KVHS board member Bob Riggs brought to my attention that this is the 150th anniversary of Baum's Bridge. Baum's Bridge has been known by many names: Indian Crossing, Potawatomi Ford, Sherwood Ferry, Eaton's Ferry, and Sawyer's Bridge are several.
Baum's Bridge was an important crossing place because it was a relatively narrow point along the Kankakee River. The Allen Trace crossed the Kankakee Marsh at present day Baum's Bridge following the old Pottawatomi trail from Lafayette to Lake Michigan. The first documented resident and ferry operator at Baum's Bridge is Jeremiah Sherwood in 1834. Posted at the Sherwood ferry were the following prices: footman, 6 ¼¢; man and horse, 12 ½¢; horse and Dearborn wagon, 15¢; any higher number animals to wagon, 50¢; hog, 3¢; sheep, 3¢. When the water was high and the ferry had to run farther, three times the rate was charged. So remote was Baum's Bridge that in 1835 Mrs. Sherwood remarked to Mrs. William Trinkle that she was the only white woman that she had see for two years. In 1836 Sherwood sold his interest to George Eaton. In 1847 a mail route was established between Rensselaer and Michigan City, Eaton was awarded the ferry contract. In 1849 Eaton constructed a toll bridge that was destroyed the following year. It was rumored the fire had been deliberately set, possibly by someone resentful of the fact that it was a toll bridge. In 1857 Mr. Sawyer became the new owner and built a new bridge that was quickly destroyed by driftwood. Sawyer resumed the use of the ferry. A sawmill was later established at the ferry site. In 1860 Sawyer sold all of his holdings to Enos Baum. Baum ran the mill and ferry until he built a more stable bridge in 1863. At the close of the Civil War Porter and Jasper Counties took over the maintenance of the bridge eliminating the toll charges. The little community from this time forward has been known by its present name, Baum’s Bridge.
By the 1880s the hunt clubs and local residents' homes had sprung up near the bridge. I consider this period the heyday of Baum's Bridge, which lasted until the 1920s. Today there is little evidence of all that once was at Baum's Bridge. Some may question why Baum's Bridge has captured my interest. Baum's Bridge not only has had an exceptionally interesting history, but more importantly it is an excellent example of the birth and life of a typical river town. Baum's Bridge was a funnel point along the Kankakee Marsh and consequently a very active spot.
The Kankakee Valley Historical Society celebrates the history of the Kankakee River through our Aukiki River Festival. The 2013 festival dates are Aug. 24 and 25. Our celebration is unique because we demonstrate, through reenactors and musicians, the entire historical timeline of the Kankakee River. Encampments represent Native-American, French, British, fur trapper, Civil War, sportsman and the 1930s
If you would like to be involved with the Kankakee Valley Historical Society's building restorations, Kankakee River research projects or the Aukiki River Festival contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 766-2302.
John P. Hodson is founder, president of Kankakee Valley Historical Society, Inc. Visit www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org. This column solely represents the writer's opinion.