner, the Italian Village restaurant. 
Plaque Village, and, across the street, the Ross 
building and Elaine's restaurant. The flashing neon 
signs were eliminated, four free city parking lots 
established and landscape murals painted on the sides 
of buildings by high school art classes. Today every 
business building is being used, the result of 
enthusiasm and hard work by all the city's 
businessmen, but initiated by three men who saw the 
downtown shopping district dying and decided that it 
must revive and grow. 

Across the street from the Hoosegow, between 
two business buildings is the William Graham house. 
A son of James Graham who came to Momence in 
1838, he built the house in 1869. One hundred and 
four years later, in 1973, the house was turned over 
to the city to be used as a museum. It is controlled by 
a board of trustees appointed by the mayor and 
displays historical items related to the area. 

In 1974 the Momence Guest Haven, a shelter 
care home for 62 patients was dedicated. 

At the time of the downtown renovation a 
change was taking place in the township. St. Jude's 
Seminary with its imposing buildings and beautiful 
grounds had long been a landmark of which the 
township was proud. Low enrollment necessitated its 
closing at the time that the Little Brothers of the 
Good Shepherd were looking for a new facility. This 
is an American Order, founded in 1952 by Brother 
Mathias to care for the mentally retarded, the 
physically handicapped and the aged poor. In 1970 
two brothers came to Momence to inspect the 
Seminary as a possible home for the mentally 
retarded and found it adequate. After completing the 
necessary financial and legal arrangements, in March 
1972 the shelter care home was opened— a permanent 
residence for mentally retarded men 18 years old or 
older, under the care of seven Brothers. By the end of 
the year there were sixty residents, today it is filled 
(its capacity is 120) and there is a waiting list. The 
exterior of the buildings needed very little repair. The 
interior has been, and continues to be remodeled and 
redecorated. There are many small dormitories, each 
different and each reflecting the tastes of the 
occupants; there are class rooms and craft rooms; 
there is a gymnasium and a swimming pool; there is a 
beautiful chapel. The grounds are handsomely 
landscaped and well cared for. Momence citizens, at 
first uncomfortable with such a home, have come to 
appreciate the work of the Brothers, and many 
families have opened their homes to these 


unfortunate but lovable boys and men. The Order 
now maintains 27 homes in America, Canada, 
I nglancl and Ireland. Next year they will celebrate 
their silver jubilee. The celebration at the Good 
Shepherd Manor willinclude many Momence people. 
In Momence (city and township), in the year 
1976, live fourth generation descendants of the 
earliest settlers, second and third generation 
descendants of later settlers, and first generation 
residents who have chosen this small portion of the 
Kankakee valley in which to live, work and raise their 
families. In spite of wide differences in heritage, they 
are friends and neighbors working together for the 
benefit of their community. 


Many arts and oralis activities make 
each day a new experience, tilled with 
interesting work and a sense of 

Each man makes his 
own bed and helps in 
other ways to keep his 
home neat and attractive 

A daily swim session in the 
Manor's large indoor pool 
provides lun and healthy 
exercise. Some men have 
learned to swim competitively. 

The Manor's large, beautiful 
chapel is open at all times lor 
individual and group prayer, or 
just quiet meditation. 

Kankakee Daily Journal plwtu of Auausl 1. 1972, taken ul the Kankakee Conntr Fair on Senior Citizens Day. 
Ed Chipman, 90 yearn old, the oldest citizen al the ran; with his wife 84, are shown with their son Kenneth 
(at left), president of the Fair Association. 

Ed Chipman was a successful farmer in Momence towhsip foi 50 years before retiring in 1945. He is the son 
of Edward Chipman who came to Momence in 18-16 and bought 80 acres of land in Momence township, a 
farm which in time, grew to 1500 acres and extended into Ganeer, Yellowhead and Sumner townships. In 
1904 he became president of the First National Rank of Momence. in 1912 he mac the city its public library. 
His son, Ed Chipman of the photo, is now 94, his wife 88, and still active and healthy. 


