In my last column I wrote about the apparent lack of action to avert the draining of the Kankakee Marsh in 1918. Today I will discuss restoration efforts proposed after the Kankakee was ditched.
In the Congressional Report I referred to in my last column, and other material, it seems to me that most of the vocal supporters of the draining of the marsh were landowners and farmers. I found that even the former owner of my property, W. P. Betterton, sent in a letter of endorsement for the draining of the marsh. I think the average farmer saw that the marsh was extremely rich and if the flooding could be controlled — the ground would produce high-yield crops. What was not considered was that the rich muck top soil was only present because of the marsh system of flooding and compost creating organic matter.
This process is very much like what occurs in the Egyptian Nile Valley. The annual flooding and silt replenishment is what created the bountiful harvest that was essential for the rise of the Egyptian Empire. The ancients knew that without the flood, famine would soon follow.
Although making the Kankakee River navigational was the initial reason for channelizing the river, I don't believe it was seriously considered later. After railroads were built in Northwest Indiana around the time of the Civil War, I don't see that a canal was the foundation for a reliable transportation system in this area. That being said, I do find that in 1894 there was a plan to dig a canal from Baum's Bridge to Lake Michigan.
So, when did people begin to realize the damage from draining the marsh, and when did local begin thinking of plans to mitigate the problem?
The first newspaper article I find that initiates a proposal to restore the Kankakee River is in the July 7, 1921, issue of the Westville Indicator. The story begins with "Farmers of Pleasant and Boone townships, Porter County, started a movement for the restoration of the Kankakee river to its old location." Baum's Bridge is in Pleasant Township and Hebron is in Boone Township. It goes on to say: "The muck land which was thought to be invaluable for growing crops is underlined with sand. The taking away of the waters has practically converted the river area into a desert and the land that was drained is practically worthless."
What I find shocking is that this article is written only three years after the draining of the Kankakee marsh.
My next column will be about Kankakee River restoration advocate, Professor Alfred H. Meyer.
John P. Hodson is founder and president of Kankakee Valley Historical Society, Inc. Visit www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org. This column solely represents the writer's opinion.