Early Historic Preservation in South Dakota: The Phillips House

Other early efforts to preserve historic properties were not successful, but raised public awareness of the potential for loss of historic community assets.  One of the grand early houses in Sioux Falls was lost in 1966.  The Phillips House was finished in 1884 on a large lot along Covell Lake owned Josiah L. and Hattie Phillips.  Josiah died in 1882, and Hattie finished the house, raised their seven children there, and became a “matron” of Sioux Falls involved in several business, social, and charitable efforts in the community.  The house grounds had landscaped gardens and orchards. Continue reading


Early Historic Preservation in South Dakota: The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society

Historic Preservation has a history of its own.  Some of the biggest national stories are relatively well-known to the profession: Mount Vernon, Colonial Williamsburg, Penn Station, Jane Jacobs in NYC… but to see the national story, you have to look at the whole nation, right?  So, I asked myself: What is South Dakota’s historic preservation history?


One of the biggest heritage tourist draws in the state got its start with local women who wanted to preserve historic homes in De Smet associated with acclaimed author Laura Ingalls Wilder…

“Aubrey Sherwood, Alice Kirchmeier and Vera McCaskell formed the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in 1957…They had no real budget or specific plan, but they loved Laura’s books and De Smet.  The Memorial Society slowly began recognizing the buildings in town referenced in the Little House books, and they also began collecting Ingalls family belongings. By 1972, as funding, involvement and community support grew, the organization had acquired the Surveryors’ House and the ‘House that Pa built’ as well as hundreds of original Ingalls artifacts.”

From: Rebecca Friendly, “Profile about Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes in De Smet, South Dakota,” littlehouseontheprairie.com.  Also has great info on visiting the site

The Memorial Society formed in 1957 and later incorporated in 1964 [Sierra, “A Brief History of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Family Home on Third Street in De Smet, South Dakota,” virtual tour, Discover Laura Blog].  The current museum complex includes the Surveyor’s House, the Ingalls House, the school that Laura and Carrie Continue reading

Early Historic Preservation in South Dakota: The Old Log Schoolhouse

Historic Preservation has a history of its own.  Some of the biggest national stories are relatively well-known to the profession: Mount Vernon, Colonial Williamsburg, Penn Station, Jane Jacobs in NYC… but to see the national story, you have to look at the whole nation, right?  So, I asked myself: What is South Dakota’s historic preservation history?


The first ‘permanent’ schoolhouse in South Dakota was built in 1864 in Vermillion by Captain Nelson A. Miner and Company A of the First Dakota Cavalry.  It also served as a meeting place for early religious services of multiple denominations, for courses in singing and penmanship, for political gatherings and elections, and for community social gatherings.   After it was gone, the earliest interest in preserving the history of the log schoolhouse was the formation of the Log School House Association by the original teachers and students in the summer of 1905.  In 1909, the Log School House Association erected a monument to the school on Ravine Hill in the approximate location of the original school.

Continue reading

Early Historic Preservation in South Dakota: Introduction

Historic Preservation has a history of its own.  Some of the biggest national stories are relatively well-known to the profession: Mount Vernon, Colonial Williamsburg, Penn Station, Jane Jacobs in NYC… but to see the national story, you have to look at the whole nation, right?  So, I asked myself: What is South Dakota’s historic preservation history?


By the 1930s, the commemoration of territorial history was a major trend for civic communities around South Dakota. The year 1936 was the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Dakota Territory and the year 1939 marked the 50th anniversary of statehood.  Newspapers in the 1930s included dozens of front-page obituaries for the passing of “aged pioneers,” and many communities initiated projects to preserve or commemorate their memories.  On August 30, 1939, the town of Vermillion held Territorial Pioneer Day, with a public program and exhibits at the Clay County Fair, in order to honor the surviving territorial residents and their history.  South Dakota was in line with national trends in this era, and historians have suggested that the “increasingly widespread concern for recovering and exhibiting vestiges of America’s supposedly ‘vanishing’ history” in the 1930s was a reaction to American modern industrialization and malaise about the pace of technological innovation; an effort to create public historical consciousness, civic identity, and social order; or an effort to create a role in the American tourist marketplace for historical restorations.  In 1935, the Historic Sites Act expanded federal protections of historic resources on private property and a substantial number of the sites preserved included those that related to the history of westward expansion.

In the 1930s, reconstruction of historic structures was a legitimate and authentic method of honoring the historic built environment.   Popular American projects in the 1930s like John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s Colonial Williamsburg, Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village in Continue reading

The Renaissance of the Homestake Opera House

In 1984, the theater of the Homestake Opera House burned.  A two-story on Main Street, but with the city of Lead’s steep topography, it’s a three story building at the alley where the theater is located.  The blaze took a long time to extinguish.  An expedient roof was put over the space, but the restoration of the damaged theater is still ongoing.  In recent years, an active schedule of plays, weddings, and other community events has brought renewed energy into seeing a renaissance for the Homestake Opera House.  The newest project is an Interpretive Center telling the history of the opera house and Lead.  They’ll soon be continuing restoration on the decorative plaster and box seats in the theater.


