William Frederick Howat.

A standard history of Lake County, Indiana, and the Calumet region (Volume 1) online

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St. John Township, have disappeared, but two grandsons of ]\Iatthias
Reeder remained in the old neighborhood and one of them became a
citizen of Crown Point. John Hack himself, the pioneer of them all, died
at Crown Point in 1855, sixty-nine years of age. From the testimony of
those who best knew him in the flesh and the spirit, he was a strong,
dignified man, sound of morals, clear of intellect and warm of heart.

St. John, the A^illage

The village known as St. John has really existed since the establish-
ment of the postoffice by that name in 1846. Its church is still the center
of one of the largest Catholic communities in the county. From a busi-
ness standpoint it is favorably situated in the midst of a rich dairy dis-
trict, is the site of a large creamery and ships milk and butter in quite
large quantities over the IMonon route. St. John has several large general
stores and claims a poj)ulation of about two hundred and fifty.

Fkaxcis p. Keilmann

The oldest business men of St. John are Francis P. Keilmann and
George F. Gerlach, the latter being the author of the interesting paper
on "Catholicism in Lake County," from which has been extracted the
incident regarding John Hack and the burial of Henry Sasse's wife.

Mr. Keilmann is of that large Hesse-Darmstadt family, the membei-s
of which have done so much to found both Dyer and St. John. His
father, Henry Keilmann, was also a native of that German province, and
brought the family to Portage County, Ohio, in 18-10, four years after-
ward settling on a farm in St. John Township. Francis P., the fourth
son and fifth of seven children, was in his thirteenth year when the
family homestead was thus fixed near St. John. After receiving a busi-
ness training in Chicago for a number of years, he returned to his old
home and formed a partnership with his brother Henry, who had already


started business at St. John. The firm of Henry & F. P. Keilmann con-
tinued until 1865, wlien the latter became sole proprietor. At that time
George F. Gerlaeh was a clerk in the store and in 1867 Mr. Keilmann
received him into partnership. That connection continued until 1885,
since which tlie two have been in business at St. John as its leading-
merchants .

Dyer and A. N. Hart

The village of Dyer, about four miles to the northwest of St. John,
on the Monon line, is just east of the Illinois boundary. At an early day
a settlement was made on Thorn Creek, and in 1838 the State Line House
was built. In the middle '50s, when the Joliet Cut Off was being put
through Cady's marsh, there were two taverns for travelers at that
locality, as well as a few residences. The event which brought growth
to Dyer and developed the adjacent country into fertile and productive
land, capable of raising large crops of grain and vegetables and of sus-
taining fine herds of cattle and dairy animals, was the coming from
Philadelphia of Aaron N. Hart, a publisher who had collected some
capital in eastern and western book ventures, and about 1857 decided to
invest it at and around Dyer.

In the year mentioned ]\Ir. Hart was traveling through Indiana and
Illinois in the interest of his publications when he saw the immense Cady's
marsh, then covered by water, and the large pond known as Lake George
between what are now Schererville, Hartsdale and Dyer. Realizing the
personal and neighborhood advantages to be gained by draining these
submerged bottom lands, he at once proceeded to buy up several thou-
sand acres of despised "swamp lands" at prices ranging from 75 cents
to $1.25 a acre. He then commenced and executed a thorough system
of drainage of Lake George and other lands under water which he
had purchased, and within a few years the widely known Hart Ditch
had been dug to the Little Calumet and had redeemed to fine productive-
ness fifteen or twenty thousand acres of land, as well as established a
prosperous community.

Mr. Hart moved his family to Dyer in 1861, but afterward engaged
in the real estate business in Chicago, leaving the immediate management
of his immense landed interests east of Dyer to be managed by others.
The later years of his life were again devoted to the improvement of
what had long been known as the Hartsdale farm of 8,000 acres. At the
time of his accidental death, January 12, 1883, it is said that he owned
17,000 acres in the county, most of which was in St. John Township.
His widow and children realized a fortune from his investments therein.


