Sunday, August 7, 2022

Forty One Years in the Making - Creating Ravine Park Lake

The citizens of Huron, South Dakota waited a very long time for their lake.  More than forty-one years, to be exact.

The first documented suggestion about creating this lake came in the fall of 1895.  An idea was put forth to create an artificial lake just north of town, an idea that had already been kicked around "for years."  This lake was to be supplied with clean artesian water, and if banked, would create a lake “some miles” in length.  Surveyors were planning on staking out the embankments that very week and a stock company was to be formed to raise the necessary funds to bring the project to completion.  The work was to begin within ten days. 

The lake area would be beautified with trees and would be stocked with fish.  It would be a pleasurable resort for the citizens of Huron to enjoy.  It's hard to say exactly what happened, but nothing took place.

This idea resurged numerous times over the years, and in early in 1921, some progress actually occurred when a new skating rink was proposed.  While people had been skating on the river and ravine since at least 1894 (and probably earlier), this time, creating the skating rink involved pumping water into the ravine, paving the way for the creation of a lake.  

Initially this plan involved creating a city park there with expanded winter sports opportunities, noting the lay of the land would support many winter sports.  The skating rink would be formed by damming the ravine.  The local chatter finally turned into something tangible in October of 1922 when the Huron Lion's club decided to build a proper skating rink at that location.  That same week Clarence Coop and a team from the city mowed the grass on the bottom of the ravine where the flooding would occur, and other preparations were undertaken. 

"Heine" Pierce took a look at the area and came up with the most optimal location for constructing a dam which would hold the water in the ravine.  On Tuesday, Oct. 12, almost the whole membership of the Lion's Club made a "substantial" dam at the south end of the waterway in what they called "Ravine Park."  The thought was that the autumn rains would flood the area and form the rink.  But it didn't rain.  So they devised and executed "Plan B," which involved pumping water from the river to the ravine, and getting the community involved - both strategies that would eventually be employed to create the lake.   

The Lions Club sought out additional help to put the new plan into action.  F. H. Holtan, manager of the Huron Ice Company and several of his men donated almost a week of their time to build a dam at the mouth of the creek bed.  They installed pumps at the James River and at the dam of the rink and pumped water into the pond for about 3 weeks.  Electricity for the project was donated by the Huron Light and Power Company, as well as providing one of the motors to operate the pumps.  To provide the electricity they needed, poles were set and electrical wire run from the river bridge at 3rd street all the way to Ravine Park.  Holtan stepped up once again and furnished all of the materials and the Lion's Club members did all the work. 

Later they had to make another dam north of the first one so that water didn't run up the creek bed and spread out from there.  Following completion of this dam the water level rose rapidly - in two weeks the water was running over the south dam. 

A warming house was constructed with money raised from the community.  Here patrons could check their coats, purchase concessions, and have a place to rest and warm up.  At that point, the rink and the warming house were turned over to the city of Huron, where more personnel and better equipment were available to keep the rink free of snow.  It was said that if the city had undertaken this project, it would have cost between $1,500 and $2,000 to build both the skating rink and the warming house. 

In January 1923, Huron Mayor C. A. Kelley officially accepted the gift of the rink and warming house and thanked the Lion's Club. In a letter to the club, he said, "Your club deserves a great deal of credit for your enterprise and your desire to do something for the citizens of Huron, and you certainly have accomplished a great deal in taking charge and pushing to completion the skating rink in Ravine Park."   He assured them that the City Commissioners would do everything in their power to keep the rink in good condition over the winter.  He also acknowledged that the rink was temporary as currently constructed but the city hoped to make it more permanent over the coming summer. 

One of the first champions of creating an actual lake at Ravine Park was William Ritschlag, a pioneer of Huron.  He was a city alderman, a member of the first Huron fire department, and a charter member of the Odd Fellows among other things.  He was Huron's first barber and first taxidermist.  His dream was to see a high dam at the mouth of the ravine and the creation of a lake there.  He died in November of 1923 before this dream became a reality. 

