Welcome to Brook!
Brook, with a little over 1,000 residents, is a small town but the local community is rich with opportunity, history, and warm greetings. Brook is located in Northwest Indiana one of 5 incorporated towns in rural Newton County, it is a few miles North of the Iroquois River (a tributary of the Wabash River). The town is 70 miles south of Chicago and 50 miles North of Lafayette and Purdue University. Brook is rural, but its isolation is a peaceful retreat for many local residents and visitors.
The area consists of great fishing, hunting, and recreational activities. The South Newton School corporation provides a more personal education to its elementary, middle and high school students. Area churches offer a wide variety of religious services and community activities. Community groups such as the Historical Society, Brook Community Club, the Rotary, Brook Conservation Club, Community Band and many other groups and organizations present several programs and events throughout the year which enrich and educate the community. The cost of living index for Brook is approximately 75 compared to the U.S. average of 100. The costs of living in Brook, Indiana are low but the benefits of this small town community are extremely high.
A History of Brook and Northwest Indiana
"Now there were two creeks of about the same size two or three miles south of the settlement (that) would help with the selection of the name. I have no desire to excite the minds of people of Brook and have them make pilgrimages to see those two dirty little creeks, but if you look closely at them you can see the origin of the name of the town of Brook." --Aaron Lyons 1901, from And They Named Her Brook
The words of Aaron Lyons, the first white child to be born in Newton County, describe the small town of Brook, Indiana still, over 100 years after Lyons was first asked to describe the origins of the town and her name. If you look closely, you can see the town's ancestors and how those people shaped Brook and the Newton County into what it is today.
The First Settlers, Native Americans
The first pioneers of Newton County, Native Americans, resided in the area for thousands of years. In the years before and after 1816 (when Indiana became a state) several Native American tribes travelled in and out of the territory that would become Newton County. These tribes included, Miami, Wea, Kickapoo and the Potawatomi. However, the Kickapoo and the Potawatomi were the most prevalent tribes during the 1800s. According to the records of Joseph E. Hiestand, a Newton County historian, most Native American village sites and artifacts can be found along the Iroquois River. The river was a valuable resource to the tribes, also many other sites located in the county have been destroyed by years of cultivation.
In 1822, the land around Brook was ceded to the U.S. government by the Potawatomi tribe. Despite the transition of land ownership, many members of the tribe remained in the area that was still considered wilderness. Hostilities between settlers and Native Americans' and between different Native American tribes were not uncommon.
According to Aaron Lyons, around 500 Kickapoo established a settlement along the Iroquois River in the 1830s. The Kickapoo left their villages in Eastern Illinois because of hostilities with another tribe. The Kickapoo were a friendly tribe, however and Lyons said, as a child, he played with the boys while their fathers hunted and fished along the river. By 1838, only a small population of approximately 700 Potawatomi lived in the area but were forced westward during the "Trail of Tears."
First Post Office in early Newton County
The Iroquois River was an important resource, which is perhaps why the area around Brook was one of the first to take on the appearance of a town. In 1837 the state recognized the settlement's importance and the first post office was established in the developing territory. It was also during this time that prominent local citizens began forming their own government.
The first courthouse of the original Benton-Jasper-Newton County was located two miles South of Brook and one-forth miles East. It served the first settlers of the area from 1839 to 1840. The building was little more than a hewed log structure with a clapboard shingle roof. The courthouse was owned by G.W. Spitler, who also lived in the log house. Spitler took on four positions at the same time in this early government; he served as county clerk, auditor, recorder and treasurer. Other prominent citizens involved in this early government were; John Lyons, James Lacy, Isaac Blue, Jacob Kenoyer, Samuel Thomas, John Montgomery, William Mallat, Louis Elijah, John Myers, Frederick Kenoyer, Morris Lyons, Andrew Hess and Samuel Benjamin.
Development of Iroquois Township & Newton County
Prior to 1834, the northern part of the state was unorganized territory. In the late 1830s and early 1840s other counties in the area, Porter, Lake, Benton and Jasper, were organized. Newton was little more than a western region of Jasper for almost 20 years. But in 1857, powerful landowners in the northern part of the county attempted to create a new county out of the northern portions of the current Jasper-Newton County. Citizens in the western portion of the county realized that if this plan developed, the western portion would never be able to form its own county, because of size limitations. Western Jasper County citizens came together and circulated a petition to the commissioners of Jasper County, asking them to set off a new county to on the West, to be known as Beaver. A motion by Thomas Barker, moved to name the new county Newton, after the Revolutionary War hero, Sergeant John Newton.