Mr. Hart's Death

In view of JMr. Hart's great prominence as the founder of Dyer and
a leading promoter of the county's agricultural interests, the circum-
stances of his death, which caused widespread notice, are here given as
narrated by the local press: "Friday morning about 11:30 o'clock,
Mr. Hart was superintending the construction of a ditch cutting off a
large bend in Plum Creek, which flows through his farm at Dyer. The
ditch had already been cut through and a current was flowing. The
bottom of the ditch was about two feet wide and the banks some ten or
twelve feet high. A man was working just ahead of him, cutting off
clods and frozen earth, while Mr. Hart wa^ :^tanding at the bottom of the
ditch, pulling the loosened clods down into the ditch that they might float
off. Suddenly, without warning, the left-hand bank caved, the sharp,
frozen edge of the falling bank striking him in the region of the heart.
Death was instantaneous. He was thrown against the opposite bank and
buried to the waist.

' ' The man nearest him states that Mr. Hart did not utter a word, but
simply threw up one hand ; whether it was an involuntary motion or a
gesture, he cannot tell. It required the exertions of ten men to extricate
the body, which was at once taken to the residence of the family near by.
It is supposed that the bank had become loosened by the blasting which
had previously been done to open the ditch, and that it was ready to fall
at the slightest touch." Funeral services were held at the Hart residence
in Dyer and also at Crown Point, where the remains were interred.

George F. Davis, Raiser of Fine Live Stock

The Davis families, who settled later than the Harts, also added much
to the business life of Dyer; there were three lirothers, George F. Davis
becoming one of the large stockraisers of the county. The latter accom-
plished as much as any citizen of the county to improve its live stock and
give it a high standing in the general markets. He became especially
well known as a raiser of improved breeds of hogs, making a specialty of
the famous Victoria swine. He also bred Cotswold sheep, shorthorn cattle,
and fancy land and water fowls. At the World's Columbian Exposition,
in 1893, Mr. Davis took twenty-six premiums on his Victoria swine and
seven on his fat stock, as well as others on sheep, pigeons and poultry.
All of which redounded to the general standing of Dyer.

Dyer of Today

Dyer has had a flour mill for many years, but its creamery, which
commenced business in 1893, is its leading industry. It is quite a busy


DuRoc Hogs

Specimen Indiana Cattle


shipping point for the dairy products of an extensive district, as it has
good railway connections through the Monon, the Joliet Cut Off, the
Michigan Central and the Elgin Belt Line. The village, which numbers
perhaps four hundred people, has a large brick schoolhouse, built in 1898,
and two churches, Catholic and Protestant. The Catholic house of wor-
ship, Church of St. Joseph, was erected in 1867.


Hartsdale is a station on the Hart estate, at the crossing of the Joliet
Cut Off, or Michigan Central, and the Pennsylvania Road. At the death
of A. N. Hart in 1883 much of his real estate in St. John Township
passed to his sou, Malcolm T., who died at his home in Crown Point in
November, 1898. The widow assumed his large interests at Hartsdale,
although she also continued to reside at the county seat.

Nichols Scherer and Schererville

Schererville, three and a half miles east of Dyer, takes its name from
Nichols Scherer, a native Prussian, Avho came to the town of St. John in
1846. He was then a youth of sixteen and accompanied his parents.

Mr. Scherer began working as a swamp-land ditcher in the employ of
the state, and was afterward appointed land commissioner, which posi-
tion he held until he became connected with railroad interests. For
about nine years he conducted a hotel at Dyer, when he engaged in the
construction of the Chicago & Great Eastern (the Panhandle), superin-
tending the building of the section from Richmond, Indiana, to Chicago.
He was connected with that road when he located on his land, which
covered the site of the present Schererville. In 1865 he laid out the town
and gave it his family name. Besides being officially connected with the
construction department of the Panhandle, he also built sections of the
Michigan Central, Eastern Illinois and the Joliet Cut Off, now a part of
the ^lichigan Central system. At the same time he was engaged in the
shipping of sand from Schererville, dealt in real estate in the common
acceptance of the term, and was a successful farmer. In fact, it is impos-
sible to conceive of the village without the well-directed industries which
were so long founded and fostered by Mr. Scherer.

Nichols Scherer platted his village as a station on the just-completed
Panhandle road. It now has a population of some two himdred and fifty ;
has two or three stores, a two-story brick schoolhouse and a large Roman
Catholic church, St. Michael, founded in 1874.



