Frontier Area — South Dakota





The approach of building the Bright Angel towns inside a larger heritage area could also be used in a second location.  That is in southeastern South Dakota, between the towns of Brookings and De Smet.

A heritage area there would be organized around a different aspect of settling the western frontier.   In this case it would be the settlement of the prairie.  The area between Brookings and De Smet has a high concentration of places and buildings associated with that phase of our history.  It has surviving areas of primeval grassland, rich farmland, classic nineteenth century towns, and railroad lines, grain elevators, and other infrastructure dating from the period of agricultural settlement.

But most notably, it has sites associated with the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the “Little House on the Prairie” series of books.  The Wilder Homestead and Silver Lake are both in this area.  So too is the town of De Smet itself, which was the original “Little Town on the Prairie.”  The tie to this very popular series of books — and to the associated television series — should give this heritage area a built-in audience, and should provide a solid initial base of interest for the Bright Angel towns.

Without repeating material elsewhere on this website, you can find a basic description of the Bright Angel towns by clicking here; or an introduction to Heritage Areas by clicking here; or a model Heritage Area statute, including provision for the Bright Angel towns as one interpretive part of the heritage area, by clicking here.

The Heritage Area in South Dakota could be built around the tie to Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The main driving route in the area could be the road between Brookings — the county seat and the largest town in the area — and De Smet, about 35 miles to the west.  Brookings is a classic prairie town, with a 1905 patternbook style train depot, a National Trust Main Street Program, and South’s Dakota’s art museum and its Agricultural Heritage Museum.  De Smet contains the house that Pa built, the stores where the family shopped, and the Ingalls family graves.

The string of Bright Angel towns could parallel the driving road, about eight miles to one side of it.  The connecting road for these towns would wind through settled farm country and would cross pastures and streams.  The towns could move back through time to specific periods, and could contain specific features of the kind described in the “Little House” books.  In passing through them the visitor would get the experience the technology and the daily texture of life as described there.  Then, at the end of the route, the traveler would emerge at De Smet and would have the chance to see the true surviving buildings from that series of stories, whose meaning will be better understood in light of the experience.

Many unique “grace notes” could be added to an agricultural heritage area of this sort.  It is too soon to make specific plans, but some of the following could be considered:  (1) Farms near the connecting road could be encouraged — not required, just invited — to grow heritage strains of crops, or earlier breeds of livestock, which could be seen by passers-by.  (2) Houses in the area could be encouraged to plant old strains of flowers.  (3) Members of traditional farming groups, such as the Amish or Mennonites, could be invited to buy here, and might find the area congenial.  (4) Traditional regional entertainments could be housed in the towns, such as large communal rooms on second floors that can be used for chatauqua presentations or as dance halls.  (5) Farms could be encouraged to host overnight guests, and could post notices to that effect along the trail.


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