SPINK COUNTY, S.D. (KELO) — It’s difficult to visit the Black Hills area without seeing a reference to Peter Norbeck. There would not be a Custer State Park without Norbeck, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Biographies on several websites also said that Norbeck was instrumental in developing Mount Rushmore. There’s the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center at Custer State Park.
But Mary Lou Schwartz of Redfield said a lot of people may not realize that Norbeck was key resident of Spink County before he was the state’s governor and before he helped establish Custer State Park.
Norbeck and his friend and business partner established an artesian well-drilling business. They also built a shared carriage house.
The carriage house is one of 20 historic sites in the county included in a “Journey Through Spink County,” which is a sort of treasure and scavenger hunt sponsored by the Chicago and Northwestern Historic Railroad Depot museum The program’s rules and sites are on the railroad depot’s Facebook page. Schwartz is the manager of the museum.
The Custer State Park man and a jail
The “Journey Through Spink County” program lists 20 historic sites in the county. Teams of two to six people are asked to visit the sites. Each time they visit a site, they need to take a photo of the site and the team. They send the photos to the railroad museum to be eligible for a prize drawing of six movie tickets and concessions money.
Schwartz said the museum knew Brown County offered a similar program. “People have smart phones so it’s something we thought we could do here,” she said.
The prize of six movie tickets and concessions money isn’t a huge reward, she said. The bigger reward is in learning more about where you live or where you came from, Schwartz said.
Even non-Spink County residents may be curious about the sites.
A stone jail sits outside of the town of Turton. The jail is there but railroad tracks aren’t. The museum’s Facebook post said not much is known about the jail. Turton has fewer than 50 people.
“It’s just there. Did the train stop at night and put money in there?” Schwartz said. Another question Schwartz has “were inmates housed in the jail?”
Those who have traveled on the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway, a sort of figure-eight route through the Black Hills, may not have known that the conservationist and state leader, built a big business in Spink County.
Artesian-well drilling in South Dakota was expensive.
Norbeck was known for “Faster, deeper, cheaper,” when it came to innovations in well drilling, Schwartz said.
Norbeck also applied his innovations to a carriage house he built with his friend and business partner Charles Nicholson. The two families shared the carriage house. At one time, there were underground pipes conducting heat to the two houses.
The carriage house is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Norbeck was elected to the South Dakota State Senate in 1908 from Spink County. He was elected Governor in 1916 and elected to the U.S. Senate in 1920.
Norbeck died in Redfield on Dec. 20, 1936, according to the Trail of Governors website.
The ceremonial rock and a park with a lighthouse
The historic rock is called the Indian Ceremonial Rock and while it sits across from Heartland State Bank in Tulare now, it was originally situated on the NW ¼, Section 9, Township114, Range 65, at the highest point of Buffalo Township, according to the railroad museum. The rock overlooked an indigenous burial ground.
The hieroglyphics are prehistoric but there has been no exact interpretation of them, according to the railroad museum.
“I know the rock,” said Randy Buchholz, the manager of the Heartland State Bank.
Visitors stop at the rock mostly in the summer, he said. Since the rock is across from the bank, he and other bank employees have noticed when visitors stop.
“It might be a vehicle with out-of-state plates. All of a sudden, eight people are standing around the rock,” Buchholz said.
A park in Redfield includes features that were created by the WPA in the 1930s. Legler Park includes stone benches and a lighthouse. The park was named for its long-time caretaker Merle Legler, according to the railroad museum.
Off the interstates
The U.S. Travel Association recently noted that South Dakota was a leader in tourism recovery during the pandemic.
Kirk Hulstein, the industry and outreach development director for the state’s tourism department, said small museums such as the railroad museum and sites off the interstates are seeing more visitors than in prior years.
“Small town museums are seeing visitors they don’t normally see,” Hulstein said.
Schwartz said the museum and the “Journey Through Spink County” have drawn the attention of people outside the county mainly through the Facebook posts
Each activity the museum sponsors is designed to draw people into the communities and engage in the county, Schwartz said.
Events and stops can mean people may buy gas or a meal at a local business, Schwartz said.
The “Journey Through Spink County” program can be an evening event or weekend event for family or friends, Schwartz said.
“They can pick and choose where they want to go,” Schwartz said.
When they do choose, Schwartz said she hopes the stops inspire conversations about the local history.