Early settler Joseph A. Little wrote about the river in 1884: “That this county has abounded with game is without a doubt. A paradise for hunters rivaling the mystic hunting grounds of the Red Man, affording an industry for first the Indians and afterward the White Man for a period of not less than two hundred years, at this writing is not entirely exhausted.”
The beauty and the enchantment of this “paradise” in the Kankakee Valley attracted the early pioneers, including Thomas Childers, first settler in Lake County, who staked a claim north of the present Town of Schneider in October 1834 at an area called “School Grove,” known later as Oak Grove. Through the decades many more pioneers and early settlers made their homes in the marsh, and land was deeded and platted to the railroad company which became the Iowa, Illinois and Indiana (“3- I”), an east-west route, and a station was established at the present site of Schneider.
Sportsmen soon took advantage of the great hunting grounds in the area of the future town of Schneider, as they did all along the river. Camp Milligan, built at School Grove in 1869 by Heath and Milligan of Chicago, later became the well known Cumberland Lodge, built by two enterprising English gentlemen,William Parker and Captain Blake, in 1872. The waters of the Kankakee came north to the edge of the island called School Grove (later called Oak Grove) where boats were kept at the lodge boathouse. (That boathouse has been restored by William and Barbara [Schneider] Peterson, who live in their private residence near the site of the old lodge which burned down in 1946.)
The Old Timer (this writer) had the great privilege of seeing the beauty and the enchantment of the “old river” before the dredging was finished near Schneider about 1923. His father’s humble summer cabin sat on one of the big curves east of Schneider where the family enjoyed picnicking, fishing, riding in a duck boat, and finding pearls in clams. He saw the white sand bars on the curves in the stream all adorned with many species of flowers, including purple “flags” -- the iris.
The village was named “Schneider” in 1906 in honor of Fred J. Schneider, in appreciation of the labor and donated material given by him when the New York Central north and south rail line was built in 1905. Mr. Schneider was the original owner of the land where the village was planned.
In 1915 the “village” outgrew that class and was incorporated into a town, and officers were elected. In 1934 it was reported that the Town of Schneider covered more acreage than any other town in the county. The Schneider Town water works was built in 1929. The first school was moved from the early village of Lineville, a station on the east-west railroad near the Illinois State line. When the brick school was built the earlier school was moved to Mason Street to be used as a private dwelling. The Schneider Community Building now sits on the site of the brick school house. Street lights were installed in 1926.
Early business places at Schneider included Rouse & Ahlgrim Hotel; Schneider Realty; Frank Brown, elevator; Harry Rouse, pop factory and restaurant; Guy Gord, barber, next to Larson’s Restaurant; Robert Martin, pool hall; John Love, grocery; Ben Rouse, livery barn; Emil Sirois, blacksmith; Bill Hoag, grocery; Harry Simms, insurance; James Dickey, hall. Business in downtown Schneider had a setback when US 41 was rerouted, as Merritt D. Metz related decades ago: “Proceeding southward, old US 41 turns east at a right angle about three miles south of where Ind. 2 turns west. In another mile it made a right angle to pass through downtown Schneider. When US 41 was widened, about 1956, these turns were eliminated and the road which had gone through Schneider, now over passed the railroad west of town. This reduced the business of Schneider, which for years had been so busy that travel thru it was made with care and caution.”
New business ventures have taken over most of the old places, including the east side elevator which is now the site of the Carb-Rite Co. The restaurant that was a Greyhound bus stop is now a private home. The Huber Sod Ranch has been in business north of town for many decades, and the LaSalle Fish and Game Preserve is south of the Kankakee River.
Schneider now has one church, the Schneider Presbyterian, built in 1911, perhaps after some years of meeting in private homes.
The tall Stratton elevator, with its “Cargill” sign, still stands as a quiet sentinel near old US 41 (Parrish Ave) where years ago fishermen and hunters enjoyed the beauty and the bounty of the enchanting Kankakee Valley. A few miles south hundreds of acres of marshland are in the process of preservation by the “Kankakee Sands Project, including the “ghost town” of Conrad which now has a new name: “Conrad Station Savannah,” a nature preserve.
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