Kankakee existed as a whistle-stop (but Rolling Prairie won the name game)

Plat map provided

By Fern Eddy Schultz, La Porte County Historian

Early in the history of La Porte County, there were those attempting to promote the name of Kankakee for the village of Rolling Prairie. In fact, it was reported that one individual persisted in calling the village Kankakee until 1858, when he finally accepted the name of Rolling Prairie.

La Porte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz

There was, in fact, a location named Kankakee in the county, although it was not widely publicized so its history has not been a well-known fact. There was a railroad whistle-stop in what is Johnson Township (Section 4, Township 35 North, Range 1 West) called Kankakee (see plat map insert). It was a railroad stop located on State Road 104, serviced by the Lake Erie & Western (LE&W) line. This line had a local nickname of “Leave Early & Walk,” as it had the reputation of traveling quite slow.  Records show this line was later taken over by the Nickel Plate.

Residents of the area could board the train at Kankakee to travel to La Porte. One area property owner offered some historical information about the location as his family had used its services when he was a child. He recalled that in later years, there was a house standing that was originally utilized as an inn. He also noted that trains usually stopped for the inns that were located about three or four miles apart along the way. Walkerton was one stop, and there was another such site near Stillwell.

The Kankakee “flag stop” had a shelter where potential riders could get in out of the rain or other inclement weather. It also had a scale and a cattle-loading structure. It was reported that the stop was about one-quarter of a mile from the point where the railroad crossed the Kankakee River. The map insert shown here from a La Porte County plat book better designates this location. It was practically at the junction of the railroad, State Road 104 and County Road 700 South. The county road was closed when the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant (KOP) came into existence.

Another resident of the area recalled that Kankakee consisted of a water tank, stop signal for passengers and a house where the tank tender resided. A barn was located on the north side of the track, where “tons and tons” of marsh hay were loaded in bales and shipped out. This was a convenience for the farmers in the area during that time in our history.

One of the first settlers in Johnson Township was Maj. John M. Lemon. His activities in La Porte County were discussed in an article published in March 2018. You may recall, he was responsible for Lemon’s Bridge over the Kankakee River, which he built in about 1846.  He kept it as a toll bridge for a number of years.

The first schoolhouse in the township was built on Section 16 (known as the School Section) about a mile and a half south of the river, and a church was erected in 1874 on what is called the “Island.”

According to information in Packard’s history of Johnson Township (1876), it embraces only half of Congressional Township 35, the other half being in St. Joseph County. It lies almost wholly on the south side of the Kankakee River. Only two whole sections and three parts of sections are on the north side of the river. Much of the land is marsh. According to Packard, the marsh land would eventually be the best, and brought under cultivation would have no superior for the production of corn and grass.

FERN EDDY SCHULTZ is official Historian of La Porte County.

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