Three years later (1926) the Altrusa Club of Huron realized the need of the community for a place to swim during the hot summer months.  They were considering sites to build a swimming pool.  One was Ravine Park, and the other was an abandoned artificial lake situated at the state fairgrounds, but no decisions had been made.  Despite support from the local Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions Clubs, the City Commissioners said they were willing to help but the budget for the year had been set and there were no funds available.  What became of this project is unclear.  However, two months after being denied funds from the city, the City Commissioners suggested that the Altrusa Club could be given the warming house at Ravine Park Skating Rink to be either sold or moved to the bathing beach at Jolin's Sand Pit.  While I do not know where Jolin's Sand Pit was or if the Altrusa Club took them up on the offer of the building, one thing seems apparent: the city had given up on the skating rink at Ravine Park. 

In September of that year a report was made to the City Commissioners by a consulting firm of engineers engaged to make recommendations on a variety of concerns.  One of the items mentioned was the construction of a municipal swimming pool.  Ravine Park was suggested as the best site for this pool.  They recommended a pool of 50 x 110 feet made of cement and concrete with showers and dressing rooms.  A reinforced concrete dam at the river was also recommended. 

But still, in April of 1928, nearly two years later, nothing had been done.  Ravine Park was being improved and trees planted, and it was well-used by the community.  To commemorate Arbor Day, trees and shrubs were planted, the Huron Municipal Band played, and a city-wide picnic was held.  Following the picnic a program was presented concerning further park development including the possibility of developing a lake there.  Mitchell's Superintendent of Parks, Walter Webb, talked about how their city developed a lake along Firesteel Creek just north of town.  

But still, no real lake was created at Ravine Park.   By 1930 work had begun on a new skating rink at the park and there were hopes of a toboggan slide there as well.  But no lake. 

It wasn't until August of 1932 that tangible things started happening.  Six unemployment relief projects were being initiated in town; one of them would be digging out rocks which could then be used to construct a dam at Ravine Park if the project was deemed feasible.  The City Commissioners asked the City Engineer to complete a survey of the dam site and give an estimate of the cost.  

A local "booster" committee, chaired by John P. Walsh, stepped in and were able to address concerns regarding cost of the dam.  They were able to secure a promise from the state game and fish commission that they'd furnish materials for the construction of this dam.  Beadle county commissioners had already agreed to pay for the labor, providing the city would pay for materials and supervise the project.  All that was left to do was to secure the easements on the properties that would be flooded.  Four of nine property owners had refused and negotiations with them were ongoing.

Finally the resolution to proceed with the project passed with unanimous support.  The artificial lake would be two miles long.  The City Commissioner proactively warned residents of neighboring communities not to come to Huron looking for work on the Ravine Park dam or any other relief project.  It'll be hard enough, he said, to stretch out the work among the unemployed residents of Beadle county. 

Bridge over Highway 14, taken from where the swimming area would be, looking north. 
Photo courtesy of Sheila Crown Arth.

A foreman was named to organize the workforce, and work was to commence in a day or two.  A tax levy increase of just over $11,000 was made and about half ($6,500) was added to the park board's appropriations for the Ravine Park dam.  More money would be needed to settle the remaining easements and to rebuild the bridge on North Fourth street, which would need to be raised about 8 feet. 

The issue of the unresolved easements was finally settled in a board of City Commissioners meeting on Oct. 3, 1932.  The commissioners voted unanimously to begin condemnation procedures against the properties involved for which the city was not able to procure easements.  The last of the hurdles had been successfully jumped, at least for the city. 

1932 had been an eventful year.  One last major development occurred in December when Mrs. C. N. McIlvaine and J. Augustine donated land located on the west side of the new Ravine Park Lake, located between 11th and 15th streets NE.  This land was to be used as a parkway and a new park. 

