River Bits

Kankakee River couple's golden anniversary was a community affair

2013-03-08T00:00:00Z Kankakee River couple's golden anniversary was a community affairJohn Hodson Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
March 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Anniversaries are special celebrations that bind us as a family. While looking over my Kankakee River material for this column, I rediscovered the golden anniversary story of Rowley and Bertha (Lange) Morehouse.

Rowley was born in 1860 in Michigan. Bertha Lange was born in 1865 in Germany. They married in 1887 and lived on the Jasper County side of the Kankakee River near Baum's Bridge. The Morehouses had three children: Mary, Alley and Lee.

Rowley was a river man! While a lad in Michigan, he once said, "Two men told me of having been down on the Kankakee, rafting logs along the banks of a place called The Oxbow. I was a boy then, and afterward, in 1884, I bought Oxbow." The Oxbow was located just west of Baum's Bridge.

Rowley had mixed feelings about the straightening of the Kankakee River in 1918. There were advantages for farmers, but as a river man he thought "it was the biggest mistake ever made by the government when they reclaimed the Kankakee." After Bertha and his family, life for Rowley was hunting, trapping, timbering and farming.

The Morehouse anniversary celebration began at 8 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 29, 1937. Over 400 relatives and friends attended. After dinner all were assembled and a group picture was taken. Today open houses usually are catered or take place in a hall or restaurant. The Morehouses' anniversary was outside on their 1,000-acre farm.

This celebration was a whole day affair with an impressive schedule of events. I think what most amazes me is that all of the entertainment was performed by friends and family. Of course back then most of the area's population was either friends or family.

There was the Wiseman family mountain musicians, the Geese family musicians, Richard Lindy with his eccentric barefoot dancing, 85-year-old Mrs. Jorden told an amusing story about a visit from a gentleman widower, Miss Gladys Gilbreath executed a clever tap dance. Those were just a few of the entertainments. Rowley concluded the day's events at their farm with a song and an amusing account of his method to get Bertha's consent to marry. He also gave a demonstration of his labors 50 years earlier, using the original tools.

In the evening, the celebrants moved to the George Coyer pavilion at Baum's Bridge. The pavilion was located on the north side of Baum's Bridge and across from the Kankakee Valley Historical Society's historic Collier Lodge. The rest of the evening was spent dancing and visiting.

Bertha passed away on March 23, 1948, and Rowley joined her on Oct. 17, 1953.

I love technology, but sometimes I wonder that with texting, Skyping, internet shopping, email, etc., have we lost the personal physical contact that human beings crave and need as a society? Our Kankakee Valley Historical Society vice president, Sarah Miller, remembers the celebration as a young girl on that warm summer day 75 years ago. That's a lasting impression. 

John P. Hodson is founder, president of Kankakee Valley Historical Society, Inc. This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Visit www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org.

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