Pioneer History by Richard C. Schmal

Sportsmen on the Kankakee

(from the Oct. 25, 1989, Lowell Tribune, page 4)

The Indians in Northwest Indiana enjoyed great hunting grounds along the Kankakee River and the surrounding marshes for many years, and the site of an early Indian war became the location of several sportsmen's clubs in later years.

The old "Allen Trace," a pioneer trail made by Trader Allen, started at old Fort Ouiatanon (on the Wabash River), crossed the Kankakee at the Potawatomi Ford, and continued to Lake Michigan. This is now the site of Baum's Bridge near Kouts, where George Eton built his log house in 1836 on a high sand ridge overlooking the river and set about building his fortune by operating a ferry boat.

He built a toll bridge there in 1848, the first one east of Momence, Ill. The following spring the bridge burned, and he again put the ferry back on the river. The ferry was sold to a Mr. Sawyer in 1857, then to Enos Baum in 1860. Baum also built a more solid toll bridge.

Sports enthusiasts from cities all over the Midwest and the East were attracted to this magnificent spot along the Kankakee, and soon many clubhouses were built along the north side of the stream, In the 1880's the Pittsburgh club built their home on the high bank, while nearby on the sand ridges came the modest cabins of many local folks attracted by the great hunting and fishing opportunities.

The rivermen chose to think of the wealthy members of the clubs as men of means, for those hired by the sportsmen liked to brag about their generosity: "Paid five dollars a day, whether we worked or not, during two months in the spring and same in fall." The men from Pennsylvania, some of them railroad executives, became acquainted with the area when the Panhandle Branch of their line reached the marsh at English Lake, east of Kouts.

They came in their private cars, which were parked on a siding for the duration of their stay at the club. They sailed the river on their steam launch, "Little Rhoda," piloted by a man wearing a high silk hat. The highlight of the year 1888 was a grand party given by the members for all the folks living in the area. They enjoyed fine food and drink and dancing.

Another club at the Baum's Bridge site was the "Indianapolis," which included members from Rockville and Terre Haute, as well as the Studebaker family of South Bend. The club president was L.M. Wainwright, head of the Diamond Chair Co., with Dr. Ross Wilson as resident manager. This group stayed until 1910.

Two others were the White House Club and the Valley Gun Club. In the same area was the Louisville Hunting Club, built in 1878, which listed among its members William Thompson, treasurer of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, and William Short, president of the Western Hide and Tanning Co. Parker Rice was the custodian, with Harold Meeks as one of the guides. Their building was condemned as a fire hazard in 1928 and torn down.

Also nearby was land owned by a famous general. General Lew Wallace (1827-1905) spent many months near Baum's Bridge, and had this to say about the place: "Never, in all my world travels, have I found a more perfect spot, not a more tantalizing river."

Lewis Wallace was born at Brookville, near the old Whitewater Canal, served in the Mexican War, and as a Major General in the Civil War was cited for his part in the capture of Ft. Donelson in Tennessee in 1862. Afterwards, he practiced law at Crawfordsville and is well-known as author of Ben Hur, published in 1880.

He owned a half acre of waterfront property near one of the clubs, and also 640 acres of marsh land as his private hunting and fishing grounds. He lived in a houseboat he called the "White Elephant," where he spent hours writing in solitude amidst the beauty of unspoiled nature. With the help of his son, Henry, the general also entertained local guests and his old friends from southern Indiana.

Down river from Baum's in the Shelby area were several more hunting lodges and hotels where sportsmen stayed while hunting and fishing. The Diana Club, still standing on a curve of SR 55 between Shelby and Thayer, was one of the larger clubs, which in earlier days had a large porch wrapped around most of the building. Many acres were set aside for hunting.

West of the Diana Club, on the south side of the river, stands the old Fogli Hotel, built by Ben Fogli in 1898 with twelve sleeping rooms. Guests from all over the United States and many foreign countries enjoyed Fogli's fine hospitality, along with delicious food served in a dining room that sat 85 diners at one time. In more recent years, the building has been remodeled into a private home. Other hotels in the Shelby area were the Fuller, Doty, Sirois, Crocker and the Struble.

In 1869 a sports resort was built by Heath and Milligan of Chicago, who with eight other men from the city built on what was first called "School Grove," north of the present town of Schneider. It is now called "Oak Grove," and was almost completely surrounded by water when the camp was built. The custodian there, G.M. Shaver, boasted that in one year he killed 1,100 ducks and other waterfowl.

In 1872 William Parker, said to be an English nobleman, bought land in the grove and began to build a fine dwelling house, barns and kennels, and changed the name to Cumberland Lodge. When the area began getting more heavily populated, Parker sold out to a group of businessmen from Chicago.

The Old Timer can remember watching his father take part in a turkey shoot there in the 1920's. The main clubhouse, a 23-room manor house in the English tradition, was destroyed by fire April 1946, and a private residence now stands on the grove.

Where the duck hunters anchored their boats, the fine old hunting paradise has been replaced with fields of corn and wheat, as well as a sod farm. Several sport clubs are even now active in southern Lake County and Porter County. Many members hunt in the manner of those early pioneers at the Ford, with their muzzle-loaders, while others try to match the Potawatomies with their bows and arrows.

Last updated on June 11, 2001.

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