In 1860, Newton County was official, it was the last county to be created in the state of Indiana. Also, on April 21, 1860, Iroquois, one of the five original townships, was organized into the new Newton County. Despite the importance of the Iroquois River to early settlers, the first post office in the area being located near Brook and the first courthouse located near Brook, the town was not platted and organized until 1866 by S.H. Benjamin. During the later half of the 19th Century Brook experienced tremendous growth. Finally, in 1888 the Chicago and Indiana Coal Road built a branch line through Brook. The line started four miles North of Goodland and ran northwest to Morocco and Momence, Illinois.
Schools in Brook and Newton County
One of the first schools in Brook was located on the North corner of Highway and Main Streets, where McKinley Park is located. It served the town from the early 1880's into the 1900s. Because of the railroad, the town continued to grow and a larger, newer building was needed.
In 1904 the Brook School, a two story brick structure, was completed. Elementary classes were held on the first floor and high school classes were held on the second. The school was without a gymnasium until 1936, when the addition was completed. In the 1970s, the high schools of Brook, Goodland and Kentland were consolidated into South Newton High School (located 6 miles southwest of Brook).
The Brook elementary school remained until 1996 when South Newton Elementary School was completed. The school was torn down but the gymnasium addition still remains and serves as the Community Center.
Factories and Businesses in Brook
The railroad allowed for the growth of several different businesses in the town. Some of the once prominent businesses are listed below.
Hess Witch Hazel Cream Company 1888 Elmer E. Hess- manufactured lotion for red, chapped hands. Most likely the most successful business to develop in Brook Indiana. The following advertisement appeared in 1933 edition of Good House-keeping Magazine.
Brook Terra Cotta & Brick Co. 1902 J. H. Haynes, W. Shearer, E. Hess, J.B. Lyons, H. H. Light- Manufacture of farm tile, bricks and building tile
Overall Factory 1907 Lewin & Son - Clothing Manufacturer.
Brook Novelty Company 1912 Rosenbrook & Dewey - Manufactured wooden household articles.
The Brook Canning Factory 1895 W.E. Harry - Vegetable canning.
The railroad that provided Brook with transportation and business slowly declined with the popularity of the automobile. In 1921, the Chicago and Eastern Illinois railroad company (C.& E.I.) stopped providing passenger services on the Brook route. Freights continued to pass through the town until 1944 when all train service to Brook ceased.
Lake Kenoyer & Iroquois Conservation Club
The current Lake Kenoyer was, at one time, only regarded as a small ice pond. When modern refrigeration techniques were developed, the land was purchased by Earnest Kenoyer for cattle grazing. The land was also used as a shooting range by the Brook Gun Club.
In 1944, the railroad ceased passing through Brook and the ties were purchased for the construction of a log cabin for the club (this cabin was torn down and replaced). In the 1960's the land was purchased from Kenoyer by the Iroquois Conservation Gun Club (once the Brook Gun Club). The pond was dredged in the 1970's. The former conservation club was torn down and a newer modern building was constructed.
Lake Kenoyer hosts a fish rodeo every summer and is a common fishing hole for locals. The Iroquois Conservation Club also serves breakfast to the public on Sundays for a donation.
George Ade was, at one time, one of the most famous writers in the country, and Newton County was and still is proud to call him one of their own. Born in neighboring Kentland, Indiana on February 9, 1866, he graduated from Purdue University in 1887. In the years after graduation, Ade became a journalist for several different newspapers.
He eventually built his fortune on a string of successful plays, books and newspaper publications in the early 1900's. Ade had a sharp, satirical humor which was often focussed on the events of the day. He began his career as a newspaper writer but soon moved on to other endeavors. At one time Ade had three plays on Broadway simultaneously. His most successful and probably best known productions were The College Widow and The County Chairman. His writing is usually compared to Mark Twain's because both authors possess elements of humor, rustic charm, and small town morals. Ade was referred to as "The Aesop of Indiana."
In 1904, Ade built an English Tudor estate near the banks of the Iroquois River, called Hazelden after his maternal English grandparents. The grounds boasted a golf course and a large garden in the shape of Indiana (no longer present). Here, Ade hosted parties for Presidents, celebrities, and ordinary citizens.
"I am a bachelor but I prefer to live in my own home. My enthusiasms include golf, travel, horse-racing, and the spoken drama. My antipathies are social show-offs, bigots on religion, fanatics on total abstinence, and all persons who take themselves seriously. I love to put on big parties or celebrations and see a throng of people having a good time." -- George Ade on George Ade
For more on our area's rich history check out "The Newcomer" a newsletter published by the Newton County Historical Society.