In September of the following year (1933) the City Commission approved plans for a Ravine Park project, costing about $14,000.  The plan included:

                1) A bridge 135 ft. long, 6 ft wide, guard rail 3 ft high, from the mainland across the "Ravine Park Creek" to the island in the creek.
               2) Channeling Ravine Park Creek
                3) Graveling and sanding the beach
                4) Constructing a park building with toilets, showers, drains, plumbing and lockers.  Sewer also needed.
                5) Main road construction, grading and constructing a parkway and graveling the paths.
                6) Galvanized iron pipe and water system installed at the park.

 The plan passed unanimously and at long last, the dam was completed in the spring of 1934.   Disappointingly, Ravine Park Lake was still dry months later when the island was christened "Izaak Walton Island."   A very heavy rainfall finally put 2-3 feet of water into the lake basin and shortly thereafter a raft carrying neighborhood boys was spotted on the lake. 

July 12, 1934 Evening Huronite, Caption: “Here is what nearly an inch of rain did to the Ravine park lake last week.  The picture was taken from the south end of the lake the morning of July 6 after the heaviest fall fell the night before.  The water was from 2 to 3 feet deep in the basin which was created by the construction of a dam with relief labor.  The level of the water has been maintained fairly well.  An observation today revealed that the water was 12 inches below the high mark of July 6.”

Ravine Lake after the dam was constructed, but before
filling.  Photo courtesy of Sheila Crown Arth.

Interest in the lake was high; several hundred children had been to the lake since the rainfall, averaging about 100 per day.  There was still enough water for swimming, but more rain was needed and unless that happened, lifeguards were going to be pulled.  As the situation persisted, the water was described as "shallow and muddy."   The usefulness of the lake depended wholly on rainfall, and 1934 was a hot, dry year.

 In 1934, Huron's water supply was from two artesian wells, but with two new wells west of town, the Chamber of Commerce discussed using water from the old artesian wells for Ravine Lake.  The idea was well received, however, a newspaper article from two years later notes that the city discontinued use of the "west" wells in favor of using the James River for its water supply and tapping the west wells as needed for deficits.   Water was also being pumped from the river into Ravine Lake.  Dow I. Sears, the head of the Parks Department, said that the "new" Ravine Park Lake is half filled and may be ready for use in a few days.  The lake at that point was already filled to 3 feet with 3.5 million gallons of water being pumped into the lake per day with a goal of 6' depth.  He stressed that this project would not jeopardize the city's water supply and it would only reduce the river's water level by less than a quarter of an inch.  He also addressed the "new" dam being built near 3rd street, which would also conserve a lot of water currently leaking through the existing dam. 

Young swimmers enjoying Ravine Park Lake, photo courtesy of Dave Martin.

The beach was being improved as well, with the Huron CCC camp hauling gravel and coarse sand to the east side of the lake.  The beach would be 200 feet long and extend 100 feet into the lake.  The lake would be roped off at various points to address safety concerns.  Water would be treated with copper sulfate and chlorine.  An additional dam would be constructed under the North Fourth street bridge which would restrict the swimming area to south of the bridge and cutting off access to the large north part of the lake.

The lake was nearly called "Lake Devore" by the Huron City Commissioners.  The motion was to honor T. J. Devore, who died in 1932 while working at the dam at Ravine Park.  After a split vote, it was decided to stick with tradition and call the lake "Ravine Park Lake."  The motion then passed unanimously.

Four cousins at the Ravine Lake bathhouse.  Photo courtesy of Roxanna Williams.

 The dream of a lake at Ravine Park was finally realized on July 9, 1936.  The lake officially opened then (although due to a recent heat wave swimming had been permitting a few weeks prior), and a dedication program was held.  About 3,500 people turned out for the event and about 700 automobiles passed by the area on that day.  Clowns (Forrest Nelson, Virgil Olson, Lloyd Miller) entertained, as did the Huron Municipal Band.  Safety guidelines were introduced - children were urged to swim in groups and stick to "supervised" hours, and vehicles were asked to watch their speed.  Fourteen lifeguards had been hired.  In the following couple of years, additional WPA projects were planned, including raising the lake dam to help with the water level in the spring, improving roads in the park, working on the shoreline, and other general improvements.  The bath house was constructed in 1938, also as a WPA project.  An open house was held on August 4, offering tours, a Huron Municipal Band concert, tap dancing, and swimming and diving exhibitions and contests.   Ravine Park Lake, as had been envisioned for so many years, was finally a reality. 