The street façade of the Homestake Opera House, Lead. Photograph by author, March 2016.

Continue reading

In the News

An article in CityLab on (local) historic districts and efforts in Michigan and Wisconsin state legislatures to restrict designations has made for some interesting public debate about the local designation of historic districts.

[Note: This debate is NOT about listing historic districts in the National Register of Historic Places, which doesn’t carry the same regulatory review power that local districts might]

This article in New York Magazine by Justin Davidson makes a balanced counter-argument–If you’re looking at economics or social equity, historic districts have mixed results, just like many other urban planning / real estate tools.  But, he goes on to say this, which I LOVE (In all seriousness, I’m tearing up):

“What I get from all this contradictory evidence is this: Tearing down fine old buildings doesn’t always, or even often, lead to greater equity or civic virtue. But it always leads to the obliteration of memory. Sacrificing gracious old residential districts to the unfeeling predations of the market is an act of willful amnesia….

History can’t always defend itself against momentary desires or the indifferent marketplace. That’s why we need to protect it with laws and a culture of respect. We will always have to keep debating where the proper boundaries lie between preservation and change, between cultivating the past and living in the present. But abandoning historic districts to the whims of buyers, sellers, and developers would be a form of cultural vandalism we would quickly come to regret.”

There have also been a few blog posts that take up the counter-argument with less formality than the news, and with satisfying sarcasm.  PlaceEconomics had a few of the links on their Facebook page, and I’d bet that they’ll continue to follow the discussion, so check them out.  From those links, I really liked Vince Michael’s response on his blog, Time Tells:

“This is one of those tricky issues – like gentrification – where you want to have a neat and clean reaction but you can’t.  Because it is messy.  I would like to have everyone who lives here stay here.  I would like to protect my property’s value.  I don’t want to be told what to do, but I REALLY want to tell my neighbor what to do.  Also, a pony would be nice….

The left and the right should both stop using historic districts as a whipping post.  These are tools that communities use to help determine their destiny in a more precise and individual way than is possible for most communities.  Also they save precious resources from filling landfills.  And grant a bit of beauty, grace and depth to our lives.”

In South Dakota, we don’t have many cities with local designation procedures.  Deadwood has a strong historic preservation program– most of the city is a National Historic Landmark–so new designations aren’t common and their local economy allows for several grant programs to help owners with some kinds of restoration costs.  Sioux Falls’ new zoning codes have an option for a Historic Preservation zone, but no neighborhoods have been zoned that way yet.

We do have many National Register-listed historic districts.  By state law (SDCL 1-19A-11.1), if a body of state, county, or city government is going to take an action (fund a project, issue a permit, etc.) that might “damage, destroy, or encroach upon” a National Register-listed property (individual or district), then they need to let the State Historic Preservation Office review, investigate, and comment on the project before they make a decision.  No outcomes are dictated by the legislation.  In some cities/counties with local preservation boards/commissions, those folks usually get to comment too before the city makes a decision whether or not to proceed with the action.  If you’re interested in more about this process, check out the state SHPO’s website, here.

Days 2 & 3 of DOCOMOMO-US National Symposium in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Stopping for photos on the landscapes tour-- the reflection was too perfect.

Stopping for photos on the landscapes tour– the reflection was too perfect.

Now that I’ve had time to process the conference, have returned from subsequent trips, and have (sort of) caught up at work, the following is my brief run-down of days 2 and 3 of the DOCOMOMO-US national symposium.  Minnesota has a great deal of Modern treasures and a seemingly solid group of advocates who love Modernism.  An interesting theme was the impact of the world wars on the prominence of Modernism – there were the expressionists and Bauhaus after WWI, and at Mt. Zion Temple, Christ Church Lutheran, and at St. John’s Abbey, we learned that it was the end of WWII that pushed those communities to be willing to break with tradition and create a new order for their built environment.

On the second day, some of my first-day concerns were met when we spent more time on the modern vernacular – how Modernism played out across the many scales of our built environment.  A speaker from the MN State Historic Preservation Office talked on Modern preservation in greater Minnesota (outside the Twin Cities) and the author of Mid-Century Mundane spoke about that site and a newer project he worked on for Queens Modern.  Both were successful as glimpses into other places, as preliminary documentation and advocacy, but fell short of a bigger context that could provide a foundation for identification and evaluation elsewhere.  More work to do for all of us!  Another presentation promoted the need to look at urban renewal history, and evaluate its strongest architectural legacy that is worth preserving.  There’s a strong potential for such study in Sioux Falls I think…

On to the tours and photos and lessons-learned at the end of it all!

Continue reading