Family Ties: Girls Trip to the Black Hills

I didn’t grow up in South Dakota, but was visiting family recently and had an unanticipated run-in with South Dakota history.  We were sitting around their kitchen table and I was listening to stories of all the old photos–every visit I see some of the same photos but there also seems to be something new.

One of my grandparents (well, a step-grandparent) shared a small album that their mother had put together after visiting South Dakota’s Black Hills with her friends in the early 1930s.  It was right at the start of the period when the highways to and within the Black Hills, as well as tourist facilities, were being improved and the ‘common folk’ could better access the area for vacation.  Needles Highway had been built in the 1920s, but Mount Rushmore would have still been in progress during their trip.  The cell phone photos I quickly grabbed of the unlabeled album aren’t great, but it made such an impact that I thought I’d share them anyway.  It’s amazing the feeling you get when you find a personal connection to interesting history.

Professionally, I think it’s fascinating that this young woman from a farm in Minnesota first, went on a vacation out to the Black Hills, but second, that she went with four female friends.  I would have guessed it to be unusual for five young women to travel that far alone in the 1930s, but maybe I need to check my preconceptions.  I wonder if they were school friends, or related?  Also: why they went, how long they were there, where they stayed, how they made travel arrangements, whether they had car trouble, what camera they had brought…

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A Quirky Place with a View: Rapid City’s Dinosaur Park

I’m working on a couple different posts that are taking a lot of research, so in the meantime, here is a bit of levity.  I recently got to visit Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, built in 1936 by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration.  It was funny how quickly I anthropomorphized the concrete sculptures.  They’re just fun, and the view over the city from Skyline Drive is fantastic.  I’m so glad the National Register of Historic Places-listed site has been preserved by the city and its residents.  Learn more about the project from the “Dinosaur Park” page on the Living New Deal website.

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Bentonite in South Dakota

The other day, there were some temporary repairs done to my workplace with Bentogrout.  Curious about what that was, I asked around and did some research.  It’s made of Bentonite, a clay-like mineral that expands with water, so the grout is typically injected into the ground along the exterior foundation wall so it will expand into and seal hairline cracks in the foundation.  It also has a South Dakota history…

Bentonite was first identified by Americans stationed at Fort Benton, Montana, a fur-trading post on the  Upper Missouri River, where traders used it for packing cracks in horse hoofs and for washing themselves.  They called the source sites “soap holes,” where rainwater hit surface deposits of bentonite [Davis and Vacher, 1].  There were reports of Hudson Bay traders using it for washing in Canada before 1873 as well [Davis and Vacher, 1].  It was officially named in the late-nineteenth century by Wyoming state geologist, Wilbur C. Knight, who had initially called in taylorite until realizing it was a duplicate [WSGS Summary Report, 1].  The first commercial shipment of the mineral was made in 1888 by Wyoming quarry owner William Taylor [WSGS Summary Report, 1; Davis and Vacher, 2].  Production continued, but there were jumps in the 1920s and the 1940s as available processing plants and market demand caused growth in the industry.

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Women in Business in Faulkton, 1909

A while back I did a series of posts on the women included in the 1909 business directory for the city of Sioux Falls.  I came across a website with a 1909 list of businesses and their owners for the much smaller city of Faulkton (link here) and thought I’d try the same research experiment with the women listed there.  The directory was transcribed by K. Torp from a 1909 published county history by C.H. Ellis.  There were several that were hard to find, perhaps they were transient, or married and their marriage record didn’t come up, for whatever reason, on Ancestry.com.  Several of the women worked with/for their husbands or fathers, or took over the management of a business after their husband’s death.  Then, there was Abbie Jarvis who was known for delivering babies, which was a branch of medicine that I would assume was more accessible for women at the time, but she also was so driven to become a qualified doctor that she went to another city, with her two youngest children, in order to pursue that education.  She was the first woman licensed to be a doctor and pharmacist in the state,  and proceeded to have a long and respected career.

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Digital Research Tools 3

For this West River edition of “Digital Research Tools,” I’ve included collections in Hot Springs, Spearfish, and Deadwood.  Thank you to the librarians, archivists, grant-writers, donors, and supporters who are helping to make these collections available.  Back in the day, I did a couple student gigs as an archive intern, scanning material and entering metadata for each and every record.  It takes an incredible amount of time and organizational energy to turn tactile records into digital ones and put them out there for the public in an accessible way–particularly for a local public library, for which archive digitization would seem to be outside their typical wheelhouse.  Thank you working to bring new life to our past!

Helen Magee Collection, Hot Springs Public Library: The library in Hot Springs is the repository of the exhaustive collection of local historian Helen Magee, who meticulously recorded years and years of obituaries, mortuary records, birth announcements, “on this day…” news articles, event flyers, and more.  The collection is digitized and searchable to an extent–handwritten material doesn’t come up in the searches, some was later typed out but some wasn’t.  Magee’s information was arranged at some point into binders by subject matter, so if you’re curious, go through to the subject of interest and browse to your hearts content.  The library also has the hard-copies in their Heritage Room if you plan a research trip there.

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Hot Springs, January 2017, photograph from South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office.

Leland D. Case Library, Black Hills State University, Spearfish:  This link takes you to a list of the collections held at the Case Library at BHSU in Spearfish.  The descriptions of each collection have links then to finding aids or search options if that collection has digitally-viewable material.  It looks like… they have digitized material from the Black Hills National Forest Historical Collection, the Troy L. and Watson Parker Collection (Black Hills ephemera and research notebooks on ghost towns), the Father Szalay collection (heavy on maps), the Wharf Resources, Inc. collection on the Bald Mountain Mining Company, and several collections of research materials from historians and authors.

Deadwood History: This link will take to a page about research options with Deadwood History.  There’s a link to their digital collection, and a link to their finding aids if you want to look deeper into their available collections.  If you go to their digital collections, there’s a Random Images link at the top that’s a fun way to get a glimpse at the wide variety of things they have.

South Dakota Architects – Berg, Bjodstrup, and The Black Hills Co.

This post is the third in a series on architects (and some builders) who were residents of South Dakota in order to dig a bit into their lives and work.  Some made a bigger impact and/or left a better historical record than others, but we miss something if we only study the biggest names.  There are a handful that were only mentioned once and I can’t find anything else about them – maybe I’ll include them in a list at the end…  I’ll do my best to restrict these profiles to architects who are now deceased.  If any readers have additional information or corrections, please leave a note in the comments! Continue reading

Public Art in South Dakota

“Dignity,” by Dale Lamphere, photograph by author, 2016.

The new 50-foot “Dignity” sculpture, by sculptor Dale Lamphere and chief welder Tom Trople, installed at a point above the highway at Chamberlain has me thinking about South Dakota’s public art and the history thereof.  So here’s some that I can think of… suggestions and additions are very welcome!


Mount Rushmore National Memorial: Most assuredly the best known work of public art in South Dakota.  The memorial was designed by Gutzon Borglum and built from 1927-1941.  The original idea for a memorial was actually from Doane Robinson, state historian, who proposed carving historical figures of the American West into the Continue reading