Colliers Club House, Baum's Bridge, Kouts Post Office. | Photo Courtesy Kankakee Valley Historical Society
Find information about the Kankakee Valley Historical
Society online at www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org.
Anyone with stories or pictures to share about early life along the river may contact John Hodson at 766-2302, or email him at email@example.com.
Updated: February 28, 2013 6:11AM
John Hodson wants your help.
The president and founder of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society wants family stories and pictures of the Kankakee River Valley in days past to post on the society’s website.
The project got its spark during the society’s annual Aukiki River Festival in August when someone dropped off a packet of photographs and other information about some settlers of the Kankakee River area of Porter County.
Karen Maass, who lives in the Grand Rapids, Mich., area, had asked a Jasper County cousin of hers to deliver the packet to the festival organizers. Hodson made contact with the cousin and reached out to Maass.
“It was really good stuff. A lot of it hadn’t really been seen before,” Hodson said.
Hodson has spent a lot of time since then in the offices of the Porter County auditor and recorder, searching through transactions and deeds from the late 1800s and the turn of the last century.
Around that time, about a 1-mile span along the Kankakee River bank was dotted with hunt clubs established on leased land, including the Collier Lodge, which the Historical Society is trying to restore. Others were the Louisville Hunt Club, the Donely Resort (formerly known as the Rockville/Terre Haute/Indianapolis Hunt Club), the Valley Hunt Club (comprised of local residents) and the Pittsburgh Hunt Club.
Maass said her family was from Valparaiso and owned property by Baum’s Bridge — a river crossing southwest of Kouts — in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Relatives, she said, were perhaps partial owners of the Valley Hunt Club.
“It was the era when everyone was building those hunting clubs,” she said. “It was such a neat time in history because people had some money finally and there were no wars going on.”
Sportsmen frequented the area for the variety of fish found in the river, the migrating waterfowl as well as the deer, buffaloes, muskrats, partridges and other animals that lived in the area of the Grand Kankakee Marsh.
Maass finds it exciting to delve into her family’s past and help Hodson with his project. Most of her family from this area is now gone, except for another cousin in Chesterton, but at one time, her relatives were quite active along the Kankakee River.
Her great-uncle Carl Black collected Native American artifacts from the Baum’s Bridge area, including the skeleton of a Native American girl found by James Collier when he excavated under his store for a basement.
Where Black’s collection of artifacts is now remains a mystery, Maass said, and it’s that kind of information Hodson is seeking as well.
“I’m pleading for people to come forward and let me scan things, because it helps me place things,” Hodson said. He started downloading the information he has onto the Historical Society’s website the first week in January.
People are invited to provide background stories on what he posts, particularly family stories. Hodson said Porter County is like a small town and a lot of people with ties to early families are still around.
“It’s drawn me back to really laying out and making public the history of the area,” he said.
That includes the three or four river towns he found out about in the Porter County Surveyor’s Office, including Riverside, Roosevelt, Maysville and Baum’s Bridge.
“Baum’s Bridge is a great representation of these failed river towns,” he said, adding the 1918 straightening of the river killed off the budding communities.
He’s hoping the community can come forward and help flesh out the area’s history.
“All this input we can get from people — the stories and pictures — it fills the gaps,” Hodson said.