Vil From THE-A-KI-KI to Kankakee 

The Kankakee river winds its way across the 
center of Momence township from its eastern 
boundary to its western boundary; the story of the 
river is thus an integral part of the story of the 
township. John Klasey says, "It begins-small, 
twisting and hardly big enough to be honestly called a 
creek— in a marshy spot near South Bend, Indiana". 
Father Hennepin, who traveled with de La Salle, 
recorded that the headwaters of the Kankakee were 
so marshy that, had there been no frost in the ground 
when they made the portage from the St. Joseph to 
this stream, they would have had much difficulty in 
landing their canoes and finding camping sites. The 
stream they descended was, for some 250 miles a 
sluggish maze of meanders, ox-bow lakes and sloughs 
winding among marshes and marshy islands with here 
and there sandy dunes. It was the river of two 
thousand bends until, just above Momence, it 
encountered a limestone outcropping, a sort of 
natural dam. After this the gradient increased, the 
river flowed more swiftly through great expanses of 
prairie grasses bordered on both sides by a belt of 

The Pottowatomi Indians who lived along this 
river accepted the land as they found it. The Indiana 
portion, known as the Great Marsh, was a spawning 
ground for fish and a nesting area for water fowl. It 
was where the Indians made their winter camps, for 
hunting and trapping. Summer camps were usually 
away from the marsh, on higher ground, where crops 
were grown, although sometimes they would travel in 
families to the fur trading posts at Chicago and stay 
along the lake front during the summer. 

The earliest white men, hunters and trappers, 
also spent their winters in the swamp. They built 
shacks on the sandy knolls and trapped all winter, 
catching beaver, otter, mink and muskrat. In the 
spring they stored their traps in the shanty and 
headed for the fur trading posts. Some of them 
occasionally hired out to the pioneer farmer during 
the summer months; the pioneer farmer who also 
found the great marsh a source of food and income. 
He too became a trapper during the winter months. 
A. S. Vail recalled that during the winter of '51 he 
gathered SI 3,000 worth of furs. In the fall the farmer 

joined the professional hunters, for wagon loads of 
wild duck and goose were shipped to the markets in 
Chicago. Billy Brassard used to tell of the hunting 
prowess of his father, Peter Brassard. Peter and his 
good friend Frank Longpre (both excellent farmers) 
worked together in the fall to bring in unbelievable 
numbers of wild fowl. They were a real team, Frank 
honking to call the birds, Peter shooting— sometimes 
three or four at a single shot! For such a hunter the 
marsh was a source of pleasure as well as profit. 

The Pottowatomi had found in the marshes, this 
maze of water and land forms, an excellent refuge 
from the fierce Iroquois to the east. Later, these same 
marshes hid the gambler, horse-thief and 
counterfeiter. Every island, every water form had a 
name, a revelation of its history: Goose Island, Skunk 
Island, Shanty Island, Bogus Island, Flag Pond, 
Wildcat Swamp, Frenchman's Slough, and, just west 
of the state line, in Momence township, an oxbow 
known as "The Skillet". 

Indians, the earliest human occupants of the 
land, followed by hunters, trappers, the first pioneer 
farmers, even criminals— all had adapted their lives to 
their environment, using it as they found it. Around 
1880 all but the farmer had left; towns were 
developing at the edges of the swamp , the great marsh 
was beginning to change as its occupants began to 
alter the land to suit their needs. 

The development of the railroad made the marsh 
accessible not only to settlers but to sports 
enthusiasts. Its fame as a "hunter's paradise" spread; 
by the middle 1880's sportsmen's clubs from Boston, 
New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Chicago had 
erected expensive hunting lodges; the wealthy 
sportsmen returned time and again to this 
wonderland. The pioneer farmer and river town 
resident did not object; these recreational sites were 
. profitable. The lodges and hotels (some built by 
Indianans) needed workers, food and pushers who 
served also as guides in the swamp. The "pusher" sat 
in the rear of the boat, propelling it forward with a 
long push paddle. He knew this maze, he would not 
get lost. He was the farmer or river man who still 
hunted in the fall and trapped in the winter. 


A hunter taking his load of geese and ducks to market. 
(An original sketch by Marilyn Ostrow) 

Now a new profit could be made in the marsh; 
the wild sedges and marsh grasses could be sold. By 
late summer they were ready for cutting-the shorter, 
more tender grasses for feed, the longer, coarser, 
tougher varieties for bedding or packing hay. The hay 
was baled with huge steam presses and exported, 
principally to Chicago. 

