A BRIEF HISTORY OF SPRINGFIELD, SOUTH DAKOTA
Springfield very nearly wasn’t Springfield. As one of two towns laid out in Bon Homme County in 1860, it was to have been named Wanari, or so it is said. In 1862 two enterprising gentlemen, Charles Cooper and R.M. Johnson, issued a map of the prospective city and built a hotel on the site of the township, which they dubbed “Springfield” due to the natural beauty of the area and an abundance of springs.
Located on and above the Missouri River the area was visited by early explorers Lewis and Clark in 1804. Lewis and Clark, with a small exploring party, spent a night in a ravine immediately north of Springfield and another on an island in the river. Reportedly they were impressed with the natural beauty of the area.
Homesteaders and merchants were drawn to the area. Officially platted by Ogden Marsh in 1869, he became the first settler moving to Springfield from Yankton after building a residence and an additional building here. A year later John L. Turner established a well stocked and equipped general store in the Marsh building. By 1871 fifteen more families had arrived, a post office and land office were established followed by a harness shop, sawmill, furniture store, another general merchandise store, steam-powered flour mill and the first newspaper, The Springfield Times” which had officially begun in 1870. The “Times” is the oldest weekly newspaper in South Dakota in continual publication.
Although still Dakota Territory, the Fourth of July was officially celebrated by the residents beginning in 1872 when the ladies of the community sewed a United States flag which was carried at the head of a parade procession to a picnic site at Emanuel Creek. The Fourth of July continues to be celebrated with enthusiasm in Springfield with the addition of such activities as frog jumping contests, fireworks displays, games and sporting events.
General Custer with his 7th Calvary passed through Springfield on May 10th, 1873 on his march to Fort Rice. It is generally agreed that it would have been better for Custer and his troops if they had stayed in Springfield avoiding their fate some three years later at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Transportation was essential to the people of Springfield. The railroad arrived in 1879. The people raised the money to build the depot and provided 30 teams to build a well-graded road to the new structure. Steamboats brought goods and more settlers. The first ferryboat began operating in 1874 hauling livestock and people between Santee, Nebraska and Springfield.
The first elementary school was built in 1872 with an even larger one opened in 1879. Bishop Hare of the Episcopal Church established the Hope Indian Schools for Girls in 1879. The school operated as St. Mary’s School for Indian Girls. The Normal School, which began in 1881 and later operated as Southern State College, Southern State Teachers College, the University of South Dakota at Springfield and under other names was maintained by contributions from residents of the community. In 1896-97 Springfield’s townspeople erected a substantial building for the school and presented it to the state. Finally in 1901 the South Dakota legislature began funding the operation of the school and to build more facilities. The college grew and became widely known for the finely prepared teachers it produced for South Dakota elementary and secondary schools. Vocational programs were added, as was the preparation of teachers for those vocational programs. Sadly, the legislature voted in 1984 to close the college and turn it unto a medium security prison, which was felt to be a more pressing need for the state. Mike Durfee State Prison operates today housing some 1300 prisoners.
Industry came to Springfield in 1974 in the form of Chicago Rawhide, a company that made automotive seals. Employing as many as two hundred fifty workers the plant gave the local economy much reason to grow. Following its close, the plant became RushCo manufacturing tarpaulins for buildings, boats and industrial uses.
Recreation on the water grew in the late 1950’s as Lewis and the Gavins Point Dam at Yankton formed Clark Lake. The result has been an area for fishing, waterfowl hunting and pleasure boating.
A very friendly Springfield is often selected as a great place to live by young families as well as potential and current retirees. Come see for yourself this community that almost wasn’t Springfield.