Stan Phillippi
Sheila Crown Arth
Dave Martin
Roxanna Williams 

Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, August 4, 1938
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, August 24, 1939
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, July 12, 1934
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, April 22, 1935
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, April 26, 1928
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, August 21, 1933
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, August 30, 1932
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, December 03, 1936
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, December 06, 1932
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, December 27, 1922
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, January 03, 1923
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, January 07, 1921
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, July 07, 1936
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, July 08, 1926
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, July 10, 1934
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, July 10, 1936
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, July 14, 1934
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, July 16, 1943
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, July 17, 1936
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, July 21, 1934
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, July 24, 1934
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, July 29, 1933
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, June 18, 1936
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, June 23, 1936
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, June 26, 1934
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, March 22, 1937
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, May 12, 1926
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, May 13, 1920
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, May 21, 1936
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, November 03, 1932
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, November 03, 1933
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, November 09, 1934
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, November 11, 1930
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, November 19, 1923
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, November 30, 1923
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, October 08, 1936
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, September 07, 1932
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, September 08, 1932
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, September 09, 1926
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, September 13, 1933
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, September 23, 1933
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, September 24, 1934
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, September 27, 1932

Huron Weekly State Spirit, Huron, South Dakota, March 17, 1910

Daily Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, October 26, 1895
Daily Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, January 10, 1933
Dakota Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, December 06, 1894
Dakota Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, July 06, 1899 

Huron Daily Plainsman, Huron, South Dakota, January 26, 1971
Huron Daily Plainsman, Huron, South Dakota, February 09, 1972
Huron Daily Plainsman, Huron, South Dakota, February 24, 1974
Huron Daily Plainsman, Huron, South Dakota, July 29, 1979

 National Weather Service Quick Reference Climatic Information for Sioux City, IA and Huron, SD,

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

The Mystery Building on the Corner


I must have driven by this lot on the corner of 2nd street and Dakota avenue a million times in the years I lived in Huron, South Dakota.  I never really noticed what it was.  A gas station?  A car lot?  Who cares.   Further north on the block were a bunch of old dilapidated buildings, also garnering about as much interest.  It wasn't until some 40+ years later that I even gave it a second thought.

I was looking at some old postcards of those dilapidated buildings to the north when I noticed that there was actually *something* on that corner - a huge, very grandiose brick building!  Where did it come from, and where did it go?  These were two questions that I really wanted answered.

The Houghton Block, from the south.

The answer to the first question goes all the way back to January of 1886.  C. D. Houghton and son, local hardware store proprietors, were piling sand in front of their hardware store in preparation to build this big block of 3 stores at this corner, hence the name it was commonly called, the "Houghton Block."  Each store in this block was two-story and had a 25' store front and was 80 feet deep, with cellars under all three, and "water and drainage" were included.  Houghton and Son would also be making all their own brick for the building, with trimmings of stone, and a metal roof.  

This fine building prompted proposed additional building to the north.  Joy Brothers planned to construct their own building next door, another two story building with stone trim.   And if Joy Brothers followed through with their plans, Jacob Schaller would build a slightly smaller two-story building just to the north of them.  However, looking at old postcards, either the plans were changed or never materialized, as only single story buildings were in these locations.

By September of that year, the Houghton block was being plastered and a sidewalk was being laid in front.  Drayman Stewart hauled the large, long-awaited pieces of plate glass from the train depot to the store.  The Chicago Clothing Company moved into the corner store shortly thereafter.  

The Houghton Block from the north.  Note the Unique Theater sign.  1908.

Over the years many different businesses occupied these three stores.  Houghton himself operated his hardware store from there, as well as a novelty store.  Clothing stores, furniture stores, saloons, restaurants, grocery stores, and even the short-lived "Unique Theater" in 1908.  Later in the life of the building car dealerships predominated, with a 550 gallon gasoline tank underground.  The final business to occupy the Houghton Block was Findley Tire Store from ~1947 until ~1959.  The building was vacant in 1960.

