Alexander Mitchell Public Library

Since the beginning of Aberdeen, education and literacy have been important factors to the people in the community. It is for this precise reason that only two years after the town began in 1882, B.E. Hutchinson became the first president of the Aberdeen Free Library Association. Under the Association’s guidance, a subscription library was opened, housed in two rooms on the second floor of the Hagerty block. A subscription cost 25₵ per month and $1.50 per year, and the library also received funds through benefit lectures. Furthermore, the library was conveniently located in conjunction with the telephone exchange, so the operator was often in charge of the books as well.

The library moved around several times, but in the end the community wanted a real library building. To that end, C.H. Pryor donated a building site and Andrew Carnegie gave the town $15,000 on the condition that the city would pay 10% for upkeep. With all of the funding and land provided, a lovely classic-colonial style structure was built, complete with three floors, and the library was opened on July 15th of 1902 with Miss Aurora Koehler in the position of librarian. At Mr. Carnegie’s request, the library was named after his friend, Mr. Alexander Mitchell of the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Rail Road Company.

Unfortunately the building was condemned in 1950, and then the floor collapsed, so the library was temporarily moved into a bookmobile and a second story location on Main Street. The situation was remedied, however, when the current Alexander Mitchell Library was built in 1963. This building contained only one story with a partial basement, and it included a garage area for bookmobiles. The basement held the children’s section and a multi-purpose room that would seat 150 people, and the main floor held the adult section with a newspaper and periodical section and a research area. Lots of things have changed in the library since then, but it can still be found at its original location at 519 S. Kline Street.

Other Useful Links
Alexander Mitchell Library, 1884-1964
Alexander Mitchell Library official website
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Clark Swisher

The beginning of every Northern State University fall semester is always kicked off with football, and one of the most important people in the history of NSU football is Clark Swisher.

After having spent four years in the U.S. Army during World War II, Clark Swisher joined the NSC (Northern State College) staff in 1946 as head coach in football, basketball, tennis, golf, and track and field. This is a pretty busy schedule for any person, and after a couple of years other coaches took over all of the sports except football. Then, in 1968, Coach Swisher retired and became the NSC athletic director, and he still held this position when the new Swisher Field was dedicated to him on September 10th, 1976. With a football coaching history constituted of 146 wins, 42 losses, and 4 ties as well as 4 perfect seasons and a 3 time selection as South Dakota’s college coach of the year, he was more than worthy of the honor bestowed upon him.

Four years after the dedication of the 6,000 seat Clark Swisher Field, NSC decided to dedicate their 1980 Gypsy Days to their beloved athletic director, and shortly thereafter he announced his retirement. Clark Swisher, however, was always involved in sports, and he continued to be active in NSC athletics for years to come. He was also a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1975-1984, and he did a stint as the president of the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics).

It is needless to say that when Clark Swisher passed away in 2005, Aberdeen and NSU mourned his loss. There remains, however, a new $3.2 million football-track-soccer Clark Swisher Athletic complex that was dedicated in the same year of his passing, and it continues to serve as a reminder to Clark Swisher’s great legacy in the sports world.

(Left photo:Northern State University football coaches. L-R: Fred Drews, Bill Jordan, Clark Swisher, Bob Wachs, Don Woods.)
(Right Photo: Coach Swisher, Bob Miller and Junior Pereboom getting ready on runners starting blocks.)

Other helpful links:
Northern State Athletic Facilities
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Masonic Temple

Another of the historic buildings that has a place in the collection is that of the Masonic temple. Built in 1897, it was reported to have been the first temple erected only for Masonic purposes west of the Mississippi. At the time it was built, it would have been located opposite of the Grain Palace on grounds that were surrounded by an ornamental iron fence. The building was three stories high, made of white brick trimmed with Lake Superior sandstone.

