The History of Canton, South Dakota

It was December 30, 1867 when the legislature passed a petition to organize Lincoln County. The first permanent resident was August Linderman. He filed a claim in 1866 on the north side of what's now called Newton Hills State Park. In June 1868 settlers began to arrive in the Sioux Valley portion of the county by wagon train. That Fourth of July in 1868, a celebration was held to welcome the new residents. A crowd of about 180 came to listen to speeches, and eat roasted lamb. The evening ended with a bowery dance.     

The first settlers must have been struck by the richness and beauty of the area. They came from got their first glimpse of the valley from the bluffs of the Big Sioux River. The sight of the waist-high prairie grasses the tree-lined river and the springs were enough to convince many that this was home. Soon more settlers arrived, based on the number of claims filed; Lincoln County experienced the greatest population growth in the Dakota Territory in 1869. The census in 1870 showed the population of 712. In the next ten years townships settled along the Sioux River. Rural post offices were established crossed the county. The only real towns were Canton and Eden. Eden was later moved to the railroad lines and renamed Hudson. The 1880 census showed a county population of nearly 6000. This was remarkable considering the railroad was had just established rail service and in the 1870's grasshoppers ruined crops 5 years in a row. Settlers continued to arrive predominantly from Norway. The 1890 census showed the population of Lincoln County to be 9,143. Subsequent census reported gradual increases until 1930.    

Homesteading in Canton was a risky venture in the late 1800's. Many of the settlers arrived by wagon into the fertile valley with very little money or resources. According to early accounts, the settlers first had to set up camp. It was necessary to camp was near other settlers. Indians were a concern as well as protection from the weather, other settlers and prairie fire.     

The next job was to claim some land for business or farming. In 1886 land had been set aside for the town of Canton and the town square. Once securing the land, the work of building a sod home began. Early settlers on the prairie had little wood and the ground needed to be "broke". The top layer of sod was cut from the ground and stacked like brick. If the settler was good at building the house would have windows and doors. Many had to hang quilts and blankets against the walls to keeps the snow and dirt from blowing in. In the summer a hard rain would cause clumps of mud to fall from the ceiling. One pioneer woman recounted a story of placing the baby under the kitchen table to keep him dry. A wooden house was costly and the settler usually had to save for many years in order to build one. Since trees were scarce much of the wood was bought from a nearby mill. J. T. Whitlow wrote a letter to his sons telling them he planned to build a 25 square foot house. The one story house would take about 7,000 sq. foot of lumber at a cost of $200 - if they paid extra for the windows and doors. Many of the settlers in Canton had only a few provisions and no store, so many traveled to Sioux City 65 miles away.     

Those who were farmers began working the land, many used oxen and plows to turn the sod. This was hard work for even 4 oxen. Settlers usually broke between 10 - 15 acres the first year. Fencing was a concern because "free ranging" livestock would eat a garden in a matter of hours causing the settlers to have a hungry winter. Winter provided another challenge for the pioneers. When the sod house was built had to be in good shape to provide shelter during the winter, no one could tolerate the harsh winters in a wagon or tent. Settlers stock piled supplies for winter, including flour, meat, coffee (Norwegians had to have coffee and still do!), cheese, crackers, and kerosene. In 1886 Jacob Holter wrote in a letter to his family he spent $500 on supplies to get his claim started.     

The winter 1887 - 1888 proved to be one of the most challenging in the last 100 years. In December and January so much snow fell that horses floundered and teams had to be dug out. In order to get out of the house the snow had to be shoveled into the home in order to leave. The snow then warmed and soaked in the dirt floor.     

