Grace Ingalls Dow’s Home: The Fall of Manchester, SD

Grace Ingalls Dow, Laura’s youngest sister, was often overlooked in the Little House book series because of her age. She was only eight years old when Laura married Almanzo in 1885. Grace would grow up and become a teacher herself, get married, and settle in the small town of Manchester, South Dakota. Once a bustling railroad town, Manchester was wiped off the map by a tornado in 2003. A few of our tour guides decided to visit the town that once was and tried to imagine what it was like when Grace lived there.

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Grace Ingalls Dow

Grace Pearl Ingalls was born on May 23, 1877, in Burr Oak, Iowa. She was the final child of Charles and Caroline Ingalls. Her birth was not mentioned in the Little House books since Laura did not include the time spent in Burr Oak. Instead, Grace was already present in By the Shores of Silver Lake and took over the role that Carrie once held as the youngest child. Laura often mentioned Grace sitting on Mary’s lap, especially during the long winter. She got lost in the Big Slough when the family first settled on their homestead, which led the family in a frantic search. Grace never had a big role in the book series, but was more of a supporting character.

Since many of our visitors and Little House fans are unfamiliar with Grace’s life story, this blog post will help fill in the gaps. She graduated high school in De Smet and continued her education at college. Grace followed the footsteps of her Ma and sister, Laura, and became a teacher, often teaching schools in the town of Manchester, a town 7 miles west of De Smet.  It was here that she met her future husband Nathan Dow. The two got married in 1901. The ceremony took place in the parlor of the Ingalls home on third street. The couple then returned to Manchester, became farmers, and stayed there for the rest of their lives.

Manchester was named after a pioneer settler. Like De Smet, it grew at a rapid pace because of the Chicago and Northwestern railroad being right beside it. Numerous buildings were built, including homes, a town hall,  depot, restaurant, bank, hotel, newspaper, lumber yard, two grocery stores, two blacksmith shops, two churches, schools, a town pump, etc. Many settlers flocked to the town, hoping to take advantage of the homestead act and prove up on a piece of land they hoped one day would be theirs. Grace and Nathan settled on their own homestead about a mile from town, near Redstone Creek. Manchester is also the birthplace of Harvey Dunn, a famous painter and illustrator. He often took inspiration from his time in Manchester while creating different pieces of art.

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Early photo of Manchester, SD

picture source: South Dakota State Historical Society

Grace Ingalls Dow died on November 10, 1941 in Manchester. By that point, the town was already struggling to keep its current residents and attract more. The Chicago and Northwester Railroad was no longer of importance. Less train traffic meant less growth. The Great Depression arrived in the 1930s, causing more residents to leave and move to other places in search of work. A once busy town eventually had a population of only 100 people. These residents were farmers that lived on the outskirts of town. On August 27, 1961, over 150,000 people arrived in Manchester to celebrate the Dakota Territory Centennial Gold rush. Entertainment included a carnival, talent show, dance, and fireworks display. During the day hundreds of contestants dug for prices, some of them worth $10,000.  The event brought many well known politicians, actors, and entertainers to the area, including a young Clint Eastwood. This event was sponsored by KELOLand Television to mark the 100th anniversary of the creation of Dakota Territory. This event marked the last time that Manchester saw such a large crowd of people.

By the mid 1980s, the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad abandoned the line, but eventually sold it to the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad.  In the early 2000s, only two operating businesses were left in the town of Manchester. The fate of the town would be sealed on June 24, 2003 when a F-4 category tornado made its way through the town, leaving devastation in its wake.

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Manchester before and after the tornado

On the evening of June 24, 2003, a F-4 category tornado came barreling towards Manchester from the south. Winds gusted up to 200 miles a hour. The buildings that still remained, including the post office, were immediately destroyed. The tornado then traveled north, demolishing two homes that stood close to town. Buildings, belongings of residents, and trees were mutilated, vacuumed up, or completely destroyed by the fierce winds. The tornado left nothing in its wake, completely erasing the 122 year history of the once bustling town of Manchester.  The tornado made history. The National Geographic Society observed an air pressure drop of 100 millibars in 12 seconds as the center of the tornado approached. Tim Samaras, a tornado researcher, said that it “was the biggest drop ever recorded” and it would feel like “stepping into an elevator and hurtling up 4,000 feet in 10 seconds.”