Always a very symbolic and secretive organization, the inside of the Masonic temple was decorated accordingly. For example, the keystone of the arch over the inner door was reportedly composed of stone from Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. Also included in the impressive decoration was a massive banquet room with ceilings over 14 feet in height that was perfect for hosting Masonic programs, and in order to retain that secrecy already mentioned, the ground floor of the building was arranged so that the lodge room parts could be entirely shut off by closing and locking only two doors.

At the time the Masonic temple was constructed, the only people who were really involved were men who were not Catholic. In 1916, however, there was a massive remodeling project, and the ladies of the Eastern Star became a little bit more involved. There was a new kitchen, a sun porch, and the current ladies’ parlor was enlarged. These renovations cost an estimated $20,000, and the building was ready for the re-dedication ceremony where over 300 masons were in attendance. Since then, things have apparently continued to go well for the Masons, since the Masonic temple may still be found on Main street just behind the Methodist church here in Aberdeen.

Other useful links:
The Scottish Rite
Aberdeen Shriners
Exploring Brown County
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YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association)

Of the many interesting items to be found in the collection, there are quite a few that have to deal with the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association).

In the early 1900’s, the city of Aberdeen had a huge fundraising campaign in order to establish and build their own YMCA. As seen in the campaign pamphlet “A Civic Movement to Meet a Great Civic Need,” it was believed that “If a boy’s time is occupied usefully, he will not want to become vicious,” and a local YMCA would certainly occupy a boy’s time. It was portrayed as a combination of a club, athletics, education, religion, and organization, all to be housed in one single building. There were dormitories to house away-from-home young men, a gymnasium, night school, a pool, and kitchen facilities. Everything needed was to be provided.

YMCA Drum and Bugle Corps

In 1915 the plans for the YMCA came to fruition when Mrs. A. E. Boyd donated a site for building, provided that the facility be erected in 5 years. The money was raised, and the cornerstone was laid on September 25th, 1921. Unfortunately the funding ran out, and the unfinished structure was closed up for three years. Then there was another funding campaign, and a reported $75,000 was raised in a time of 12 days. The building continued, and the YMCA was complete in the fall of 1926. Since then, there has been quite a lot of remodeling and additions, including some campsites with cabins. Staying with Aberdeen through the years, “the Y” remains a prominent fixture in the community for all to enjoy.

Other useful links:
A Civic Movement to Meet a Great Civic Need
YMCA Sustaining Membership
50 Years of Service and Growth
Dedication Exercises
Aberdeen Family YMCA Website
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Melgaard Park

One place in Aberdeen that the whole town, including all of the college students, knows is Melgaard Park. Located only a couple blocks from Northern State University at the end of State Street, this beautiful city park got its start in 1909 when Andrew Melgaard, a pioneer of the Aberdeen area, generously donated 11 acres to the city and offered to sell another 14 acres at $250 per acre, which was less than a quarter of the market price at the time.

The donation of the land itself was quite a gift, but what really put the frosting on the cake was a large stand of trees included in the donation that were already fully grown and healthy. As was written on May 5th in the Aberdeen Daily American newspaper:

While we provide for the health and joy of future generations, we are ourselves able also to get equal enjoyment out of such a park, for it comes to the city and the people ready grown with shade trees and ideally situated to become the greatest beauty spot of our entire park system. (May 5th, 1909)

 Along with the land that was given and offered for sale, Mr. Melgaard also decided to donate a boulevard that would encircle the entire property. It was to be 66 feet wide and made of gravel, and it intersected with State Street. Furthermore, it gave access to a series of roads running through the park, so it was created to be ideal for both horses and automobiles.

Then, on June 7th, 1931, there was an unveiling ceremony for the Melgaard Park statue. Made by the American Bronze Company out of Chicago, it was 6 ½ feet tall and cost around $3,000. The unveiling was held in conjunction with other activities that concluded Aberdeen’s Golden Jubilee Celebration. Since then, several improvements have been added to the park, including tennis courts, shelters, and a variety of playground equipment that makes the park a great family spot to this day.