General Features — First Settlers of West Creek Township —
— Joseph Jackson and the First Store — First School — The Hay-
MENTS — The Belshaws — Elder Morrison Unmated — Pioneer
SCHOOLHOUSES — Early Times IN West Creek Township — Reclaim-
ing the Swamp Lands— AYinfield Township — Leroy and Palmer —
Dennis Palmer.

West Creek Township derives its name from the westernmost of the
three large streams which flow from the central portions of the county
southward into the Kankakee River. West Creek constitutes the main
drainage basin for both the township by that name and Hanover Town-
ship to the north. Its upper waters rise near the town of St. John, in
the southern portion of the township by that name, while its lower
courses are sometimes almost lost in the marshes of the Kankakee region.

General Features

When the settlers first came to West Creek Township there was con-
siderable timber along that stream and south of the State Road, but its
area was substantially prairie land, the far-famed Lake Prairie extend-
ing to the borders of the Kankakee region. These beautiful and fertile
prairie lands drew the first settlers to this portion of the county.

West Creek Township was one of the three civil and territorial
divisions into which the county commissioners divided the original South
Township, on the 9th of Alay, 1839. Its boundaries have remained the
same as when the township was created, and its growth has been slow
compared with that of more northern districts; as to population, it has
even retrograded within the past quarter of a century. AVith the drain-
ing of the Kankakee lands since the early '80s and the building of the
Illinois, Indiana & Iowa (Three I) through that fertile section, agricul-
tural conditions have greatly improved. It has become an especially
promising live stock country, and has always borne a fair reputation in

Vol. 1 —13



that regard. As an illustration, the horses raised by Nehemiah Hayden
and his sons, who were among the first settlers of the township, have
obtained a wide reputation.

FiKST Settlers of AVest Creek Township

The first settler in West Creek Township was Robert Wilkinson, whc
was a Southern man and settled on Lake Prairie in the northwestern
part of the township. In the following year Charles Marvin arrived in
that locality from Connecticut. In the '70s Mr. Wilkinson moved to
Missouri, where he died, and Mr. Marvin occupied his former home-
stead, which he materially improved, for many years afterward. Both
of these pioneers had families, various members of which added to the
valued manhood and womanhood of the township and county. Several
of the Wilkinsons became residents of Lowell.

The Wilkinsons and Marvins were soon followed by such settlers in
the central and southern sections of the township as Derastus and Henry
Torrey, Chancelor Graves, Jolin Kitchel, Heman M. Spalding, Joseph
Jackson, John Michael and William Farley. Most of them came in 1836,
as did G. L. Foster and Reuben Chapman.

Of the foregoing, Henry Torrey soon moved to Lockport. Derastus,
commonly called Major Torrey, went to Kansas about 1850 and died in
that state. Chancelor Graves and William Farley died in the fall of
1838, the first deaths in the township. Mr, Kitchel resided in the town-
ship but a few years, and Mr. Spalding died many years ago, his wife
and family continuing to reside long afterward in the county, with the
exception of the youngest son, who became a practicing physician in
Chicago. John Michael moved to Michigan, after a residence of over
twenty years in the township, two of his sons continuing to live near the
old homestead. Mr. and Mrs. Jackson passed their last years at Wapello,

JosEPPi Jackson and the First Store

The Joseph Jackson briefly mentioned was a New Englander, who had
moved into Michigan before he cast his lot with Lake County. He was
the first to locate in the southwestern part of the county in what became
known as the West Creek neighborhood. Mr. Jackson located his claim
in the spring of 1837, in the summer he came with his son, Clinton Jack-
son, and his son's family, and in October of that year moved his own
family from IMonroe County, Michigan, to the new location. They came
with teams and were nearly three weeks on the way. They started on


a warm, bright October afternoon, with the family, household goods and
a small stock of dry goods and groceries. On the way the homesteaders
ran into a snowstorm, and when they arrived at West Creek found the
ground well covered with the harbinger of winter. But the Jackson cabin
was ready, and without much ado the little stock of general goods, which
represented the first business house in that part of the county, was thrown
open to neighborhood inspection.