These marsh-hay pastures were also seen as 
excellent cattle grazing lands. In the early 1 880's Nels 
Morris, a Chicago packer, bought some 23,000 acres 
of Indiana swamp and brought in thousands of head 
of Texas cattle. He was followed by other "cattle 
barons", all of whom soon wanted the land 
"reclaimed" in order to be suitable all year for 
grazing, and for raising grain as well as pasture grass. 
The pioneer farmers had done some ditching, at first 
by hand, then by horse or oxen. The invention of the 
steam dredge in 1 884 made ditching and drainage a 
real possibility. With this new land-moving machine, 
deep, wide drainage ditches were dug, leading into the 
river. They were only partly successful, however, in 
draining the swamp; it was decided that the rock 
outcropping above Momence, the natural dam, must 
be removed. In 1893 the Indiana government 
undertook this project. Starting just east of Island 
Park the digging began, with the use of coffer dams, a 
few feet at a time. When they had reached a spot a 
little above the Metcalf farm they ran out of money. 
The workmen left without removing the last coffer 
dam; gradually it fell apart, the stones creating what 
is still today called "the riffles". The rock ledge had 

been lowered about two and a half feet but swamp 
drainage was still not complete. The drainage ditches 
into the river had been extended farther and farther 
into the swamp with little success. There was nothing 
left but to attack the river itself. The straightening 
and ditching began near the headwaters (1906); by 
1917 it went all the way to the state line-250 miles 
of meander, slough and bayou had been deepened 
and straightened to only 90 miles in length. For the 
"land hungry" cattlemen the project was a success; 
the swamps drained! For the naturalist it was a 
disaster, a massacre! The project was finished in early 
spring, during the nesting season. Millions of 
newly-hatched ducklings and goslings died for lack of 
water; heaps of dead fish covered the mud of dried-up 
bayous and sloughs; beaver, otter and muskrat 
perished; the odor of decaying flesh was 
unbearable— even 40 miles away. Bert Burroughs 
recorded the words of an old river man who had seen 
and smelled the disaster. "They murdered the land 
while they were at it, and made a good job of it", he 

In his study of the Kankakee marsh, Alfred 
Meyer says that the straightened, deepened and 
widened channel flanked by high spoil banks offered 
nothing in the way of river sport or scenery. Klasey 
describes the Indiana ditch, "For mile upon 
monotonous mile it flows arrow-straight between the 
walls of a ditch, a victim of land-hungry man's 
decision that corn rather that fish and fowl and the 

Kankakee Daily Journal photo. The Kankakee river in Indiana— known as the Kankakee ditch. 


wild grape should grow in its valley". The hunters' 
paradise was gone; the lodges and hotels stood empty. 
Today only remnants remain of the expensive lodges 
used by presidents Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt 
and by European nobility. 

Indiana was satisfied but Illinois soon discovered 
that this tampering with nature was affectingitsshare 
of the river. The meandering Kankakee with its 
bayous, sloughs and holding basins was nature's way 
of preserving the river's purity and its aquatic life. 
The swiftly moving current of the ditch carried (and 
still carries) great quantities of sand down river. As 
early as the middle 1920's this sand was filling in the 
bayous of the swamp edge in Illinois and was creating 
sandbars west of Momence. Meyer's study of the river 
in 1935 discusses the sand and its destructive 
influence on fish and vegetation; its creation of an 
unstable river bottom. Lee Snapp, a Momence 
riverman remembers, as a boy, the spawning grounds 
of bass at the rock outcropping just above Momence. 
It is now sand covered; the bass no longer spawn 
there. The river that once was the third cleanest water 
in the state is now only the sixth cleanest. 