After the tornado, the town was abandoned. A handful of residents stayed and continued to farm, but the area is now considered a ghost town. A town once full of people, hope, and excitement all but disappeared into thin air. The flagpole that belonged to the town school and the town water pump still remain. Otherwise, the town is now part of the countryside. The old dirt roads are surrounded by prairie grass. Foundations from buildings that once stood sit in decay. In 2007, a granite marker was placed to commemorate the town’s history and past residents. Grace’s married name, Dow, is one of the names listed.

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Sunset over Manchester

Although Manchester is gone, I found visiting the site of it to be peaceful and tranquil. We decided to visit during sunset, so we were able to imagine the many sunsets that Grace could see from her home. The town of Manchester may be gone, but the spirit of the town will live on for many years to come.

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Flagpole from the town school

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The town water pump still remains, despite taking a direct hit from the tornado

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Grace’s last name, Dow, engraved on the granite marker

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Foundation from a building destroyed by the tornado

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The railroad that brought growth to Manchester

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The Mystery of the Rocky Mountain Locust

 

 

 

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Minnesota locusts of the 1870s” Source: http://www.mnopedia.org/multimedia/minnesota-locusts-1870s

In Wilder’s fourth book, “On the Banks of Plum Creek,” Laura describes in detail a large cloud that darkened the sky. The family assumed their crops would get much needed rain; however, it would not be rain that fell from the sky, but grasshoppers. Laura describes, “Plunk! Something hit Laura’s head and fell to the ground. She looked down and saw the largest grasshopper she had ever seen. The huge brown grasshoppers were hitting all around her, hitting her head and her face and her arms” (On the Banks of Plum Creek, 194). These grasshoppers, called Rocky Mountain Locusts, rained down on the Minnesota prairie and decimated the land. They would eat everything green in their sight, like leaves, plants, and Pa’s crops. Wilder mentioned that because of these locusts, Pa had to make the 100 mile walk back east to find work. The family was affected by the same grasshoppers the next year. According to the article, Locust, by Jeffrey Lockwood, these locusts would become mysteriously extinct in the 1870’s after a wetter climate came into affect.

Jeffrey Lockwood, a science and humanities professor, wanted to solve the years long mystery of the Rocky Mountain Locusts, calling it “the quintessential ecological mystery of the North American Continent.” Lockwood goes on to explain that this breed of locust was at its greatest abundance on the Great Plains, even rivaling the bison population. He believed the dry weather caused the locusts to come baring down on farmers, sending them into a financial mess.

At the time, the U.S. government decided they needed to do something about the locusts. Although they had given relief to some of the farmers affected, it was not enough. They named three men to the Entomological Commission: Charles Valentine Riley, Cyrus Thomas, and Alpheus Packard. It would be their job to gather information about the locusts, research them, and find a solution to the problem. The three men did not disappoint. They found a large sum of information regarding the locusts’ “ecology, behavior, anatomy, reproduction, and distribution of the locust, and suggested practical ways for the farmers to battle the insects” (Hopkins). The men were about to publish their findings; however, in the late 1870’s the locusts went extinct. The drought had disappeared and the locusts disappeared with it.

Since their extinction, many theories have been put out to explain why it happened. According to BioScience, one of the biggest theories was that the locusts were somehow connected to the bison. When bison started to disappear in the American West, so did the Rocky Mountain Locust. The two species coexisted on the Great Plains for centuries. Maybe bison somehow altered the grasslands to favor the survival of the locust. Another theory involved alfalfa, which grasshoppers considered tasty. In studies, it showed that alfalfa was damaging to the growth of the locust in its premature stages. Therefore, it was the culprit on why the locust went extinct. Lockwood, the author of Locust, offered a new explanation. He believes that, “cattle grazing and homesteaders’ cultivation of restricted region of the plains-the permanent breeding grounds of the insect- during a population recession of the locust in the 1880’s may have irreversibly disrupted locust reproduction.”

While we may never know the true cause of the Rocky Mountain Locust’s mysterious extinction, we have a better idea of what may have happened. Like Laura’s family, these insects affected thousands of farmers and changed the course of history.

Sources:

Hopkins, Theodore L. “Extinction of the Rocky Mountain Locusts.” BioScience, https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/55/1/80/248302. Accessed 30 May 2018.

Lockwood, Jeffrey. Locust, New York, Basic Books, 2004.