The majestic building met its demise around 1961. Unfortunately I was unable to find any newspaper accounts of it that might help narrow down the date; however, Norm Ambrosius opened a Skelly Service Station at that location in July of 1962.


Sanborn Fire Maps - 1910, 1892, 1898, 1904, 1916.

Huron Daily Huronite - April 15, 1891; Jan. 29, 1886; 

Dakota Huronite, Jan. 29, 1886; Sept. 02, 1886; Sept. 08, 1961; Sept. 16, 1886; Sept. 23, 1886; Oct. 7, 1886; Nov. 4, 1886; April 07, 1887;  Nov. 21, 1889; May 08, 1890; Nov. 06, 1908; Oct. 31, 1908

Huron Weekly State Spirit - May 9, 1918

Huron Daily Plainsman- July 11, 1962; Aug. 12, 1962

Huron City Directories, 1911 - 1960

Huron Journal World - May 03, 1906

Various postcards

Google Earth

Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Ruptured Appendix

One summer morning I was outside with my grandfather, Bill Knutz, tying the dog out, when he told me that he had gotten very sick when he was 11.  His appendix had ruptured and he was rushed to the hospital for surgery.  He never said if he'd been sick prior to that or had any warning whatsoever, and he never said exactly how long he'd had to stay in the hospital, only that it was a "long time."  Keeping in mind that this was before the era of antibiotics, it's probably nothing short of a miracle that he survived.

Above: Will, Willie and Howard Knutz on their farm SW of Huron, S.D.

What I know of the story starts with Sprague Hospital, one of Huron's early hospitals, located as many of us will remember at the corner of 5th and Dakota avenue.  Although this was not the first location for the hospital, it was the most prominent and the last location.  It was run by Dr. Buell H. Sprague.

"Willie's" appendix ruptured about Oct. 23, 1923.  He was taken to Sprague Hospital by his father, Will, while his mother, Elvirta, stayed home with the other children: Howard (9), Richard (5), and Mabel (4 months).  The family lived on a farm on the Virgil Road near McIlvaine's place, about 10 miles from the hospital.  No doubt it was the longest trip Will had ever made to town.

No one can tell the story like someone who was there - and for that, we turn to his mother Elvirta's diary, graciously shared by Aunt Mabel and cousin Bonnie.

Oct. 23: Willie was operated on for appendicitis at 10:30 o'clock this evening at Sprague Hospital. Will went with him and stayed with him.  Was in the operating room while they operated on him.

Oct. 24: I and the other 3 children went in to see Willie this forenoon and Will had me and the baby to stay with Willie and he and the 2 boys came home.

Oct. 25:  Will and the boys came in to see Willie.  Willie is getting along alright but at nights he raves and tries to get out of bed and so I have to watch him close.  The Drs. says there is some ether in his system yet and after it is out he won't do that way.

Oct. 26: He surely has some terrible dreams and times.  He imagines that we are trying to hurt or kill him, that Richard runs over him with the baby's cab and has it full of rocks.  He calls me a darn fool.  Will and the boys came in again today.  I am staying at this hospital night and day.  I sleep in a chair, Will brought baby's cab for her to sleep in.  Mrs. George Peterson washes for the baby.

Oct. 27:  Will and the boys came in again today.  Willie doesn't rave so of nights now.  He is doing fine.

Oct. 28: Will and the boys were in today.  Willie is the same.

Oct. 29:  Will and the boys were in today.  Willie is the same.  Lulu comes up every evening, we go out to supper together.

Oct. 30:  Willie is the same.  Will and the boys were in again.

        Oct. 31:  Willie is the same.  Will and the boys were in today.  The nurses had a Halloween party last night.

Nov. 1:  Willie is improving right along.  Will and the boys were in again.  He can eat jello, soups, custards, toast and ice cream.

Nov. 2:  Will didn't come in today.  Willie just feels fine.