Benjamin Farley, with his five sons and two daughters, soon became
near neighbors to the Jacksons, and his name has been worthily per-
petuated in the lives of those who followed him. He was a New Yorker
and well along in middle age when he came to the West Creek neigh-

FmsT School

By the year 1838 the locality had become so well settled that a little
log schoolhouse was built, and Ursula Ann J ackson, one of the daughters
of Joseph Jackson, commenced to teach the first school in what is now
West Creek Township.

After several years of farm life, the Jackson family moved to Crown
Point, erected buildings and conducted hotels, and the father served for
one term as the first auditor of the county. After a residence in the
county of nearly twenty years as an active and very substantial citizen,
Joseph Jackson moved to Iowa in the spring of 1857. He was mayor of
the City of Wapello for two terms, and lived in that place until his
death at the age of nearly ninety-five.

The Haydens and Hathaways

Nehemiah Hayden, who located on West Creek in 1837, was the father
of nine sons and five daughters, and no family in the southwestern part
of the county has contributed more to its agricultural advancement than
the Haydens. Several of the brothers in their later years retired to enjoy
town life m Lowell ; they have owned and improved fine estates, shared
in the public and social matters of the township, and, with their families,
have contributed to the useful citizenship of rural and village life.

About a year after the Haydens located in the West Creek neigh-
borhood, Peter Hathaway, a native of New Jersey, joined the colony.
He and his family came direct from New York, and his dozen sons and
daughters, with their descendants, have been useful members of many
communities and stanch workers in church and Sunday school. Heman'
M. Spalding settled in the Hathaway and Hayden neighborhood.


■ Courtesy of FiaiiK

Schneider Consolidated School, West Creek Township


H_ fi^ LB- riB^^B^^"'';! 'JBI^Kg'' '=^^^^^^^1'

By Courtesy of Frank F. Heiglnvay. County Superintendent of HehooLs.

Sheridan Consolidated School, West Creek Township


The first bridge over West Creek was built by N. Haydeu at a cost of
$400. It was thrown across that stream soon after he located in 1837, at
a point west of the present Lake Prairie Church, and was called Torrey
bridge, as Henry Torrey, a neighl)or and settler of the same year, lived
near it.

Pioneer Church

Within six or seven years of the first settlements the West Creek
neighborhood became a prosperous portion of the county and quite a
religious center. There, in fact, were erected some of the pioneer houses
of worship in Lake County.

Methodist services were held as early as X840 in private houses, but
the first church structure, a frame building, was erected in 1844, a little
north of the State Road and east of the creek. That church stood until
1869, when it was replaced l)y the present building. Among the original
members of the society were John Kitchel and wife, Silas Hathaway and
wife, Peter Hathaway and wife, ^Irs. Nehemiah Hayden and ]\Irs. H. M.

Northeastern Settlements

The settlement of tlie Creston community in the northeastern part
of West Creek Township and the northwestern i)art of Cedar Creek
by the Taylors, Edgertons. Palmers and other oft'-shoots of the old
East Cedar Lake colony, has already lieen descril)ed as a lead-
ing event of the early 'oOs; also the formation of the New Hampshire
settlement by tlie Ames. Gerrish, Little, Peach, Plumer, 3Iorey and
Wason families, all representing western emigrants from the Granite
State, wlio were among the founders of Lowell. Around the Monon
station of Creston is clustered the only consideral)le settlement in the
township, although late maps show Lineville and Schneider on the line
of the Illinois, Indiana & Iowa Railroad, in the southern part of the
townsliip, and Pelshaw. in the eastern part, witli Hayden furtlier north.

The Belshaws

Belshaw station last named recalls tlie prominent families, various
members of whieh have resided in the township and aided its progi'ess
since 1842, when George Belshaw, the pioneer, settled on the southern
extremity of Lake Prairie, near Pine Grove. The family, with the excep-
tion of two of the sons, went to Oregon in 1853. William and Henry, the


sons mentioned, died in the township and left numerous children to per-
petuate the family name.

