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Delving into the history of Jasper County with museum curator

Judy Kanne Jasper County Historical Society Museum. | Jeff Manes/For Sun-Times Media

Judy Kanne at the Jasper County Historical Society Museum. | Jeff Manes/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 3, 2014 6:18AM



“Yeoman (yo-man) n. 1. An independent farmer, esp. a member of a former class of small freeholding farmers in England. 3. An attendant, servant, or lesser official in a royal or noble household. 6. A diligent, dependable worker.”

— Noah Webster

My interview with Judy Kanne took place at the Jasper County Historical Society Museum in Rensselaer. She is the curator there. County genealogist Sue Caldwell and intern Ben Kessler — a senior at St. Joseph’s College — were on hand.

Kanne also is county historian appointed by the Indiana Historical Society, and is involved with the Prairie Arts Council which has a gallery in Rensselaer’s Carnegie Center.

Kanne, 72, is a graduate of Indiana University Bloomington who taught at St. Joseph’s College as a visiting professor, where she was in charge of student teachers. She lives in Rensselaer with her husband Michael; they have raised 2 adult daughters.

Kanne is a German name that rhymes with the word “rainy.”

***

You’re not a native of Rensselaer.

“”No, I was born in Greencastle. My dad had a drugstore there. When I was 7, we moved to the east side of Indianapolis where I attended Howe High School.”

Any memories of Greencastle?

“I really do. It’s sad, a few years ago I went down there to visit my folks’ grave. Our house was torn down. I was a little girl who lived in an old house. Luckily, we live in an old house here in Rensselaer. You kinda get hooked on those. In Indianapolis, we lived in one of those wonderful little bungalows.”

As a youngster, did you live near DePauw University?

“Yes, I remember trekking through the campus on my way to get ice cream at the drugstore.”

Your husband is a judge.

“Yes, he was a local state court judge here for 10 years. For five years, he was a district judge in Hammond appointed by Ronald Reagan. Now, he’s on the 7th circuit court of appeals in Chicago.”

The honorable Judge Kanne is a lifetime Rensselaerian.

“Yes, that’s why we live here. His father owned Kanne’s Restaurant on the square.”

You were a schoolteacher.

“When Mike was in law school, I taught at a two-room schoolhouse with outhouses. We have an old schoolhouse at our fairgrounds that is under the auspices of the JCHS. So, I kind of get back in the groove of being an old schoolmarm.”

Judy, let’s delve into some Rensselaer history. There’s a statue of a man in town. Who is he?

“Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy, a veteran of the Civil War. We have President Lincoln’s signature here. Lincoln signed documents approving some of Milroy’s promotions. We figure the signature is worth about $8,000.

“After the war, Gen. Milroy ended up Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Olympia, Wash. During the Civil War, he fought in several major battles in West Virginia and Virginia. Gen. Milroy wasn’t exactly well-liked in that part of the country.”

Why not?

“Because he treated the blacks better than the whites of that area. In fact, he brought an African-American couple home to Rensselaer so they could be educated. Here’s a photo of them.”

Let me read that cutline: “Benjamin Summit was a freedom-seeking slave sent to Rensselaer, Ind. in 1861. Summit was taught to read and write by the general’s wife, Mary Milroy.”

“The Confederate Congress offered a $100,000 dead-or-alive bounty on Milroy at that time.”

Tell me about this building.

“It was built by the Free Will Baptists and originally stood on the northeast corner of Susan and Van Rensselaer Streets.

“In 1902, the building was purchased by the Methodist Protestants and moved to this site. In 1916, it was sold to a David Yeoman. That was the only year taxes were paid on the building. The structure eventually was sold to the Christian Science Society in 1918. The Christian Science Society’s congregation dwindled and the few remaining members donated the building to the historical society in 1982.”

Quite a history.

“The original Jasper County Historical Society goes back to the 1930s, but we do not know where those records are. We have not heard who was in charge. You’d think we’d come across that, but haven’t.”

When was this Jasper County Historical Society formed?

“In 1966, about the time a log cabin that was discovered inside a barn in Barkley Township and taken to the fairgrounds. Now, there’s also the old schoolhouse, post office and a blacksmith shop.”

Very good.

“I’m also a member of the Newton County Historical Society, White County Historical Society, DeMotte Historical Society and Kankakee Valley Historical Society. I guess I’m snoopy.”

You folks sure have a fascinating collection of antiques, heirlooms and relics displayed here.

“Sue and Ben are working on a very special collection of cards that nobody knows about. In 1918, there was a survey of women taken by the Women’s Committee Council of National Defense. The information on those cards are unbelievably detailed. We have 3,212 of them.”

Great find. When I interviewed Jessica Nunemaker (little Indiana), she told me the woeful tale of pioneer Joseph Yeoman.

“It is by the (Iroquois) river bridge and the Tastee Freez where Joseph Yeoman and his family built a cabin in the fall of 1836. They started farming. That first winter, I don’t think they had four walls.

“James Van Rensselaer wasn’t a very successful businessman back East. So, he came to Indiana to find his fortune. Van Rensselaer made it to Lafayette, but it was his son who came up here. He was taken by the beauty of that spot on the river and anxiously brought his dad here from Lafayette to see it.”

Yeoman was a squatter.

“More or less. The Van Rensselaers purchased the land properly and the Yeomans were booted off their farmland.”

Nunemaker told me that Yeoman actually took Van Rensselaer in for the remainder of a harsh winter so he wouldn’t freeze to death.

“I hadn’t heard that part of the story. It’s quite possible. James did stay here. He’s actually buried at our Presbyterian Church. After the patriarch died, the rest of the Van Rensselaers left the area for good. But we have hundreds of Yeomans in Jasper County; they’ve been here forever. I’ve always felt that Rensselaer should be named Yeoman.”

***

Judy Kanne would be more than happy to give the dime tour of Jasper County Historical Society Museum. It’s open to the public the first and third Saturday of every month. For appointments: jchsmuseum@gmail.com. The museum is located at 479 North Van Rensselaer St.

Jasper County pioneers Joseph and Sarah Yeoman had a son born Sept. 26, 1841 on the old Yeoman homestead. At the beginning of the Civil War, young David Yeoman, son of Joseph and Sarah, enlisted with the 48th Indiana Regiment and fought valiantly at the battles of Shiloh and Iuka. Toward the end of the war, Capt. Yeoman was part of the Atlanta Campaign, the 100 days fighting, and from Atlanta, followed Sherman to the sea.

A “yeoman-like” effort indeed.

It was that same war hero, at the age of 75, who purchased what is now the Jasper County Historical Museum. For more than a half-century after the war David Yeoman was a successful farmer and a well-respected citizen in Jasper County.

He was a diligent, dependable worker.

Yet, you’ll search in vain for a Yeoman Street in Rensselaer.



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