As more and more settlers arrived there was a need for businesses. But first the town needed a name. The name Canton was selected because some thought the town site was directly opposite of Canton, China. The territorial legislature named Canton as the territorial seat on December 30, 1867. For many years Canton was also known as Gate City. Several Canton businesses used "gateway" or " Gate City" as part of their name and still do.Benjamin Hill started the first business establishment. He converted his log house by the river into a place where the newly arriving settlers could find bed, board and refreshment. The Elkhorn Tavern as it was called, soon added an outdoor bowery. In September 1868 the North District Territorial Republican Convention was held in the community building in Canton. This building was located on the very location of the first courthouse. During the convention hostility became great as the area businessmen squabbled over where the downtown district should be. G.C.Mody and S. C. Ashley's factions became more and more angry during the meeting and went to S. H. Stafford's new store to hold their own convention. S. H. Stafford's store was also the center of attention when S. C. Ashley and the store owner had a gun fight in the street in front of the building in 1873. Stafford was wounded seriously and recovered.The first store also opened on the courthouse block in 1868. The twenty by forty building housed general merchandise. This building was later used as the community building. For the next ten years the community searched for a central business district. The town was spread out with hotels, saloons, general stores, and law offices springing up everywhere. It was difficult to get from one establishment to the other because of the distance and lack of roads. More buildings began springing up in the mid 70's. A post office, hardware, and Canton's first physician all found a place on Main Street. The first frame home was erected in 1870 that house at 111 North Bartlett still stands on it's original location.     

The Lincoln County Court House has marked the center of Canton for many years. Efforts were made to build the court house at the end of the Beloit Bridge. When promoters of the of the site offered to move the court house free of charge, the Canton business community made a similar offer in order to try to keep the court house location in Canton. The first court house has a log home, which was where the present court house stands today. A new court house was constructed in 1875. The 2-story court house was made of brick but by the time it was completed it was already too small. Plans were made to increase the size and it was approved in 1889 to erect a 3½ story addition on the east side of the old court house. The addition was ready in February 1890. The old portion was replaced in 1899 and the clock tower was added. Wallace Dow designed the Romanesque style building. The court house still stands as it did in 1890 with only a few renovations.As the nations centennial observances were being planned, the Canton centennial committee decided a cannon was needed to be the crowning touch to the celebration. At that time there were only two cannons in the territory. The towns of Vermilion and Yankton's newspaper created quite a stir when they announced they both had one. Some of the town's people of Elk Point became so envious that they stole the cannon from Vermilion. The city of Vermilion's citizens searched for the cannon but couldn't find it. Determine to have a replacement the Vermilion citizens stole Yankton's cannon. The Yankton citizens were not happy and gave chase but could not catch them. Now, Canton was more determined than ever to have a cannon. Money was collected  to purchase one from the foundry in Sioux City. The $100.00 bought a cannon mounted on a 2 wheeled carriage. Canton was the only town in the Dakota Territory to have a cannon. Neither of the stolen cannons was recovered until some years later. Canton's cannon was fired on Independence Day and other special occasions until 1892, when a crack was discovered in the barrel. In 1908 the cannon was placed on a cement foundation on the courthouse square, where it resides today.     

The platting of lower Canton occurred in 1875 on the west end of Beloit Bridge. This was still another bid to create a business district. Lower Canton was established to in order to attract a major railroad junction to Beloit. Two railroads were inching their way to Canton and Beloit. At first the citizens scoffed at the idea of a development the area near Beloit. The Sioux City and Pembina were pushing toward Sioux Falls and was sure to pass through both towns. But the Milwaukee's McGregor line was coming from North Iowa and it's crossing into South Dakota was yet to be determined. Then in 1878 word came that the railroad had chosen the route through Canton! Assured that this would be a junction town, a virtual stampede of lower Canton merchants to the area now know as the Court House took place. Many businesses moved to Canton, a great number were placed on skids and moved up river on the ice. Those who moved their business made the right move because in 1881 a disastrous flood wiped out most of what was left of Lower Canton. The first train arrived in Canton on July 2, 1879 providing Canton with direct railroad service to Chicago.The effects were immediate.     

