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Traveling with a Classic Guidebook

Jun 24, 2020

An arch that once spanned Highway 12 at Ipswich was moved to facilitate the road's expansion in 1973. It now stands in a nearby park. Photo by Chad Coppess/S.D. Tourism.

Perhaps the oldest book in my office is a maroon hardcover copy of the South Dakota Guide. Published in 1938, the book was a project of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration. Out-of-work writers were hired to explore the 48 states and compile a travel book for each one, pointing out interesting places along the main-travelled routes.

In the summer of 2018, in honor of the book’s 80th anniversary, we decided to see what remained of the sites chronicled in the original guidebook. Some no longer exist, but we discovered several points of interest that drew the attention of the travel writers of 1938. In this summer of social distancing, perhaps a drive with the South Dakota Guide as a companion might be in order. Original copies of the book are hard to find, but the South Dakota Historical Society Press published a new version in 2005.

Here are a few examples of entries as they appeared in the original guide, along with our present-day observations.


Memorial Hall, Pierre

  • 1938: Memorial Hall is dedicated to South Dakota soldiers and sailors who lost their lives in the World War and houses the State Historical Society, Department of History and State Museum. Constructed of Hot Springs, S.Dak., sandstone, the building is stately and of classic design.
  • 2020: Memorial Hall still stands, though the historical society has moved to the Cultural Heritage Center. The building is now home to the state military and veterans affairs departments.


Graceland Cemetery, Mitchell

  • 1938: Left of the road is the Israel Greene Monument, a large red stone marker bearing the coat of arms of the Greene family — Nathaniel Greene of Revolutionary War fame and Israel Greene who captured John Brown at Harpers’ Ferry in 1859 while a lieutenant under Gen. Robert E. Lee. When the Civil War was over, Israel Greene came to Mitchell as a surveyor, living there the rest of his life.
  • 2020: The cemetery is obviously larger, but it’s easy to find the Greene memorial in Old Part Block II-A.


Highway Arch, Ipswich

  • 1938: The promotion of the Yellowstone Trail from “Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound” was begun at Ipswich by Joseph W. Parmley. A World War Memorial Arch spans the highway, bearing the name of the Yellowstone Trail and its founder.
  • 2020: The arch had to be removed when Highway 12 was expanded in 1973. You’ll find it today in a nearby park.


Main Street, Aberdeen

  • 1938: The site of the drug store in Main Traveled Roads by Hamlin Garland is at the corner of Main St. and First Ave. SE, across from the Alonzo Ward Hotel.
  • 2020: The building across from the Ward Hotel, a downtown landmark since its construction in 1928, is now a law office. Garland homesteaded in Brown County with his parents before becoming a noted novelist.


The Jump-off, Harding County

  • 1938: The Jump-Off is really a fault in earth’s surface extending N. and S. for many miles, the country is much like the Badlands on a smaller scale. It was in the heart of the Jump-Off that Tipperary, South Dakota’s most famous bucking horse, lived his entire life on the ranch of his owner, Charlie Wilson.
  • 2020: Tipperary is still famous in rodeo circles. A life-size bronze of the horse, sculpted by Tony Chytka, stands in Centennial Park in Buffalo.


Washington High School, Sioux Falls

  • 1938: Between Main and Dakota Aves., and 11th and 12th Sts., known as the “million dollar high school,” was constructed of native pink quartzite stone, with the north wing trim and column portico of a black quartzite so rare that it has been occasionally dismantled and exhibited at expositions.
  • 2020: The old Washington High School is now the Washington Pavilion. The black stone is actually Corson diabase, a billion-year-old molten rock that flowed into fractures in the pink quartzite and was mined at Lien Park in northeast Sioux Falls.


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