Cramer-Kenyon Heritage Home, Yankton

I was recently able to visit the Cramer-Kenyon Heritage Home in Yankton for a crazy-short stop squeezed in-between lunch and going to the Events at the AME church to set up for a 2 p.m. presentation. I have to go back sometime and get the full experience…

It is another of South Dakota’s historic house museums with incredible integrity of building and collections – being minimally altered during the residence of family members before being transferred to a non-profit for a museum. Quite a number are Queen Anne Victorian houses, prominent Yankee people/families… The Stavig House in Sisseton is another with great integrity – but at least an immigrant family (but still prominent) and a slightly later-period architectural style… I still have a lot more on my list to visit though.

For the Cramer-Kenyon house, on my visit, I found these really interesting:

  • Curved walls to keep the spirits from having corners to hide in.
  • Lincrusta wall coverings like the Pettigrew House in Sioux Falls.
  • Many of the paintings were done by a resident.
  • Shakespeare-themed tiles in one of the fireplaces.
  • They make furniture polish in the basement based on the recipe passed along from the family.
  • Cabinet doors were installed on older shelves in the butler’s pantry during the “Dirty Thirties” to keep dust off the dishes.
  • Several pieces from the Ward family and/or Yankton College are displayed.
  • Some of the wallpaper is reproduction based on historic samples from closets, provided for free by a company in California with an agreement that the company could sell the pattern too.
The exterior of the Cramer-Kenyon Heritage Home in Yankton.
The exterior of the Cramer-Kenyon Heritage Home in Yankton, photo by author, June 2019.

Later I learned that the museum has teas, is used by book clubs, and Ben’s Brewing Co. in Yankton has done music recording sessions with local artists in the house for “The Cramer Kenyon Sessions” on their YouTube channel — cool ways to get more people exposed to the house, and build relationships with the community.

More photographs:

The museum’s profile on; and on

For Further Reading 4

Recent reading on House Museums:

I also was able to hear Frank Vagnone speak recently, the founder of the “Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums.”  I greatly understood the frustration that led him to create the book and his consulting practice — it’s scary how many history museums can bore or irritate historians, let alone the general public.  It really was inspirational to hear from Vagnone ways that house museums could be better, and to hear about efforts currently underway in many places.

We have quite a few historic house museums in South Dakota, as well as other historical villages et al., and they’re managed with varied levels of success.  A big problem is that limited visitorship (and/or limited volunteer availability) has meant that open hours are also limited, or unusual times, like only for two hours on a couple days during the work week… so actually visiting is tricky.   Most have an online presence somewhere, so that’s something.  And we don’t have nearly as many as some other parts of the country that are super-saturated.  All that said, however, programming options tend to be limited to tours, velvet ropes and “do not touch” are standard, and the stories told aren’t particularly complex.  Do SD museums in historic places that weren’t houses still telling the story of their building(s) and landscapes for visitors…?

House museums in South Dakota that I’ve visited–and these (I think) do relatively a good job with programming and/or storytelling, and have beautiful properties:

Others I’ve been inside, but not as a traditional visitor:

  • Austin-Whittemore House, Vermillion
  • Murtha House, Elk Point (until 2013 was a private residence, also barns, brick kiln ruins, and grounds — I hope improvements for the house and exhibits are still in progress)

Still on my list:

What South Dakota house museums have you visited?  Did you take a tour, go to an event or program?  What did you think were the best parts, the meh parts, and the irritating parts?  Would you go back?  Did you give feedback to the museum itself?

[Update 2018]:
I’ve now been to the Stavig House and the Pickler Mansion.  Both have excellent buildings and collections–incredible for how much is actually from those houses and families.  Both times were sort of non-standard tours, one for work and the other with a special group, so I assume the regular tours are fine.  Both use students/interns for tour guides.

Norwegian Heritage in South Dakota

Like elsewhere in the Upper Midwest, a lot of Norwegians came to South Dakota as immigrants and have left their mark on its history.  There are therefore several places to learn about that history around the state, and here are a few highlights to which I’ll hopefully be able to add over time.  Please feel welcome to add comments about other sites that people should check out.

Nordland Heritage Park, Sioux Falls


Chandelier at Beaver Creek Lutheran Church. Photo by author.

The Nordland Heritage Foundation’s park is on 33rd south of Bergsaker Hall at Augustana College (now University I guess…).  The park includes the Beaver Creek Lutheran Church, the Eggers School, the Berdahl-Rolvaag House, and the Rolvaag Writing Cabin.  More on the history of the buildings is posted to their website, here.  This site is particularly interesting because of the connections between the house and cabin to O.E. Rolvaag, a Norwegian immigrant who made his name as the author of the 1927 novel Giants in the Earth about the immigrant experience on the prairie–it’s a haunting book, not a beach read but quality work.  It was the first in a trilogy and he wrote several more, link to Wikipedia bio here.

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