The assessor's records show an increase from 71 buildings in 1879 to 236 buildings in 1882. The effects of the railroad were immediately apparent. The records, according to the assessor's office, showed an increase of buildings from 71 in 1879 to 236 in 1882. Three brick business buildings were built during this time still survive and are located on Fifth and Main, across the street on the southeast corner, and 100 block of south Main.Four new churches were also built between 1880 and 1883. The Methodist built on the corner of Third and Dakota, the Episcopalians on the northeast corner of Third and Dakota, the Norwegian Lutherans on Second and Broadway, and the Bethlehem Lutherans on the North side of Third Street between Bartlett and Johnson. The oldest church in the Sioux Valley, Congregational Church, was built in 1872 was moved to Third and Cedar in 1883. Other early churches included the Presbyterian at 209 South Bartlett, built in 1885. The brick church located on Fifth and Dakota was erected in 1889. It was called the Church of God, Cambellite, Bethel or All Soule's Church. These two buildings are the only remaining churches from the early days. The Presbyterian is now a residence and the Church of God a restaurant.     

In 1881, the city of Canton was incorporated. The first city council was ready to bring some regulation to the town. One of the first duties was to raise the liquor license fee. The council also passed ordinances containing guidelines for saloons. There was to be no frosted glass, curtains, and shades in the saloon windows and limited the number of tables, chairs, and stools. Only two saloons survived these new ordinances. The saloon operated by A. J. Linderman, Lincoln County's first resident was one. He stayed on the good side of the council by taking an ad out in the paper announcing that upon the request of any wife or mother, he would withhold spirits from their husbands or sons. To further guard the morals of the men of the community, the city fathers instructed the police to escort a group of "soiled doves" from their house of business to the depot where they were put on the first train out of town. The council continued to pass ordinances designed to bring orderliness to the town. Canton breathed a sigh of relief when the ordinance prohibiting nude bathing within the city limits from 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. was passed.     

As the city grew improvements were made to the downtown area. The streets were graded and seeded with clover, wooden sidewalks were laid and gasoline lamps were installed. The merchants organized the Canton Board of Trade, in order to further the interested of the businessmen and the community in general. At their urging a scale house erected so that farmers could get honest weights for their grain and other products.     

In 1884 Augustana College moved from Beloit to Canton. Also a brick school building was built for the elementary through high school students. In the following years the Canton school educated the internationally known physicist Merle Tuve, and brothers John and Ernest Lawrence. E. O. Lawrence was pioneer in the field of nuclear medicine. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in Physics for his work on the first nuclear cyclotron. Augustana College was located in several communities before it was moved to Canton in 1884. The school struggled at Canton until Anthony G. Tuve became president in 1890. Attendance doubled but a series of crop failures soon followed. Because of this in 1894 the Church Synod withheld appropriations. President Tuve assumed all financial obligations in order to keep the school open. After the crisis, Augustana prospered and soon outgrew it's building. The building was moved in 1901. Then in 1902 the college added to the campus on the east side of town. A 4½ story brick building was erected to house classrooms, a gymnasium, and chapel. The new structure was dedicated in 1903. The college continued to grow. Enrollment increased to 330 by 1918.     

Augustana was a tremendous asset to the community. The school was widely known for its excellence in academics. Many well scholars came for speaking engagements. Many synodical gathering both large and small were held throughout the year. The United Norwegian Lutheran Synod had its headquarters on campus. An event in 1917 took place that changed the college and community. That year the Norwegian Lutheran Synods merged to become the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America. The new synod considered it inadvisable to have to maintain Augustana College and Lutheran Normal School in Sioux Falls barely 25 miles apart. A vigorous campaign to keep the college in Canton began. But the advantages of locating the school in a larger community prevailed and Canton lost their college. The bitterness was great and was intensified when President Tuve died suddenly. The area pastors in the South Dakota district realized something needed to be done. An agreement was proposed and accepted that Canton would put up an endowment of $200,000 and turn it over to Augustana College, the Normal School division would move to Canton. A fund drive was successful and the Canton Lutheran Normal School opened in the fall of 1920. The gradual transfer of the Academy division to the Canton campus was made between 1920 and 1932. The school was know as Augustana Academy in 1932 and was no longer a division of the college. Capital improvements were made to the campus through the next several years including a new gymnasium and dormitory. The history of Augustana Academy came to an end in 1971. The campus was closed and was sold to Keystone Treatment Center. The "Old Main" building has been converted in to apartments. For more information on Old Main Apartments follow this link LLoyd Companies     

