De Smet: Evolution Through the Years Part 1

The town of De Smet was built right in front of Laura’s eyes. The Ingalls family traveled from Walnut Grove, Minnesota, to the Dakota Territory in the summer of 1879. At that point in time, De Smet was not a town yet. The only buildings that were standing were the Surveyors’ House, where the Ingalls family lived that winter, and the claim shanties where the rest of the railroad workers lived.

In the spring of 1880, Charles Ingalls built a store building where today’s Ward’s Store stands and moved the family to live there in April. Later, Charles moved the family out to live on his homestead southeast of De Smet and eventually build a second store building located kitty-corner to the first one, where the family spend the long winter of 1880-1881 as mentioned in Wilder’s sixth book, The Long Winter.

In By the Shores of Silver Lake, Wilder writes, “Teamsters were hauling lumber from Brookings as fast as they could, and yellow skeletons of buildings rose everyday. Already you could see Main Street growing up from the muddy ground along the railroad grade” (By the Shores of Silver Lake, page 241). The town grew quickly because of the railroad. Today, a lot of the buildings Wilder talked about being built still stand. Keep reading our blogs to see how different these businesses look today!

Couse Hardware & Opera House


Couse Hardware in 1908 and Ward’s Store in 2018

Charles Ingalls built two store buildings in town. He kept one of them for the family to live in during the winter. The other one he rented out and eventually sold to Edward H. Couse. Mr. Couse opened up a successful hardware store. By 1885, he was able to replace the wood framed building that Charles had built with a brick building.

Construction for the new building began in 1886. It consisted of two floors and a basement and cost $9,000 to build. The hardware store occupied the lower level, while an Opera House occupied the upper level. The basement was used to store furniture, props, and other items that were needed for the different shows.

Wilder often wrote about town socials that always took place at the church. She loved going to them and seeing her friends from school. Once the opera house was built, it became the new place for social events.

In 1893, Edward Couse and I.J. Miller became partners and the hardware store was renamed “E.H. Couse & Co.” Couse retired in 1902 and Ignatius Miller and S.E. Davis became partners, until Miller bought him out in 1905.

Throughout the years, the brick building has been used for many different businesses. It was sold to Bouchard and Son and became a a grocery store. Beginning in 1929, JC Penny occupied the building for thirty years. Most recently, the building was sold to its current owners and renamed Ward’s Store. It is a combination of a bakery and restaurant. They also have clothes and souvenirs for visitors to browse through. Tourists and locals love stopping here for a cup of coffee or to visit with friends.

One comment on “De Smet: Evolution Through the Years Part 1

  1. shaunnmunn says:

    I wonder if the owners of Ward’s will ever seek to put the building on the historic register?
    So much of the town still needs to be protected.

    I am concerned about the Big Slough, as well as Lakes Henry and Thompson. Clearly they are returning to forms Laura would have recognized, yet residents are upset that their campsites and homes are being swamped by waters they should have known might return. We know where water issues may arise in my community; such things are easy to investigate.

    Laura’s family wanted to live the American Dream & fiercely defended landowners’ rights. But I think Laura’s heart deeply mourned what landowners were doing to her beloved Kingsbury County, even back in its infancy. Few people are so fortunate as today’s Kingsbury residents in knowing what the land was like in its virginal state. It should serve as a template for any future planning or restorations.

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