Nov. 3:  Willie is the same.  I came home last night. 

At this point, Elvirta had spent 11 days and nights at the hospital with Willie, with a four-month-old baby to care for as well.  There is one last entry in her diary for this time period:

Nov. 4:  We all went in to see Willie this afternoon.  Mama, Papa, and Maudie [Elvirta's parents and sister of Carthage, S.D.] were there.  Willie sure gets lots of gifts.  He has apples, grapes, candies, gum, oranges, grape juice, pop-gun, box of trinkets, books of all kinds, Halloween horn, colors, pencils, pencil sharpener, knife, rings, tablets.

Willie put the colors, pencils, and tablets to good use during his long stay.  He drew pictures and wrote letters to pass the time.

Of the letters he wrote to his classmates, the one above is my favorite.  Apparently when it came time to write to Lillian, his future wife, he was speechless.

Exactly how long he had spent in the hospital is probably lost to the past at this point.  But if there's a moral to the story, it's this:  Write down your stories.  Tell your grandkids, even if they don't seem interested at the time - more is being absorbed than you know.  Nearly 100 years later, I'm glad Elvirta took the time to document this part of Bill's life, and that family members all shared what they had or knew of it.  Thank you to you all.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

The house on the Virgil Road

 Pictured below is Elvirta Knutz and her two young sons, Willie and Howard.  They are pictured at their home on the Virgil Road SW of Huron, S. D.  Attached to the photo is a sketch she made of the home, with a note on it that reads, "Our home by McIlvaine's - we moved here in Mar. 1917 and bought it that June.  Lost it and moved away in March 1925 to Wolsey."  

While they lived here, two of their children were born, and one died.  And their son Willie met his future wife, Lillian Christensen, a neighbor girl.

Above: the house when I was there in 2016.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Two Huron Heroes

The Night Fighter Squadrons of World War II were comprised of exceptional men.  Their duties were particularly dangerous. Huron, South Dakota can boast of not only one of these heroes, but two: Raymond Christensen and Malcom "Duff" Campbell.

The 417th Night Fighter Squadron was just the fourth of its kind to be formed.  Using a “new” and top-secret weapon (radar), they could effectively find and destroy Nazi operatives attempting to disrupt the allied war effort.  As U.S. convoys moved overnight, they were the object of attack by Nazis; the night fighter squadrons would frequently engage in air-to-air combat to protect these convoys.

This was such a dangerous job that only volunteers were considered for the 417th NFS, and it took a special kind of man to fulfill this mission.  From the volunteers, potential trainees were hand-picked based on aptitude tests, high physical standards, and a background security check.  Because of the secretive nature of the job, trainees were unable to tell their families or friends exactly what they’d be doing. 

The squadron was assembled in Kissimmee, Florida and the men were sent to England for additional training.  It was in England that pilots and Radar Observers (R/O) were teamed together.  Compatibility and a good working relationship were essential.  Christensen, a radar observer, later said, “I’ve got quite a bit of faith in my pilot and we get along as well as anybody could…We’ve got to have perfect teamwork to live out this blessed war, so we pay as much attention in our teaming up as we would to getting married – probably more.  In this case “until death do us part” doesn’t seem to lend any humor to the situation whatever.”    Christensen was paired with Joseph Leonard, a young and somewhat fearless pilot.  The name of pilot Campbell’s R/O is unknown.

The pilots had trained using P-70 planes, but would be using Bristol Beaufighters in combat.  These planes were hand-me-downs from the Royal Air Force as they acquired new ones.  This plane was nicknamed “The Ten-Gunned Terror” and “Whispering Death.”  The build of the plane could also easily accommodate radar equipment.  But – Beaus were described as “clunky” and hard to fly.  Brakes were frequently faulty and the needed replacement parts could be hard to find.  Gas lines could rupture on takeoff and landing due to their placement, so if things weren’t done just right, explosion could result. 

