The Drake Polishing Works, Sioux Falls

Last Updated by Brian Gevik, Text provided by Siouxland Heritage Museums on
All Images Courtesy: Siouxland Heritage Museums

Around Sioux Falls today you can find the remnants of one of early Sioux Falls enterprising businesses, the Drake Polishing Works.  In 1883, St. Paul businessman James Haines Drake began the construction of a stone polishing works at the Falls of the Big Sioux River to the north (down river) of the Queen Bee Mill. 

DrakePolishingWorks-02.jpgSanborn Fire Insurance Map, Sioux Falls, June, 1888

The plant was completed in August, 1884 with the installation of the polishing beds which had a capacity of 450 square feet.  The entire project represented a $75,000 investment in the Sioux Falls community.


James Haines Drake was born in Ohio in November, 1844 the son of Henry Drake and Ann Haines.  In 1860, he resided with his aunt Margaret Haines in Waynesville, Warren County, Ohio. He enlisted as a Sergeant in Company A, 137th Ohio Volunteer Infantry May 10, 1864.  The 137th Ohio was a 100 day regiment and Drake was mustered out of service on August 19, 1864.  He married Nellie Baker in 1868.  In 1870 James and Nellie were living with her parents in New York City.  In 1880 the couple were residing in Saint Paul, Minnesota. James H. Drake owned quarries in Sioux Falls and in St. Cloud, Minnesota.  He obtained a concession from the US Government to remove petrified wood from the government land around Prescott, Arizona.

The Drake Polishing Works had many customers. Tiffany of New York was a major buyer and distributor of the polished stone, particularly the petrified wood.  Mrs. Bailey, wife of Barnum and Bailey Circus spent $16,000 on polished stone while visiting the plant.

Other customers include a variety of communities across the country.  In 1885, The Argus Leader announced that the Drake works had secured an order for the Soldier’s Monument in Toledo, Ohio values at $5,000. The horse watering trough at the intersection of 8th and Phillips was produced by the Drake Works for the City of Sioux Falls.

DrakePolishingWorks-06.jpgSioux Falls City Directory, 1888

Drake’s Monarch Quarry located to the east of the falls was first opening in 1884 to supply the polishing works.  The Quarry provided employment for up to 500 men at it’s peak and the Polishing Works, had 80 employees. 

DrakePolishingWorks-03.jpgStone Cutters, Drake Polishing Works, ca. 1888

Some of the employees formed a fire company for the Sioux Falls Volunteer Fire Department.  The company paid for the uniforms and equipment for the men of Hose Company No. 3.

DrakePolishingWorks-04.jpgEighteen employees of the Drake Polishing Works formed Hose Company No. 3 of the Sioux Falls Volunteer Fire Department in 1887.

J. H. Drake erected a stone polishing works at the Falls of the Big Sioux River in 1883 at a cost of $75,000.  Located on the east bank of the river down steam (north) from the Queen Bee Mill.  The plant was completed in August, 1884 with the installation of the polishing beds which had a capacity of 450 square feet.  Local quartzite as well as petrified wood from Arizona was polished.  In all 35 railroad car loads were hauled to Sioux Falls.

DrakeLast.jpgThe Drake Polishing Works looking north from the Queen Bee Mill, ca. 1888

In 1906, the State of Arizona stop the removal of the petrified wood and The Petrified Forrest National Monument was created.  (The monument became a National Park in 1962).  The end of the supply of the beautiful stone spelled the end of the company and the Drake works closed. RF Pettigrew purchased the remaining stock of petrified wood.  Pettigrew use the wood in the entrance to Woodlawn Cemetery and in the north wall of the Pettigrew Museum in Sioux Falls.

James Drake moved to Chicago about 1900. He applied for an invalid pension for his Civil War Service in Illinois February 18, 1907.  James Drake died December 15, 1912 in Los Angeles County, California. 

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