Max Ahlgrim was early entrepreneur along Kankakee River

2013-03-18T00:00:00Z 2013-03-18T11:05:29Z Max Ahlgrim was early entrepreneur along Kankakee RiverJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

Max Ahlgrim was 17 years old when he took his first trip down the Kankakee River.

His parents, Christopher and Mina, German immigrants who lived in Chicago, had sent the young man ahead of them. He was to oversee the transportation of lumber and furniture to the site of the new family's home.

Max came to the Kankakee River, to an area known as Water Valley, and stayed. He and his wife, Ida, raised 11 children.

"My grandpa was making ice and had an ice house. He had a park and pavilion with a nickelodeon," said Kenneth Jones, Ahlgrim's youngest grandson who now lives outside of Lowell and remembers his childhood times on the family property.

According to census records, Ahlgrim spent his life as a carpenter.

He was more than that, said John Hodson, founder of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, who recently researched Ahlgrim after finding a century-old journal.

"He took the leap from pioneer to entrepreneur," said Hodson. "He was a business man, but also a personality."

"The neat thing about Max was how much he knew and how much he accomplished. He's an important guy for that neck of the woods. He was ambitious, had foresight on everything. These are the kind of people this country was built on."

Ahlgrim built a business. Chicagoans traveled to the Kankakee River at the turn of the 20th century to hunt, fish and picnic. Ahlgrim and his sons crafted boats to take the visitors along the river and through its bayous.

A train stop, Ahlgrim Park, bore his name.

He was even a bit of an environmentalist, Jones said.

"He didn't want them to straighten out the river. Grandpa fought that. he knew the affects on the wildlife," Jones said about the project to straighten the Kankakee River to what people know it today.

The Kankakee River was straightened in 1917 and 1918.

Ahlgrim died in 1936 at age 77. Ida died in 1945.

"When grandpa died, no one took care of it," Jones said of the resort.

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