Soon after the city was incorporated it became apparent that the town was suffering growing pains. In 1882 a night clerk saw flames coming from the Corson Saloon building south of the court house. The shouting awoke citizens from sleep and they began arriving. Bucket brigades began throwing water pumped from private wells the blaze soon was out of control. The efforts turned to saving the near by buildings. Volunteers pulled down a near by building to keep the blaze from moving east. Men, women, and children went to the roof a Bedford Hall and other buildings to the west to spread wet blankets on roofs and extinguish small fires which had started. By morning, five charred buildings was left in place of some of Canton's finest businesses. The city council was concerned about the lack of fire fighting capabilities and passed and ordinance that all future buildings be fire proof. Next, in 1884 council ordered a well be dug in the southwest corner of the courthouse block. On the night of September 25, 1888 the well was put to use. The cry of "Fire! Fire!" was heard in downtown Canton, followed by the ringing of the bell at the Methodist church. As citizens arrived with buckets and blankets they saw flames coming from the third story of the brick Syndicate building on the northwest corner of fifth and Main. A breeze was carrying fire brands to the north and west. For awhile the wet blankets did the job but then the north wall of the Syndicate building collapsed onto an adjoining building. The fire was getting out of hand. A telegraph message was sent to Sioux Falls asking for help. Within an hour and twenty minutes a special train arrived with a steam fire engine, two hose carts and a company of fire fighters. The blaze continued another 3 hours. When the flames were finally out 11 buildings were destroyed. The fire was so intense windows were broke in the buildings south of the Syndicate building. Because of the disastrous fire, the city council took action to provide Canton with fire protection. A city water system was installed in 1891 complete with fire hydrants and a stand pipe and purchased two hand-drawn hose carts. The purchase was made of two hand pulled hook and ladder wagon in 1894. By this time the city also had three volunteer fire companies. The fire department has continued to grow to meet Canton's needs The Canton Volunteer Fire Department is housed in their new building, finished in 2002. Located on the corner of Dakota and Fifth Street just two blocks from the site of Canton's worst fire.     

The Big Sioux River has been an important part of the development of Canton. A ship builder named M. M. Hanson from Milwaukee, Wisconsin came to Canton in 1892. The site of the Big Sioux inspired "Cap" Hanson to build "The City of Canton". A forty-foot steam launch had a speed of fifteen to eighteen miles per hour and could carry one hundred passengers. This became the beginning of a thriving business for "Cap". Pleasure seekers could go up and down the river stopping at the various parks along the banks. In 1901 "Cap' built his second boat the "Sioux Queen". This gasoline powered boat could carry two hundred passenger. He also had a fleet of thirty row boats for hire. Many family-owned canoes were often seen on the river as well as other launches. A spring flood in 1906 washed out the Beloit Dam. The dam was rebuilt but again the dam was washed out three years later. This ended the "Sioux Queen's" travels and destroyed "Caps" boat business.     

The first and only institution for insane Indians in the United States, Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians was placed in Canton because of the central location among the Western states with a large Indian populations and because of the influence of South Dakota's Representative O.S. Gifford and Senator R. F. Pettigrew. Both men felt the Indian white brother could be more effectively treated in separate facilities. In 1898, Congress passed a bill creating the institution. This met with strong opposition from the Department of Interior and the Superintendent of the U.S. government's St. Elizabeth Hospital for the Insane in Washington D.C. Both felt that adding to the Washington Institution would better serve the Indians and be more cost effective and better staffed. The bill establishing the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians passed in 1899 and the Indian Appropriation Act for 1900 set aside $3,000 for land purchase and $42,000 for building construction. One hundred acres were purchased a mile east of Canton on the hills overlooking the Sioux River.     

