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Phil O'Connor is the last resident of Capa, where he lives in the house his parents and grandparents lived before him. Photo by Chad Coppess/S.D. Tourism.
Phil O'Connor is the last resident of Capa, where he lives in the house his parents and grandparents lived before him. Photo by Chad Coppess/S.D. Tourism.

One Man Towns

Mar 3, 2014

Some Black Hills tourist promoters began to market Trojan as a ghost town in 1959, ignoring the fact that Alvin Carlson still lived there. Trojan was once a prosperous Black Hills mining town that lost population due to mine consolidations. Most residents moved to Deadwood or Lead to work for Homestake.

When Trojan was declared a ghost town, travelers began to stop and take photos. Some even walked into Carlson's house without knocking. "I went down to the Chamber of Commerce and told those people if they didn't stop tellin' folks this was ghost town that this old ghost was gonna start shootin' at a few people," Carlson told a South Dakota Magazine writer in 1999. "They'd come in here with out of state license plates, walk in, snoop through my stuff and just take it. I come unglued when people take my stuff and that's when I decided to move it back down the road a ways."

Yes, in the 1970s, Carlson did just that: he moved the town's buildings to a spot less than a mile away. He and his brother-in-law used a heavy-duty truck and a cable and dolly system to jack up each structure.

Trojan held almost all of Carlson's memories. He went to school there, made friends there, married and worked there. Even without the people who made the memories, Trojan was still his home. But in 1998, Wharf Mining Company purchased the land under Trojan's new town site. At age 74, he wasn't up to the task of relocating the town a second time.

Several other South Dakota towns are one-man or one-house towns. Pat and Wayne Surat are the only residents left in the southeastern South Dakota town of Bijou Hills. It, like Trojan, was once a booming town home to a bank, newspaper, blacksmith shop, Ford dealership, soda fountain, churches and a grocery store. Unlike the slow decline suffered by most towns, Bijou Hills disappeared a building at a time because an eccentric farmer from nearby Academy bought them and moved them onto his farm. So although the Surats still live in town, the rest of the town has moved except for their house, Wayne's mother's house and a church.

Philip O'Connor, the last man living in the small town of Capa, was interviewed in 2009 for a BBC documentary about the Dirty Thirties. A crew arrived to film the town’s remaining buildings: a hotel, a barn, some houses, a school and church. The town was brought to life in 1906 when the railroad reached town. The Capa Hotel piped in mineral water from a nearby artesian well and became well known for its mineral bath treatments. The Great Depression greatly contributed to the town's demise. Phil lives in the house his grandparents and parents occupied. He taught school for two decades in the surrounding counties.

What motivates a man or a woman to stay in a town long after the other people, and maybe even the buildings, of the past are gone? Perhaps Carlson said it best when he contemplated moving from Trojan: "I could go to Florida or Alabama where I have family, but it's too hot down there," he said. "I'm only satisfied here. As soon as I get to Boulder Canyon I start to feel better. The closer I come to Trojan the better I feel. I'll find a place in the hills not too far away."           


06:19 pm - Thu, March 27 2014
Kathy Olson Hutchings said:
I used to live a half mile from Philip O'Conner. I lived on the Olson Ranch. I went to the country school there in Capa.
08:13 pm - Fri, August 10 2018
Melinda Brazell said:
My mom, Marie Schierbeck, was the schoolmarm at Capa schoolhouse in 1948 and 1949. My mom met my dad, Robert Zigler there. His family had a ranch. There was social gathering where the women brought pies and cakes And the men would bid on them. All the kids told my dad whose cake was my mom's cause they wanted them to get together. My parents are 93 now. My mom thinks Phillip O'Connell was one of her students. They are looking and enjoying these pictures and the story tonight.

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