It is generally agreed that the Town of St. John had its beginning when John Hack, a German immigrant farmer and his family arrived in 1837, in the area then known as Western prairie or Prairie West. To fully appreciate that this man and his family came to a wilderness area to start a new life, one must go back a few years prior to this date. The Indiana Territory was organized in 1800 and was admitted to the Union as a state in December of 1816. At that time, the entire Northwestern part of the state was a true American Wilderness, and the area that was to be Lake County was a part of this vast wilderness. It was in 1832, after the peace treaty with the Indians, when the United States purchased this northwestern part of Indiana from the Indians. The first government surveyors arrived in 1834 to survey the area into sections and townships. The population at that time was mostly Indians, although the majority of them were located on the banks of the Kankakee River and the Calumet River. A handful of settlers had cone into the area that is now Crown Point, and a few others had settled at the mouth of the Calumet River in the Brunswick area. In the area of St. John and St. John Township there were no settlers, only a few roving Indians.
It was to this beautiful, lonely wilderness that John Hack, a newcomer to this country, and his family came, just five years after the Indian peace treaty, and here he built his home in the new land. One likes to speculate why Hack and others, who followed him from Germany, chose this area to settle. The logical conclusion is that after The area was surveyed, the government opened it up to settlers at a very low cost. Hack, and those who followed, were farmers and owned no land in Germany. They worked for the large landowners in their Fatherland. They didn’t earn much, nor did they spend much, so they were able to save much of the meager pay they received. Over here was the opportunity to own their own land and build their own homes, beholden to no one other than their ability to sacrifice and make it on their own. They were a hardy group of people.
Solid facts and details about pioneer life in St. John seem to be somewhat difficult to come by. The hard working early settlers, attempting to make a life for themselves in a new and different land, had scant time or inclination to set down their thoughts, feelings and experiences for the benefit of posterity. Thus the historian must gain what glimpses of that life that he can from surviving materials. The paucity of materials, however, has created a situation where most local history books relating the growth and development of Lake County and its community’s shed little light on St. John’s past.
Reputedly a man of far-sighted vision and considerable leadership ability, Hack welcomed other immigrants from his native land who settled nearby shortly after his arrival and foresaw the establishment of a flourishing and prosperous community here. Tall, dignified and patriarchal in manner, Hack was born in 1787 in a Rhine province that some time before has passed from French to Prussian control. Upon his arrival locally, accompanied by his wife, Hannah, and a large family, he immediately settled on a forty acre piece of land located approximately one half mile east of present Route 41 and south of Joliet Street. The land was purchased from the Department of the Interior, and the deed, which still exists, bore the signature of President John Tyler. John Hack’s name was carried on the deed as “John Hawk”, a misspelling that was later corrected when he made his second land purchase in 1844. This second purchase was bounded roughly by 93rd Street, Olcott Avenue, Forrest Street and U.S. Route 41. In 1842, Hack constructed a peach brandy distillery. It had to be, if not the first, one of the earliest businesses established in the community.
On March 21,1843, John Hack deeded a portion of his original homestead to the Bishop of Vincennes. This deed consisted of the land that the original church was built on and the family cemetery with the church. On October 3, 1868, however, the Bishop of Fort Wayne deeded 2 acre parcel back to the heirs of John Hack to be used exclusively by them as a family burial site. The Hack Cemetery was added to the State Registry for Historic Cemeteries in 2007. It can be seen when you drive east on Joliet Street, on the south side of the street after you cross the first set of railroad tracks.