The facilities began receiving patients in 1902. The hospital grew in numerical and physical size. A new superintendent's residence was added in 1915, a new brick hospital in 1916, a dairy and barn in 1917, a steel tank and water tower in 1918 and 277 acres of farm land 1926. Other improvements, especially in the farm operation included a gasoline farm tractor, corn shredder, silage cutter, and truck. The dairy heard was enlarged from 3 to 20 cows and hog operation grew from 9 to 20 sows. Purchases were also made for patients including an operating room and hydro therapeutic equipment. A sleeping porch, swings, settees, lawn chairs, slides, and trees. Indoor equipment included pool and billiard tables, moving picture equipment, and musical concerts by the Canton Band.Patients came from as far as California. Enrollment reached about one hundred in the late 1920's. Many men were World War I veterans suffering from "shell shock". Their native languages were used in code Allied communication that the Germans couldn't crack. Many of the 120 names on the bronze plaque marking the graves of patients include military ranks.In December of 1933, the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians sent 69 patients to St. Elizabeth's the remaining 15 were sent home. Then in April of 1934, the asylum by order of the Federal Government was closed. Washington D.C. Federal reports and assessments citing mismanagement, mistreatment, politics and the economy as the reason for the closure.     

The asylum grounds and buildings were used for a short time by South Dakota as a penitentiary for first time offenders. In 1946, in what Cantonites refer to as the "second Manhattan Purchase," the city purchased for $1.00 the 337 acres and buildings of the old institution, the only stipulation being that it be used for the welfare of the community. For a time the asylum hospital was used for the Canton-Inwood Hospital, but today the old asylum buildings are gone, except the superintendent's residence. The land is now home to Canton-Inwood Hospital, Three Rivers Gun Club, the 4-H fairground and Hiawatha County Club and Golf Course.The last remaining building of the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians is the superintendent's residence. The bungalow built in 1915 for a cost of $4,000. Superintendent Hummer and his family made their home there until his leaving the asylum in 1933. The City of Canton has been asked to move the house to make way for the future expansion of Canton-Inwood Hospital. The city is now in the process of making a decision as to its fate.     

A young man by the named Ludwig Holter from Norway, gave a skiing exhibition to a group of Canton Students in 1911. This exhibition began the quest to clear the hill and build a scaffold and jump in 1912. From that platform at the peak of the hill to a landing place was drop of 275 feet and skiers could cover a distance of one eighth of a mile at up to 100 miles per hour. Soon tournaments were held at about two year intervals. On February 11 and 12, 1925 a National Tournament was held and Canton hosted over 5,000 fans. The Sioux Valley Ski Club was organized that year. World renowned singer, Eric Bye, gave the trophy to the Sioux Valley Club. Many notables were present that day including member of the Olympic team, national champions, and the international winner and the winner of the world distance title. Many tournaments were held at the site. The largest on record was the1932 National tournament when 15-20 thousand attended. Tournaments declined in the 30's. Cost increases and slowing attendance prompted the last Central U.S. tournament in 1936. The last national event was in 1957. Snow was scarce so it was truck in from Spirit Lake and Lake Okoboji, Iowa. By the time the snow was in place it had turned into slush. Winds changed and brought bitter temperatures causing the slush to freeze. The tournament had to be cancelled. The ski hill is all that remains of the tournament site.     