A college student enjoys a sunny day at the park (7/20/2012).

(Click to view larger.)

Other useful links:
Official Aberdeen Site
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Brownco Courier

The education system has changed quite a bit since the mid-1900’s, and some items from that collection that attest to that fact are a group of “Brownco Courier” newsletters dating from 1945 to 1949.

(Click to view larger.)

The “Brownco Courier” was published by the county superintendent’s office and sent out to all of the teachers on the Saturday of the fifth week of each six week period. Contained within these newsletters was a myriad of ideas and activities to help teachers in the classroom. They were given examples showing how to grade students’ work and teach them the correct way to write, and they were provided with lists of books and equipment they would need for the selected curriculum. Also included in the mix were some patterns teachers could use to decorate their classrooms, like this picture of “Mr. Squirrel” seen below (click to see on pg 53 of original document).

Another thing included in the newsletters was a letter from the Brown County Public Health Nurse, who happened to be Rose Nelson after 1946. These letters included tips for the teacher to keep an eye on her students to make sure that they all remained as healthy as possible, like using as fresh of milk as possible and washing hands before eating. Teachers were also supposed to clean their classrooms daily, since cleanliness promotes good health, so between cleaning and teaching and helping students with their YCL (Young Citizen’s League) projects, the life of a teacher would have been very, very busy. Be sure to check out the links below for more detailed information.

A labor excuse form, letter from the Brown County Nurse, and a suggested daily schedule (Click to view larger).

Some useful links:
Brownco Courier 1945-46
Brownco Courier 1946-47
Brownco Courier 1947-48
Brownco Courier 1948-49
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Northern Normal and Industrial School

Black and white photograph of the entrance to the Northern Normal and Industrial School, with central building in background.

The other college that has a place in the collection, Northern State University, has roots just as deep, if not deeper, as Presentation College here in Aberdeen. It was not, however, always known as Northern State University. In fact, it all began as Northern Normal and Industrial School.

Two postcards showing the central building of NNIS.
(Click to view larger.)

Interestingly enough, it was Father Robert Haire who made the first official proposal for an institution of higher education to be placed in the northern part of the state. (For more on Father Haire, see the Sacred Heart blog post.) It would be some time until this proposal would come to fruition, but in 1901 Northern Normal and Industrial School was finally established through legislative enactment.Construction began in short order, and by the time December of 1901 rolled around, the first central building of the school was almost complete. Unfortunately that one was destroyed by fire, but it was rebuilt, and in March of 1902 faculty were selected to teach at the new Northern Normal and Industrial School when it opened on September 9th with Miss Jean Mitchell of Hecla being the first student to register.

Postcard shows three main buildings of Northern Normal and Industrial School, Aberdeen, South Dakota.

After its opening the school was quite successful, so in 1903 legislature decided to build a Ladies’ Hall for the school. Two short years later George W. Nash succeeded Mr. Koehler in his position as president of the school, and with him came new courses of study as well as a new Mechanic Arts building. Several more structures were built shortly thereafter, some of which are still recognizable on campus today, including the Administration building dating back to 1907 that was one of the first modern fireproof structures in the state.

Colored postcard showing the buildings on the campus of Northern Normal and Industrial School.

To make a long story short, as Northern Normal and Industrial School grew and changed, so did the focuses of the institution, and with these changes came changes in name. Slowly Northern Normal morphed into Northern State Teachers College, then in 1964 with much controversy it became Northern State College, and finally in 1989 it went into legislate with Dakota State and Black Hills State to become the university that we know today.

Other Useful Links:
NNIS 25th Anniversary Booklet
NNIS Basketball Postcard
NNIS Football Postcard
Northern State University
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Presentation College

Presentation College has long been a fixture in Aberdeen, and the collection boasts quite a few items related to this institution, including a plethora of yearbooks that can be viewed at the Williams Library or on the archives site.

