This post is part of a series: A Virtual Tour of “The Little town on the Prairie.” If you are new to the series and would like to start at the beginning of the tour please click here!
The Original Depot
Like many other towns of South Dakota, De Smet traces it’s history to the year an expanding railroad reached this location and established a town site. De Smet’s heritage goes back more than 100 years with the Chicago Northwestern Railroad. The depot represented an important gathering spot for the community, people often stopped to visit, while watching the trains come and go. Laura wrote about the original depot in the book Little Town on the Prairie:
“Laura was excited about the invitation she had received to attend Ben Woodworth’s birthday party. Ben lived above the railroad depot where his father was the station agent. When Laura returned from the party, Ma could tell Laura had a good time by the way her eyes were shining. Laura couldn’t wait to tell every one about the party. They had played many fun games, ate oyster stew with little oyster crackers and at the head of each plate was an orange!”
Carrie Ingalls, Laura’s sister, also recalled the original depot building. Carrie wrote about one of her childhood experiences at the depot in a letter to Mr. Mallory Dow. This letter is an original Ingalls family artifiact kept in the archives at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society.
Carrie’s letter read:Keystone South Dakota – April 11, 1930 “Church services were held there too, until the depot was put up, then the services were held there before the depot was finished. Seats were made of boards. I certainly remember that. At the time there was just one other little girl in town my age. The first Sunday services were to be held in the depot. The men fixed the benches early in the morning and father came home and said the seats were already. So this little girl and I went over to take a look. No one was there and we went in and found that the seats were just a good jump apart. We started. I was the best jumper, could go the whole length without amiss or stop, the other girl did her best which was not bad, and I suppose we yelled our best too. Fun, never have had such fun since. Then in the door came Rev. Woodworth who was to preach that morning, and he said “I don’t think that is a very good way for little girls to act in the house of the Lord.” We disappeared. But that goes to show how these early pioneer church people reverenced a place which, if only for the time being, was dedicated to the worship of God.”
Original Depot Burns
The depot building that Laura and Carrie describe burned in 1905 and was rebuilt in 1906. However, in the meantime, a train car served as the depot. They were back in business quickly! The inscription on this photo reads;
“Depot burned Apr. 23 ’05 5 P.M. – Ready for business Apr. 23 ’05 9 P.M.”
The Second Depot
A replacement building was constructed in 1906. It was used by the railroad for many years. Visitors to De Smet can still enjoy the depot. Today, it serves as a museum.
The depot became the property of the City of De Smet after the Chicago Northwestern Company no longer found it useful to them. The Depot Museum houses railroad artifacts, the Aubrey Sherwood print shop, pioneer history, and mounted specimens of birds and mammals found in the region.
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