The natural dam above Momence, while no 
longer a spawning ground for bass, still exists to 
protect the Illinois Kankakee. Without this "stopper" 
the sand and silt from Indiana would come faster and 
farther, destroying more rapidly the fish and 
vegetation, causing even more serious flooding during 
the spring high water season. A boon to Illinois, the 
rock ledge is still a menace to Indiana, whose 
government has made repeated attempts to have it 
removed. In a 1935 article, Neil Metcalf, living at the 
Upper Crossing site in the house that his grandfather 
Silas had built, wrote of the 1917 ditching, "When 
the dredge boats reached the state line the river men 
said NO. The long guns were dug out, and NO it 
was". Metcalf, a river expert and an active 
conservationist, spearheaded the organization of the 
Kankakee River Preservation Association, made up of 
farmers and river men, with headquarters in 
Momence. Indiana was again trying to gain the right 
to dredge the river from the state line to Momence. 
The people of the township were concerned; there 
were meetings in the town hall, the high school, the 
churches; there were meetings in Chicago and 
Indiana. Finally, the verdict was no; the dredging was 
not done. Leo Pachner, one of the co-"fighters", now 
the successful publisher of Farm, Pond, Harvest 
magazine, recalled that controversy. He said that the 
Illinois victory was due to Neil Metcalf, a "real 

The Kankakee River Preservation Association 
had no real power. In 1955 Metcalf and the 
Association, with the aid of attorney Varnum Parish, 
were instrumental in the formation of the Momence 
Conservancy District, the first of its kind in Illinois. It 
is a taxing body with power to do whatever is 
necessary for the protection of the river, and is 
governed by a board of trustees chosen by the 
County Board of Supervisors. The first board-Neil 
Metcalf, Van Snow, Frank Siwicki, Leonard Brooks 
and Leo Pachner set their goals. With a sand sucker 
they would clean out the back bayous and the main 
channel, they would clear out obstructions in the 
main channel making it safer for boats, they would 
protect the rock ledge. 

Lack of interest on the part of local and state 
government as well as lack of funds have made it 
impossible to achieve all those goals and the first. 
clearing out the sand, was abandoned. The present 
board-Gerald Mitchell, Richard Demack, Frank 
Siwicki, Veryl Graves and Secretary Eugene Rudecki 
are all men who have lived on the river for most of 
their lives and are dedicated to river conservation. 
Without pay they are always available for river 
emergencies, they keep the channel free of 
obstructions, they inspect all boats for safety 
equipment. They aid the river patrol and they aid 
those families stranded during flood times. 

The Conservancy District has tried and is still 
trying to have the state or the Conservation 
Department limit the amount of water going into the 
river from the ditches at flood times. It is, as always, 
a protector of that 14 miles of river from the state 
line to Momence. 

The Illinois Kankakee is not a ditch. John 
Klasey says, "Finally in Illinois the Kankakee river 
comes into its own: a broad, lazy stream swinging in a 
long loop southward, then, with added strength from 
the Iroquois, sharply to the north. Miles later it 
blends its flood with the Des Plaines and becomes the 
river called Illinois". 

Gordon Graves, river expert, aquatic biologist, 
hydrographer, member of the governor's Wildlife 
Commission, reports that there are, today, on our 
Illinois Kankakee, nesting and resting areas for 
waterfowl; that there is habitant for many fur-bearing 
animals; that it is still clean enough to be the source 
of water for the cities of Kankakee, Bradley and 
Bourbonnais; that a beautiful flower of the mallow 
family, called the Kankakee mallow grows on an 
island in the lower reaches of the river. It is called the 
Kankakee mallow because that island is the only 


Leo Pachner supervising the excavation, in 1975, for his experimental ponds (upper left). The 
ponds a year later (upper right/. A group of children showing off their catch (lower left). 

Mr. Pachner's first pond was built in the 1940's and stocked with bass and bluegills for testing lures in connection with his fishing 
tackle manufacturing business. After disposing of the business he worked with children taking them fishing at various ponds in the 
area. Amazed by the lack of information or misinformation concerning pond development and management, in 1967 he started a 
magazine to supply lacking information and to correct misinformation. Each year he still takes groups of children fishing. He is the 
founder and director of Sport Fish Institute, a national organization, and is a member of the Fishing Hall of Fame in recognition for 
his work with farm ponds. 


place it has been found to grow. It is on "our" river 
that the Midwest Speedboat races are held. 
Attendance at the Kankakee River State Park is 
higher than that of all other Illinois State Parks. It is 
the only river in the United States that holds the 
record for the three most sought after game fish: 
walleye pike, northern pike and small mouth bass. It 
is a recreationist's dream. 