In Canton, their Chautauqua had it's beginning in 1900. The Methodist Church built a large auditorium at the end of Broadway street on the southern edge of Canton by the river. It was built to house the large assemblies that gathered during the summer. The first large assembly was in 1901 and ran for one week. This was the for runner of the Chautauqua in Canton, and it provided entertainment to the people of the Midwest. The Assembly quickly grew and became the Canton Assembly, then Canton Chautauqua. The Auditorium was surrounded by several acres of picnic grounds, Cantonites built cabins in the area so as to enjoy the activities. The Chautauqua grew from its early days shows to a large show in 1920. But then the park began to struggle. Gate receipts fell and many local investors had to pay the deficit from their own pockets. In 1926 the park took a financial loss. The Chautauqua has become a memory in Canton. However, the park had a bathhouse added and a Red Cross Saving Station in 1927. The thirties brought flooding along the river. Further, the water had become contaminated with waste products so the swimming days had to come to an end. In 1940, the old rotting frame structure was demolished. The wildlife and foliage has reclaimed the area making the now, Chautauqua Park, a place for picnics, fishing, festivals and ball-games.     

About the turn of the century until 1925, a shoe store named Coupala Cafe was operated by a Adolf Bragstad then by his son. In 1925 Al Skorhein opened and operated "Al's Confectionary". The interior was highlighted by a 10 foot long marble soda fountain and cigar case near the front door. A few years later, 1929 Fritz Lewis wrote a friend Doc Tuttle asking if he wanted to start a restaurant business with him. Fritz and Doc opened a new restaurant at that site and named it the LewDoc Cafe. Doc and his wife bought out Fritz in 1931 and leased the cafe to a Mrs. Butcher. A more extensive kitchen was added and the name was changed to "Butch's Cafe". After two years Doc his wife Pat resumed the running of the LewDoc Cafe. The restaurant was the place to go after coming to town. On Saturdays and Sundays the locals would take in a movie and go out for dinner at the LewDoc's. The Tuttles operated the restaurant for 31 years before selling it to Mae Mullinax. Mae ran the LewDoc until the business was sold to Helen and Don Jorgenson who operated it for seven years before selling to Janice and Ray Kroger. In 1981 Janice and Ray sold the LewDoc to Louise and Steve Preiss. Louise and Steve Added a banquet room in the basement, and renamed it "Coupala Cafe". The restaurant is opened today and continues to serve the community.     

A group of citizens formed a financial corporative to help each other in acquiring homes and improving existing homes. Each member contributed to a fund from which he could later borrow to finance the construction of his home. Based on this principle, the Canton Building and Loan Association was incorporated in Dakota Territory on the 26th of May, 1883. This makes First Federal Savings and Loan the oldest Savings and loan in the state. Citizens could buy shares for the purpose of buying real estate. The shares were $100.00 and could be purchased for $1.00 or more per month in advance. In 1932 Congress established the Federal Home Loan Bank System in an effort to reorganize existing savings associations in America. In order to take advantage of these changes the savings and loan reorganized as First Federal Savings and Loan of Canton in 1936. Changes came again 1977, when the building was demolished in order to make room for a new office building. One year later First Federal moved back to it's original location. First Federal continued business there until Home Federal Bank acquired the building.     

Another business in early Canton was Handschiegel's Brewery it was built in 1876 in lower Canton near the Beloit Dam. Andrew Handschiegel came to Dakota territory and homesteaded just north of Newton Hills. In those days there was little to do but go fishing during the annual grasshopper raids. The Beloit Dam became the favorite spot to go fish, relax, and drink beer. When lower Canton was wiped out by a flood in 1881, he rebuilt on the banks of the Sioux near Cedar street. It burned and he erected another brewery near the northeast corner of seventh and Main. Andrew was a fine German scholar and a student of the Bible There was many an animated discussion and debate in his sample room. After the temperance-minded city council was elected there was much pressure on the brewery. In the late 1880's the brewery was closed after being found to have been selling to minors.     

Canton continues to change, develop and grow. But there are as few things that haven't changed. Our community has always been supportive of the needs of its citizens. Whether its building a new school or helping a family in need, the folks are always eager to use their creativity and resources to help.     

A special thank's to the Canton Public Library, the committee of the book "History of Lincoln County", and the citizens of Canton who provided information for this page.