If you want to celebrate history there’s no better place to do it than South Dakota’s own Smithsonian Institute right here in Webster, South Dakota.
“We have a little town out here, the west side is a little town. We’ve got a general store. We have a jail. We have a harness shop. We have a dress shop. We have a church, a school, a post office and farmhouses and a village house. What more do you need for a small town in 1880 in South Dakota?” said Duane Anderson, the Board of Director’s President for Webster’s Museum of Wildlife, Science and Industry.
“On the Road” has traveled north to the Museum of Wildlife, Science, and Industry in Webster where we were greeted by Board President Duane Anderson. “The museum was incorporated in 1985 and so this is our 35th anniversary,” said Duane Anderson.
“Congratulations, said Mike Huether.
“We like to think of ourselves as a destination. And so, we have school groups that come. We have study groups that come. We have a lot of individuals. Last year we had 48 towns represented in South Dakota. We had 30 states represented. We have 7 foreign countries represented,” said Duane Anderson.
In the early 1980’s, a group of local men wanted a place to show their collections of tractors and farm equipment. The school superintendent encouraged folks to think bigger and preserve the culture and history of the area. Oh my, did Webster think bigger!
“If you’re into farming equipment, we got it. If you’re into old farmhouses, we’ve got them, fully furnished. We’ve got an old schoolhouse. We have an old church. One of the kid’s favorites is the old jail from Grenville. So, whatever you’re looking for, we probably got it,” said Duane Anderson.
Gail Torrence has been volunteering for over 15 years. She was thrilled to give Taylor and I a tour, including an international animal display including items donated by the Rich Fiksdal family.
“He would go, go on safari’s to Africa, North and North America. In fact, and his children donated them when he passed away. He had a furniture store here and he had displayed them in the back of the furniture store, and then they donated it here,” said museum volunteer, Gail Torrence.
We enjoyed a replica of the office of former South Dakota Governor and Webster native, Sigurd Anderson. “He was an immigrant from Norway. He came to Webster in 1933, I believe, as a teacher. He went on to get his law degree,” said Gail Torrence. “He was a marvelous man.”
“From Webster, the governor, and now you are remembering him, remembering his legacy here at the museum along with so many other things,” said Mike Huether.
Including, “One of the collections actually could have been in the Smithsonian Institute and it’s here in Webster. The Shoe House.” said Mike Huether.
Duane was excited to talk about it. “The old Shoe House. Our understanding is it’s one of three buildings in the United States built in the shape of a shoe. There are 11,000 shoe related items in there,” said Duane Anderson.
With 23 buildings to tour, we had to keep moving. The museum was named the South Dakota State Fishing Museum in 2004. “All the items here are owned by Dennis Daly, who is also on our Board. And this is about a third of his collection. He is really into fishing boats and gears,” said Duane Anderson.
The collection has a boat from The Dakota Boat Works in Britton. “So, you are telling me, Britton, South Dakota used to have a boat manufacturer? I had no idea,” said Mike Huether.
“I didn’t either (chuckle),” said Duane Anderson.
“Surveys show that the big thing in tourism right now is farm equipment, and we have like 50-60 tractors, we got plows, we’ve got you name it in farm equipment, a steam engine. And so, that’s, that’s a must see, especially for the farmers,” said Duane Anderson.
This is truly a museum for everyone. “I have a friend that comes out here. Her father used to be a blacksmith. And she says, ‘I love going into that blacksmith shop. I love the smells. It brings back so many memories to me.’,” said Gail Torrence. “A man that comes and he loves going into the depot. He just loves it because it’s, it brings something, something to him.”
I’m telling you KELOLAND, this place has everything. “One of the things that catches people’s eyes when they go through here, is we have an iron lung,” said Duane Anderson.
“There was a program on TV about the polio epidemic, and the necessity of the iron lung and what it did. We have one of those, and we are proud of that and we show that off,” said Duane Anderson.
“And one thing that they do come, and they want to see the hairball. Because somewhere they must see that we have a hairball. Not the largest one, but it’s 25 inches in circumference. We got that right in the office,” said Gail Torrence.
Webster has something special here. “Our museum is always complimented for being very clean and we don’t have a musty smell. And we’ve had people who have traveled museums in the Midwest, and they say that ours is the best, the most comprehensive, the best organized, the cleanest and we’re very proud of our museum. And so is Webster,” said Duane Anderson.
And guess what? There is no charge for admission. I’m not kidding. “We depend on donations and we have special events. And so, we don’t charge for admission, but we ask for a donation if you’re willing to contribute,” said Duane Anderson.
And they depend on incredible volunteers, only one paid employee, and yes, the locals. “We appreciate Webster’s support because Webster and Day County are very good to us,” said Duane Anderson.
I can’t wait to bring Cindy here, and I hope George, Margaret, Kylie, and David come along, too. “I love it when grandparents bring their grandchildren out here and so many of them do that. They do and the grandkids love it. The children love it,” said Gail Torrence. “You can even find us pretty well. It’s in-between Watertown and Aberdeen so we’re right here.”
“Well, it’s definitely worth the trip for us to come here today,” said Mike Huether.
“I know. You’ll have to come back, Mike,” said Gail Torrence.
“Thank you. There you go”, said Mike Huether. “Because you’ve got at least 3 or 4 hours to come around this museum,” said Gail Torrence.
“Yeah,” said Mike Huether.
When you see the big yellow welcome flags alongside Highway 12 on the west edge of Webster, the museum is open, so be sure to stop in. And remember, there is no admission charge. If you wish to donate now, send your check to PO Box 235, Webster SD, 57274. It is a very worthy cause.