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South Dakota Magazine editors are searching for the state's oldest buildings and artifacts, dating back to when Arthur Mellette (shown second from left) was our territorial governor. Photo courtesy of the Mellette Memorial Association.
South Dakota Magazine editors are searching for the state's oldest buildings and artifacts, dating back to when Arthur Mellette (shown second from left) was our territorial governor. Photo courtesy of the Mellette Memorial Association.

Searching for the "Oldest"

Jun 18, 2014

Imagine what South Dakota looked like when our state was created 125 years ago. Every road was made of dirt except a few streets of stone. A few grand courthouses and church steeples rose above log cabins and sod homes. The open prairie was largely treeless. But hope and excitement for the future of the new state could probably be felt in the air.

It makes us wonder how many physical relics have survived the last 125 years. In honor of our state's anniversary we want to find the state's oldest places and things and print them in South Dakota Magazine this fall. We've kicked around several categories (oldest fence, church, barn, tree, business, newspaper, bridge, log cabin, street, opera house, boat, restaurant, schoolhouse, celebration, pow wow, jail, bar or pub, West River ranch, East River farm, band, railroad depot and piece of art). We’re hoping our readers can offer even more ideas.

Each selection should match two criteria: it must have existed in 1889 (the year South Dakota became a state) and must remain or be in operation to this day. In the end the feature will be both a travel guide and a reminder that some of our state's original artifacts are here for us to observe and protect.

In our 29 years of publishing South Dakota Magazine, we have come across a few things that have been proclaimed "oldest." Flandreau has the state's oldest church still in operation. The First Presbyterian Church still celebrates services in a 141-year-old church building. The church itself was established four years earlier in 1869. 

The Bon Homme Hutterite Colony was created in the 1870s, making it the oldest colony of dozens that exist today. Located on the Missouri River south of Tabor, the colony still uses some of its earliest buildings made from chalk rock. One is an old carpenter shop. Another is a large stone building with a full-length arched-roof cellar where Hutterite women store hundreds of gallon jars of fruits and vegetables.

Among the oldest West River ranches is the Landers’ operation in Fall River County. William Landers, a German immigrant and mason, homesteaded the land in 1885, and the men and women of the Landers family have raised cattle there ever since. "He was a progressive rancher," his grandson, Tom, told us in 1999. "He was the first to build fences and dams. And he was the first to spread the water out. He developed a ditch-style irrigation system that we still use today."

William arrived in South Dakota with a mule, his wife, two sons and some cattle. His other mule died on the trail, so he hooked a steer to the wagon to finish the long journey. He grew his cattle herd to over 500 head before dying of pneumonia in 1904. He left behind three sons who divided the ranch into three parts. Reminders of the ranch's past remain intact, including several homesteaders’ shacks that are used as farm sheds. Grandpa Landers' old steel plow decorates a flower garden. When William's descendants walk the land he homesteaded, I doubt they can see much changed in the last 129 years.

We have leads on log cabins, stone fences, historic trees and other such things. Birthdays are always fun, but they really get interesting at 125 years. You can suggest 125-year-old artifact ideas to South Dakota Magazine editors by emailing or calling (800) 456-5117.


02:53 pm - Fri, June 20 2014
Aaron Hill said:
Love the idea! Since my great grandparents arrived near Watertown in 1887 from Germany, I am very interested in Dakota history. Keep up the good work! I love reading about it.
01:02 pm - Mon, June 23 2014
Jacque Thormodsgaard said:
The Thormodsgaard Farm has been in the family for 133 yrs..if you need more info about this family contact me on facebook, Jacque Crissey-Thormodsgaard. Thanks you, Lee and Jacque Thormodsgaard
03:13 pm - Mon, June 23 2014
peggy sanders said:
My great-grandparents, Ira and Hattie Tillotson, homesteaded in Fall River County, not far from the Tom Landers place, but in 1883. The Tillotson place is still in the family and is the oldest family farm in Fall River County.

The administration building at the Michael J. Fitzmaurice State Veterans Home (South Dakota State Veterans Home) in Hot Springs was built and occupied in 1889.

Please email me for details.

Thank you!
03:53 pm - Mon, June 23 2014
Bobbi Sago said:
The Leland D. Case Library has a copy of the first issue of the Black Hills Journal, predecessor to the Rapid City Journal published on January 5, 1878. It is believed to be the only existing copy. More info can be found in the Fall 2012 newsletter available on our webpage.
04:21 pm - Mon, June 23 2014
DiAnn Park said:
How about pdfs of tree claims and land documents/claims from the Lake Oakwood area dating from the 1879's? originals from my Great-Great Grandfather Arthur Stillman Mitchell
05:53 am - Tue, June 24 2014
Ed said:
celebration "Old Settlers day in DeSmet" started near Esmond, SD.
08:39 am - Tue, June 24 2014
Michael said:
The South Dakota State Penitentiary was known as the Dakota Territorial Penitentiary prior to statehood. The original Pen is still in use.

There's information on the Department of Corrections website at:

I have more info and photos if you're interested.
02:22 pm - Tue, June 24 2014
Bobbi Sago said:
The Leland D. Case Library also has the Lawrence County Tax Records back to 1881. As well as a catalog for the Territorial Normal School at Spearfish, Dakota (now BHSU) for 1886-1887. We were founded in 1883.
10:01 pm - Tue, June 24 2014
kay hall said:
Weathered and leaning a little more each year, the little house my great grandfather built as a homesteader still stands on our farmstead. Constructed in the early 1870's, its now almost 145 years old. It's a tangible connection to our family history. Mom keeps saying she wants to tear it down, but we just don't have the heart to do it.
09:44 am - Wed, July 2 2014
Sheila Kremer said:
Springfield Times is the oldest weekly newspaper in South Dakota--it was established in 1874--the oldest editions of the paper which we have are from 1881 and are housed at the Springfield Museum.
02:55 pm - Sat, October 4 2014
Basil Knebel said:
Don't forget Fort Sisseton has existed since the 1864 between Lake City and Eden, SD. Also, A trip worth taking would be to the "Old Eden" Cemetery, North and East of the current Eden, SD (founded 1914). The town moved when the Soo Line railroad came through. The original cemetery is on the edge of a corn field.

I grew up by Eden and now live in Salem, teaching at St. Mary's School (founded 1888 and current building only built in 1970); and am the Youth minister and Liturgy Coordinator at St. Mary's Church (founded 1885, current church built 1898). I would love to give a tour sometime to SD magazine... MANY photographic opportunities here... maybe not all 125 years old, but still perfect for SD Magazine all the same.
01:12 pm - Wed, October 28 2015
horseshoediner said:
Centerville sd

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