Momence is the oldest town in Northeastern Illinois. When fur trader Gurdon Saltenstall Hubbard first ventured into the region to establish trading posts, most of the state was still wilderness - prairie, woodland, and marsh. The Momence area was home to the Native American Potawatomi, and after first being known as "Lower Crossing" it was named after a local Potawatomi, Isadore Moness.
Hubbard established a trail to transport furs between Fort Dearborn (now known as "Chicago") and Vincennes, Indiana. This trail was later used by the pioneers coming in from Canada and the East, who established the settlement of Momence on the banks of the upper crossing of the Kankakee River. Parts of Hubbard's Trace are now the Dixie Highway which bisects downtown Momence.
Early settlers referred to Momence as a "Border Town", since at that time it was uniquely positioned between 1800s civilization and the American Frontier. Treaties were struck with the Pottawatomi and the rich land was cleared for farming; and eventually the town was moved downstream one mile to its present location. Momence was first formally established in 1834 and then platted by Dr. Hiram Todd in 1846.
Much of the original 19th century business district of Momence, surrounded by its genteel Victorian neighborhoods and gardens, is still intact and the historic downtown is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Momence gardens are celebrated during the annual Gladiolus Festival, which has been held continuously since 1938.
The community is unique, possessing characteristics of both a rural town and those of a cosmopolitan city. The people of Momence come from diverse ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds; and they reflect considerable civic pride in their volunteer and social organizations. The architecture in Momence runs the gamut from Victorian mansions to Sears catalog houses and from Tiffany brick to modern ranch styles.
Momence is a compact, walkable/bikeable community which has avoided the urban sprawl in which automobiles dominate humans. It's normal for Momence citizens to bike or walk to school, church, downtown, the library, and the parks.
Island Park is Momence's jewel: a thirty-acre island in the Kankakee River right in the middle of town, which is an oasis for hiking, biking, fishing, and picnicking; as well as a venue for concerts and dramatic performances. In Island Park ducks parade around looking for visitors who might share a morsel, red headed woodpeckers flit from one tree to another and ancient walnut and oak trees tower high overhead to shelter all who pass beneath.
The Kankakee River is our lifeline, and is the reason why the pioneers settled here. It meanders through the city and attracts bountiful wildlife: eagles soar over its waters; beavers scurry up and down its banks; and turtles bask sleepily in the summer sun at its edge.
Illustration of Momence - 1870
Credit: Kankakee County Museum