The Chicago Tribune in March 19, 1976 has a 
headline, "The Kankakee is a good place to fish". The 
article says that a twelve pound nine ounce walleye 
was recently caught by Dee Millsap of Momence, and 
that northerns exceeding fifteen pounds have been 

caught on many occasions. The best small mouth bass 
ever registered in the state came from the Kankakee. 
Gordon Graves warns that Indiana has a new 
study underway to ditch the river up to Momence. He 
warns, too, that the sand, tons of which enter our 
stream daily, is as deadly a pollutant as municipal and 
industrial pollution. It is his hope that the technology 
that has brought affluence and abundance to 
Americans will be used to improve our river-a 
God-given treasure to be enjoyed but not abused. The 
"Wonderful river The-a-ki-ki" is also a symbol-so 
long as it flows pure and undefiled, so long will its 
communities prosper. 

1907- A picnic or the bank of the river, just above Momence. 

The Kankakee river of Illinois with farms, homes ana cottages along us oantis. (Journal photo) 




An Elvin Butterfield aerial photograph ofMomence taken in 1970. 

A comparison of the township map of 1883, page 50 with the map of 1973, page 51 shows the changes in the size of the city, 
the added subdivisions along the river, changes in the course of the river as well as changes in farm size and ownership. 







Books and magazines 

Burroughs, Bert E. Legends and Tales of Homeland on the 
Kankakee Chicago, IL. Regan Printing House, 1923 

Burroughs, Bert E. Tales of an Old Border Town and Along 
the Kankakee Fowler. Indiana, The Benton Review Shop, 

Condon. Eddie Narration by Thomas Sugrue We Called II 
Music New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1447 

Graves, Gordon "An Endangered River" Wildlife Magazine 
Vol. 12, No. 3, March 17, 1976 

Handlin, Oscar The Americans Boston. Little. Brown and 
Company. 1963 

Houde, Mary Jane & Klasey, John Of the People Chicago, IL. 
The General Printing Company, 1968 

Kenaga, W. F. & Letourneau, G. R. Historical Encyclopedia 
of Illinois and History of Kankakee County Vol. II, 
Chicago, Middle West Publishing Company, 1906 

Meyer. Alfred H. The Kankakee Marsh of Northern Indiana 
and Illinois Reprinted from Papers of the Michigan 
Academy of Science, Arts and Letters Vol. XXI. 1935, 
Published 1936 

Paddock, Daniel Atlas of Kankakee County Chicago. 1 883 

Other sources 

History of Momence to 1900 written by members of the Book-lovers Club of Momence in the early 1930's. Unpublished 

Kankakee Daily and Sunday Journal 

Metcalf. Neil. "The Kankakee, Wonderful Waters", Unpublished paper, 1935 

Momence Progress- Reporter and its predecessors. 

For documents, pictures, old newspapers and interviews, grateful thanks to: Charles Astle, Mrs. Jean Balber, Mrs. Nels Berglund, Mrs. 
Armen Blankc Lucy Brown, Joe Burnett, Mrs. E. Butterfield, Mr.& Mrs. Hugh Butterfield, Mrs. Arthur Childs, Mr. & Mrs. Harold 
Cromwell. Mrs. James Cromwell, Les DuMontelle, Jr., Mrs. Betty Metcalf Foale, Gordon Graves, Mrs. H. Hungerford, Mrs. A. Kelson. 
Mrs. Marguerite Keil, Ed Kurtz, Brother Magella, Mrs. F. E. Melby, Mrs. Thorn. Nutting. Marilyn Ostrow, Mrs. Eleanor Ostrow. I 
Orr, Leo Pacher, Anthony Parish. Mrs. Ted Peterson, Robert Pittman, Euguene Rudecki, Mrs. D. St.Aubin, Frank Siwicki. Lee Snapp. 
Charles Spieth. Mrs. Robert Sprinkle. Mrs. F. Taylor, Ernest Usher, Martha Woollett. Russell Young. 


Our thanks to Kankakee Community College 
for their assistance in the production or tms 


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