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Pieces of Hammond history return home

Hammond Village President Tony Bibeau, Dede Thayer DeGrote and Village Trustee Mark Benton visited together when DeGrote came to see her family heirlooms in their new home in the Hammond Village Hall the weekend after Thanksgiving. (Submitted photo)

The Village of Hammond has a rich history stretching back to the 1850s. Thanks to Dede Thayer DeGrote, the great-great granddaughter of John Thayer, the first man to build in Hammond, pieces of that rich history are available for viewing in the Hammond Village Hall.

DeGrote, a colorful storyteller 80 years young, came to Hammond from her home in Coon Rapids, Minn., the weekend after Thanksgiving to visit with locals about the historical items she donated to the village and to see them at home in the display cases that grace the hall’s entrance.

The two display cases were installed last spring and are filled with treasures from DeGrote’s father’s family -- the Thayers. Items on display include the Thayer family Bible, Civil War books, photos of the family, correspondence from the U.S. Army and other things her dad gave her.

DeGrote said giving the artifacts to the village was an easy decision. According to correspondence by her great-grandfather Andrew she found in her research, he loved the Village of Hammond. Because he did, so does she, although she has never lived in the village.

“To me, Hammond is the perfect, peaceful hamlet,” DeGrote said. “I was really thrilled to see everything displayed. I imagine it’s as friendly a place now as it was when Andrew lived here.”

Thayer also chose to donate the items because she has no family interested in keeping them.

DeGrote feels a strong connection to her great-grandfather Andrew, who was with his father John when they settled in Hammond around 1860. In fact, she feels like he was guiding her in her research and finds the thought of his presence with her comforting.

“In researching Andrew, I kind of found myself,” DeGrote said.

The Thayers

John Thayer and his 18-year-old son Andrew came to Hammond around 1860 after hearing about the village from a pastor uncle in Hudson. The Thayers wanted a new beginning after John’s wife died and moved from Ohio by horse-drawn wagon, DeGrote said.

“Can you imagine coming all that way by horse and wagon?” DeGrote said.

DeGrote said John built a general store/post office where the Hammond Hotel stands now. Two houses with front porches he built also still stand in the village across the street from the hotel near the water tower, DeGrote said. She said one belonged to John, the other to Andrew and his wife Kate.

She has photos of the houses she found through her research, and the houses she’s speaking of match the photos.

DeGrote said it took her many years to complete her research. Reading her great-grandfather’s genealogy “whetted her appetite” to find out more.

Dede Thayer Degrote

Degrote was born May 31, 1933, to Andrew Everard Thayer and Palma Wicklander Thayer. They lived in Kadiyohi, Minn. She has one older brother, George.

Her parents divorced twice by the time she was 5, DeGrote said. She lived with her mother near Willmar, Minn., after the divorces. She didn’t see her father much, she said.

DeGrote met her future husband, Dale DeGrote, while he was on leave from the Navy. She and a girlfriend were walking downtown Willmar to buy some popcorn when Dale and some of his buddies recklessly drove by. She said she scolded him for his driving and he heard her and turned around. They ended up striking up a friendship and married in 1954. They had two daughters and one son.

“It didn’t take long for love to bloom,” DeGrote said.

They farmed for five years, then moved to the Twin Cities area when Dale got a job at the then Anoka State Hospital. While her husband was attending night classes, DeGrote spent time in a library near his school researching her family after seeing a writeup in the Minneapolis Tribune about Sylvanus Thayer, the “Father of West Point.” Sylvanus Thayer was an early superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy there.

She wrote to West Point and was pleasantly surprised when they provided her with information about her ancestor. Her research grew from there, thanks to her father and other Thayer relatives. She eventually found family ties to the Hammond Thayers, Sylvanus Thayer, and Presidents John and John Quincy Adams.

She and Dale spent a lot of time travelling around the United States, especially in the Northeast, researching family gravesites, homes and business sites.

She learned her great-grandfather Andrew volunteered for the U.S. Army in 1862.

During a visit to Hammond in the 1970s, DeGrote located many of her ancestors’ graves in the cemetery, including a memorial to her great-great-grandmother who died in Ohio.

“An older gentleman was there riding a lawnmower and told us it was nice to see someone enjoying the cemetery instead of crying,” DeGrote said. “When we told him the names we were looking for, he surprised us by pulling the headstones of Andrew and his daughter Bertie out of a shed.”

Apparently, the stones had been replaced in 1901, but no one knew what to do with the old ones. But DeGrote knew. They needed to go home with her.

Visiting Hammond

Though she doesn’t trust herself to drive alone anymore, DeGrote was thrilled when Village President Tony Bibeau picked her up in Coon Rapids and brought her to Hammond.

DeGrote was able to see her artifacts in their new home, plus see the cemetery, Thayer Street (named after her ancestors), the Hammond Hotel and the two houses built by the Thayers.

Her husband Dale passed away in 2010. Thayer enjoys writing and watching the squirrels and birds in her large yard.

“My life is good,” DeGrote said. “I walk with God. And I’m at peace now because Andrew’s legacy will go on.”

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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