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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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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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

John Robertson and Fruit-growing in the Black Hills

Since working on a project about the Gurney Seed and Nursery Company in Yankton, I’ve been digging into the history of horticulture in South Dakota as I have opportunity.  In research searches about the phenomenon of farmers’ institutes, I hit a point of cross-over in John Robertson.  Robertson had a fruit orchard nursery in Hot Springs and was one of the few prominent players in the field of horticulture in early South Dakota from the Black Hills region.  [Fred Noerenberg had another well-known orchard at Cascade Springs.]

John Stevenston Robertson (1866–1935) was born in Ohio to Scottish-immigrant parents and migrated with his family to Nebraska.  He moved to Fall River County in March 1889 and homesteaded land in the Erskine/Minnekahta area near Hot Springs in June 1892.  He planted his first apple trees in 1896 and eventually had a twenty-acre orchard that included over a hundred varieties of apples (at various times), as well as grapes, plums, pears, cherries, currants, gooseberries raspberries, strawberries, pansies, corn and small grains, and asparagus.  He experimented with different varieties and growing techniques to find what was best adapted to the climate and terrain.  He cooperated with horticulturalists across the state, particularly N.E. Hansen and his students at the Agricultural College in Brookings, to test developed varieties and share results.  He also sold some “limited” nursery stock of dependable varieties.

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Cora B. Johnson and Other Mount Rushmore Critics

Cora Babbitt Johnson was the editor of the Hot Springs Star newspaper in the 1920s and an outspoken voice of opposition against the construction of Mount Rushmore from the year it was proposed by state historian Doane Robinson in 1924.   Reading through Robinson’s papers archived at the South Dakota State Historical Society (and digitized) there were several opponents that he corresponded with to try to convince them of the value of the project.  Most were upset with the idea of interfering with nature, with spoiling a work of God, or with the commercial development of the Black Hills.

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