Last weekend, I was able to drive to Yankton to attend an open house at the Mead Building. It was an incredible visit. The Yankton County Historical Society has taken on the rehabilitation of the grand building for their Dakota Territorial Museum. After years of neglect, the building had many needs and the YCHS has worked systematically to address them all. They’ve completed the roof project and have started working on the windows and historic plaster repair projects. And their fundraising efforts are commendable, ranging from selling old roof nails as souvenirs to offering naming rights for the different museum galleries. They’ve also partnered with the Yankton College alumni organization, which will occupy part of the third floor. I’ll share below a bit of history on the building and more photos from my visit. Keep up with their progress on their website and Facebook, and help support the project at these links!
The Mead Building was completed in 1909 as the Women’s Hospital for the Dakota State Hospital for the Insane (later Yankton State Hospital). It was named for Dr. Leonard C. Mead who was superintendent of the state hospital from 1890-1899 and 1901-1920, and who also designed the building. Stone mason, August Fanslow, worked at the state hospital for 36 years and worked on the incredible marble staircase in the Mead Building. Dr. Mead believed that beautiful surroundings would help patients’ rehabilitation. During his tenure, many other grand stone buildings were constructed, formal gardens were established on the landscaped grounds, and outdoor recreational facilities were added. Sioux quartzite building stone was brought in from quarries around Sioux Falls and concrete was purchased from the Western Portland Cement Company in Yankton.
The next superintendent, Dr. George Sheldon Adams, started an art collection for display in hospital buildings and put increased focus on improving medical care practices. The state hospital also had a working farm with multiple barns and greenhouse that made it almost self-sufficient. Leo Kanner, who was influential in developing our contemporary understanding of autism, worked at the state hospital in Yankton when he first arrived in the United States in 1924. Even with the progressive-minded built environment of the campus, he was frustrated with the dehumanizing nature of psychiatric treatment being practiced at the time in institutional asylums. Later renamed the Human Services Center, the HSC continues to provide psychiatric care and chemical dependency treatment using modern methods. The state built a new facility in 1992-1994, and unfortunately demolished several of the historic buildings in 2014.
Roy Richard Grinker, Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism (Philadelphia: Basic Books, 2007), 40-43.
Kathy K. Grow and Lois Varvel, Yankton, South Dakota in Vintage Postcards (Charleston, SC: Acadia Publishing, 2004), 69-76.
Department of Social Services: HSC History. http://dss.sd.gov/behavioralhealth/hsc/history.aspx
First, the beautiful porch…
Thanks to Crystal Nelson and Ben Brunick for taking the time to share their work! They also graciously posed for me with one of the new storm windows prepared for the massive first-floor parlor windows. Brunick, with Chalkstone Woodworking, is directing efforts to repair historic windows and create storm windows for the hundreds around the building. He’s set up a shop in multiple rooms in the building and is doing impressive and creative custom work. He built a large steam box to steam old paint and glazing from the historic windows in preparation for repairs.
These photos show the work recently completed in the main lobby room to repair historic plaster and recreate historic stencil designs. A large system of temporary scaffolding was put up in the main lobby to provide extended access to the tall ceiling. Sections of dentil molding had rotted and were replaced. Between the right half of the photo and the left, it’s obvious the replacement sections were a close match. Plaster craftsman, Roger Huntley, who also worked on the restoration of the State Capitol building in Pierre, has created custom profiles for tooling the cornice molding. Through the process, he’s trained a few volunteers and has taught a workshop series.
The YCHS has dedicated a lot of effort into raising awareness, building engagement, and raising funds. These photos are just a few examples of the ways they did that at the open house. They had a ton of volunteers on hand to greet visitors and talk about the project – nothing beats the power of people! They also had a table with history booklets, ornaments, and roof nails for sale. In multiple spaces they had materials on display about the plans for the building, design sketches of the new spaces, floor plans, and the status of fundraising goals for different pieces of the project. Pink signs were posted all around to identify where work was happening and what visitors should notice about the work. Other signs identified opportunities for purchasing naming rights for different spaces in the future museum.
These photos show the new storm windows in place in one wing of the building and a close-up of the fascinating concrete blocks made of Sioux quartzite and granite stone pieces.