Landmarks : Last Depots on the Road to LeBeau

Posted by Michael Zimny on

Many miles of track were laid across the Plains of South Dakota during the Great Dakota Boom, then again during the decade after the nation recovered from the Panic of 1893. Much of that line was constructed by the great railroad conglomerates like the Milwaukee Road and the Chicago and North Western (C&NW). Then there was the Minneapolis St. Louis (M&StL).

The M&StL would never be quite the townmaker that the big roads were, never go intercontinental or even break out of its Midwest regional confines. Though there were high hopes for a river-crossing at the booming cow town of LeBeau (now situated under Lake Oahe, more on that in in coming days), the little line saw its dreams dashed against the breaks of the Mighty Mo.

The Watertown Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway Depot

wtown2.jpg

wtown.jpg

The line was founded in 1870 by Minneapolis flour millers who needed an economical means to bring in wheat and send out flour. The road’s main line ran from the Twin Cities to Iowa, then east to Peoria, Illinois.

As the Dakotas opened to homesteaders, railroad lines pushed west to haul the harvests east, and more homesteaders west. The M&StL first gained access to Watertown in 1884, in conjunction with the Wisconsin, Minnesota & Pacific (WM&P), originally a Rock Island-run road. Watertown had been platted in 1878 by the Winona and St. Peter Railroad, at the beginning of the South Dakota railroad boom. According to the South Dakota Historical society: “Of the 285 town plats registered in Dakota Territory between 1878 and 1887, 142 were platted by railroad companies or their subsidiary townsite companies.”

selbyRRdepot.JPGThe Selby Depot has been moved about two miles, but still stands.

The M&StL replaced the first Watertown depot with the building that still stands, now occupied by the offices of First Dakota Title Company, in 1911.

Westward expansion from Watertown didn’t begin in earnest until 1906. During the next few years, the little line would leave a distinct imprint on the Plains, from the glacial lakes to where Swan Creek meets the Missouri.

Townsite agent Thomas Way looms large as the M&StL’s prairie town maker in Don L. Hofsommer’s history of the line, Tootin’ Louie.

leolaRRdepot.JPGThe Leola Depot

“He set up offices in the Granite Block at Watertown, and then he moved to Aberdeen, Cresbard, and Le Beau as the process unfolded. In Way’s wake sprouted no fewer than sixteen new or renewed communities westward from Watertown — Yahota, Florence, Wallace, Crocker, Crandall, Brentford, Chelsea, Cresbard, Wecota, Carlyle, Onaka, Tolstoy, Hoven, Lowry, Akaska, and Le Beau.” Another spur ran from Conde to Leola.

aberdeen.jpgAberdeen Depot — early days

aberdeendepot.JPGThe Aberdeen Depot is now being transformed into an apartment complex.

At its apex, the M&StL served 35 towns in South Dakota. “Excepting Watertown and Aberdeen,” writes Hofsommer, “which would grow to be small cities, the rest were little towns, anchored hopefully on a windy tableland, giving an appearance of permanence.” Not all of them were permanent of course. 

Financial problems began in the 1920s and the line went into its second receivership. In the 1930’s the M&StL began abandoning track. By 1963, what trackage remained was operated by the C&NW. No former M&StL track remains in South Dakota.

Some of the towns that sprung up along the line were as ephemeral as the iron road that spawned them, and now only exist in newspaper clippings and pictures. 

bradleyRRdepot.JPGThe Bradley Depot is now a private storage shed.

A few of the village depots still remain, though they are not always easy to find. The former Bradley depot is now a storage shed behind a private home. The Selby depot was moved a couple miles outside town, and sits quietly, alone and unmarked. The Leola depot has seen better days, but still stands. 

These small town stops, and the larger depots in Watertown and Aberdeen — both on the National Register of Historic Places — are all that remains of the little railroad that gave “life to villages,” some of which may have been as unlikely as its own run.

“No matter,” writes Hofsommer. “Those who had come to people these towns and to settle their hinterlands were inveterately hearty, optimistic souls, who took not the trouble of casting a backward glance.” 

Related: 

Landmarks : Crandall Pumps 

Landmarks : Nicollet Tower

 

subscribe to SDPB email updates banner image Web_Art&Culture_330x85-2.png sdpb food pages link children and education link banner image sdpb news and information link image science and technology posts link sports and leisure link banner image

Related content from SDPB Radio - Art

Dignity Dedicated Near Chamberlain

South Dakota has a new monumental piece of art. A fifty foot tall stainless steel sculpture now stands on the...

NATIVE Act Boosts Tribal Tourism, Art

This week Congress passed an act to spur tribal tourism and increase support for tribal art. The act boosts federal...

Dakota Midday: 'Rivers, Wings, And Sky' And Artistic Partnership

Art and poetry go hand in hand. Artist Nancy Losacker and and poet Norma Wilson show just how to combine the two creative outlets in their joint-exhibit and new...

Eagle Butte Explores Culture And Art At Graffiti Jam

Artists from around the world are shaking their spray paint cans in preparation for the second annual RedCan Graffiti Jam. Hosted by the Cheyenne River Youth Project,...

Books

Michael Dirda: A Life In Books And The Pulitzer Prize

Pulitzer Prize-winning book reviewer Michael Dirda takes a look back at a career as a professional reader. From...

Dakota Midday: J. Ryan Stradal

J. Ryan Stradal is the author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest. A Minnesota native, Stradal lives in Los Angeles...

Dakota Midday: Paul Andrew Hutton

Paul Andrew Hutton joined Dakota Midday from the SD Festival of Books in Brookings. Hutton is a distinguished...

Dakota Midday: Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Jennifer Richard Jacobson is the author of the 2016 Young Readers One Book South Dakota, Andy Shane and Delores...

Music

Dakota Midday: Bob Everhart Tours With Rural Music

Live phone interview with Smithsonian-Folkways recording artist Bob Everhart. He’ll discuss the preservation of...

Glenn Miller Music Still Puts Folks "In The Mood"

Glenn Miller and his big band were at the height of their fame when World War Two began. Two years after...

Original Compositions Celebrate National Parks

A Michigan ensemble is hitting the road with new music to celebrate the anniversary of the National Park System. Two...

Dakota Midday: Hank Harris And Jeff Severson

Hank Harris and Jeff Severson join Dakota Midday for live music and musings on everything from the influence of...

Theater

Dakota Midday: Lisa McNulty On Female Artists

The Off-Broadway Women's Project Theater is the oldest and largest theater company that promotes women artists in...

Dakota Midday: Playwright Bill Russell's Journey to Broadway

Tony nominated Broadway lyricist and playwright Bill Russell was born in Deadwood and raised in Spearfish. His...

DWU Plans $1 Million Theater Project

After dedicating a new sports and wellness center this past month, Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell is now...

DakotaCast Podcast (Episode #12): Rapid City Central Theater Director Justin Speck

The 60th annual State One Act Play Festival took place at O’Gorman High School in Sioux Falls over the weekend. It...