Presentation College itself began in 1951, however, it has roots going back to 1922 when the Right Reverend J.M. Brady founded Notre Dame Junior College in Mitchell, SD. It was the first college to be operated by a Catholic parish in the United States, and for three decades it flourished until enrollment became too large for its current location. The decision was then made to move the college to Aberdeen, so Reverend Brady gave sponsorship to the Presentation Sisters who had staffed the college since its beginning.

For the first three years in Aberdeen, the college was housed in the Presentation Convent in Butler Hall. There they offered teacher training, commerce courses, and a pre-clinical nursing program, and in 1954 they were able to move to Presentation Heights, their new 100-acre campus, where they have remained to this day, promoting their mission: “Welcoming people of all faiths, Presentation College challenges learners toward academic excellence and, in the Catholic tradition, the development of the whole person.”

Other Useful Links:
Presentation Sisters
Presentation College
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Sanborn Maps

The next item from the collection is a group of city maps of Aberdeen dating back to 1912. That fact alone makes them pretty historically significant, but what really tops the cake is the fact that these maps are Sanborn maps.

Just to fill you in on what exactly a Sanborn map is, it all started in 1866 when a man named D.A. Sanborn founded a company called the D.A. Sanborn Insurance Diagram Bureau in New York City. He specialized in fire insurance maps, which provided customers with a wealth of information, including building outline, size, shape, windows and doors. The maps also usually included street and sidewalk widths, boundaries, property numbers, pipelines, railroads, water mains, dumps, and even what certain buildings were used for and the materials used in their construction. In essence, anything that might affect a property’s vulnerability to fire, earthquake, or flood was taken into account, because the maps were used to calculate risk involved in insuring certain properties.

(For a larger view of these maps, see link below.)

Under D.A. Sanborn’s guidance, his company flourished, and when he died in 1883 the company continued to grow even to the point of taking over other mapping firms. The name of the company changed as it took in the outside businesses until it was finally shortened to the Sanborn Map Company. Furthermore, in 1905 the company published the Surveyor’s Manual for the Exclusive Use and Guidance of Employees in order to ensure accuracy in their maps. Policies like these have kept the company going throughout the years, so it is not surprising that they are still around today and still making maps. With the city maps of Aberdeen being a product of this legacy, they are a truly valuable part of the collection.

Other useful links:
View all 1912 Aberdeen city maps (larger views available here)
Sanborn Maps official website
Sanborn Map information
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Churches of Aberdeen: St. Mark’s Episcopal Church

The last church to be highlighted from our collection is the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. This one was built in 1887, a little bit later than some of the others covered in the blog, and it was built in the early English style with a cruciform shape. It had an open truss work roof, and inside there was an altar of carved oak and pews of oak with walnut trim that were provided by the Young Ladies Guild. Among other interior décor were a brass chandelier, a lovely bishop’s chair, and a bell that were also generous contributions from community members.  When all was said and done, the church cost almost $7,000 and all was paid except for a $1,000 loan.

At this point in history, it seemed as though the church would have gone on happily for many years to come, however, this was not the case. Unfortunately there was a problem in Aberdeen with a “firebug,” as the local newspapers called it, and on March 19th, 1904, the arsonist struck at St. Mark’s. There were three fires that were set, but the one that really took off was in the organ. There was quite a bit of damage, but it wasn’t long before the church was rebuilt and enlarged with a Guild Hall that ironically burned down three years later. They rebuilt the hall as well, and thankfully everything went fine with the building until it was torn down in 1960 when the congregation decided to build in a different location. (The land was then used as a space for a Red Owl supermarket.)

The new church that was built cost an estimated $147,000, and this time it was much more fireproof with a rock-stone exterior and a brick interior. This time luck must have been on their side, and the church continues to function to this day. In fact, it can still be located at 1410 North Kline should anyone desire to visit.

Other Useful Links:
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Historical Information (timeline)
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