Elder Morrison Unmated

Reference has been made to the Methodist Church of West Creek, the
first religious body to organize in the township. There is a story told of
Elder Morrison, a minister from Yellowhead, who sometimes preached to
the little gathering composed chiefly of the Hathaways, the Haydens and
the Spaldings. The Elder was earnest and able, though uneducated and
somewhat eccentric. He w^as also needy, but honest and devoid of self-
consciousness. He had been in his new missionary field for a time and,
like most of his listeners, had worn out the clothing he brought from the
East. One Sabbath he appeared with one boot and one shoe, but as all
the men in the congregation were barefooted and the women wore head-
gear of home manufacture, he made neither apologj^ nor explanation.
Such trifles did not disturb or detain this class of ^Methodists, and they
enjoyed the sermon as much as if clad in broadcloth and velvet and as if
the Elder were shod with mates.

The second church in the township was built by the German Metho-
dists in 1855, and was situated in the northern part. In 1857 Lake
Prairie Presbyterian church was organized by the people of the New
Hampshire settlement, with Rev. H. Wason as pastor. Their church
was not built until several years later. In 1895 a Christian church was
erected near the Sanders bunal ground, on the southwest quarter of
section 28, on the line of the Three I.

Pioneer Schoolhouses

The first schoolhouse in West Creek Township was built of logs in
1838, near the Torrey bridge, being erected by the people of the neigh-
borhood. That was the school taught by Miss Jackson for $1 per week
and "board 'round." The log cabin fulfilled its mission for ten years,
when the second schoolhouse was built in Clark Grove, northwest of the
present West Creek building.

Early Times in West Creek Township

One of the pioneer women of West Creek writes : ' ' For the first few
years the settlers had to go forty miles to Wilmington to mill, and to
Chicago, which was but a village, to do their trading; and they liad very
little to trade with when they got there. What they raised brought very


low prices — wheat at 50 cents and less a bushel, and everything else in
proportion, after hauling it there in wagons drawn by oxen, tlirough
almost impassable swamps, often carrying their loads, bag by bag, on
their backs through places where the team could not draw it.

"But their wants were comparatively few, and they were strong-
hearted and brave. The neighbors, though far apart, were kind and
true, and never failed to lend a helping liand in times of sickness and
need, ajid those times often came in those days of exposure and hardship.
Many were sick. In my own home at one time, father and mother lay
sick in one bed with fever, and the oldest child only six years old ; but the
neighbors cared for them faithfully and tenderly ; and so it was in every
case. These pioneers fully understood what was meant by My Neighbor. ' '

When the early settlers came, a strip of land four or five miles in
width, which extended across the township north of Kankakee River, was
all swamp. There were no roads across this dreary waste, and it could
be crossed only in very drv' weather or in the winter when the gi'ound
was frozen. That was the hunting and trapping region and the great
source of wood supply for the prairie farmers, who hauled the timber
and fuel from the islands and groves of the Calumet region when the
ground was frozen.

Reclaiming the Swamp Lands

About 1868 a road was built running from east to west on a ridge just
north of the river, and about ten years later another highway was con-
structed, running north and south and connecting the former with the
road on higher land. Now there are many good roads crossing the Calu-
met region in AA^est Creek Township, as well as the railroad, which lines it
east and west about a mile and a half north of the Kankakee River, "With
the thorough draining of the bottom lands, also, the former dreary waste
has been transformed into a most pleasing and productive country of
corn and sleek live stock.

WiNPiELD Township

Winfield Township comprises twenty-five sections on the eastern bor-
der of the county, southeast of its center. Its area was included in old
Center, one of the original three townships into which the county was
divided at the first meeting of the commissioners held in April, 1837.
Winfield was set off in 1843, but then included the four eastern tiers of
sections of what is now Ross Township, and was not reduced to sub-
stantially its present area until the creation of the latter in 1848. It
subsequently donated three sections to Eagle Creek Township.



Every part of it is well watered by the head streams of Eagle Creek
and Deep River, and the conntiy is finely adapted to the raising of grain
and the forage plants; consequently all the live stock industries thrive.

By Courtesy of Frank P. Heighway. County Superintendent of Schools.

Leroy School

It is a good dairy country and tlie sniall fi'uits are readily cultivated and

Leroy and Palmer

Leroy and Palmer are brisk shipping points within the township and
they are both creations of the railroad — that is. backed by strong men as

Online LibraryWilliam Frederick HowatA standard history of Lake County, Indiana, and the Calumet region (Volume 1) → online text (page 20 of 44)