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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 firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (800) 456-5117.