Above: A Bristol Beaufighter in flight (photo source unknown).  Below: Cockpit of a Beaufighter

The R/Os also needed additional training on the Mark IV radar system on these planes.  Early radar used 2 scopes, one displaying left/right and the other displaying elevation, both in relation to their own plane.  R/Os had to be able to quickly assimilate frequently changing data and relay the info to the pilot.  In short, the R/O had to tell the pilot how high, how fast, and in which direction to fly.

The bulk of their missions were flown over water - either the Mediterranean Sea or the Tyrrhenian Sea in the case of the early 417th.   The pilot and R/O were partially directed by the ground crew. Nazi planes flew very low over the water because the Mediterranean Sea caused clutter to show up on the radar, allowing them to fly undetected. When blips were spotted by the ground radar controller, a 417th air crew would be sent after it to investigate but would have to fly as low as possible to visually identify the aircraft before any firing could take place to avoid shooting down an allied plane.  The most accurate and deadly shots were taken from below the target, so while flying low was advantageous for several reasons, it also made the situation extremely dangerous.  Too high and the enemy might shoot them down.  Too low and a watery grave awaited.

417th Camp in Oran, North Africa

The 417th were initially deployed to Oran, Algeria in North Africa.  They flew their first mission on the day they arrived.  Five months later, the squadron began relocating to the island of Corsica.  They worked a 3-day rotation – one day on, one day on-call, one day off.  Missions could be anything from routine, to “hair-raising,” as Christensen described them.  Even just landing the plane after an uneventful night’s work could take years off one’s life.   “What’s worse than Germans is trying to come back over the mountains and land with clouds and fog clear down to the ground.  That’s when I’ve really got work to do.  Between the two of us we usually make it.”

Christensen told of one of the many close calls he and pilot Leonard had: “And so we are out stooging around in the clouds over this convoy when the Jerries sneak in under our noses.  I don’t know what they threw at the convoy, but somebody got mad and the convoy escort threw up everything including the galley stove and the sink.  So we head for France and bless my soul if we aren’t on some poor devil’s tail.  So I’m a’ telling my pilot to go down and he politely – like hell – tells me we are minus 200 feet already.  I remember the field is not very high so I look over the side and there’s the damned Mediterranean sea a’shining past about fifteen feet away and the night black as hell.  That shook me.  Well – after due time of messing around and etc. we are right up there looking at him and he doesn’t know it.  Beats the hell out of me how he was doing it, but he was flying lower than we were yet.  So we threw a bit of lead at him and got all kinds of stuff back – prettiest stuff you ever saw at night too.  That’s what you get for missing – so we have to do it all over again.  We hit his slip stream and almost went into the drink ourselves.  I had one hand on the hatch just ready to try getting out.”

To settle the nerves, liquor was a “standard-issue item for crews returning from patrols.” [Beaufighters in the Night] In addition, the camp doctor also doubled as a psychiatrist.

 Original members of the 417th Night Fighters Squadron

Of the original 40 members of the air crew, nine were killed or failed to return from a mission.  This is only about an 80% survival rate, and while this data may or may not hold true over the night fighters as a whole, it does illustrate just how dangerous this work was.

Christensen would have been among the 80% to go home to their families, but after completing his tour of duty he signed on for another tour almost immediately, despite having just recovered from a bad case of dysentery.

It was the night of May 12, 1944 that all hell broke loose over Corsica when the German Luftwaffe launched a major attack.  The alert sounded and everyone dove into trenches.  The Germans dropped numerous bombs, one of which hit the end of the runway, but didn’t do any major damage to it.  The carnage continued into the early morning hours of May 13.

On the following evening, May 13, Ray Christensen and Joe Leonard were scheduled for duty.  They loaded into Beaufighter KW161 and departed from Borgo Airdrome for patrol.    Shortly before midnight, a “bogey” was spotted by radar, and identified as an enemy aircraft.  Ray and Joe gave chase near the island of Montecristo.  Ground radar personnel saw two “blips” on their radar screen, and at 11:56 pm, one of those blips disappeared, and the other left the area.   Flight Officer Raymond Christensen and 1st Lieutenant Joseph Leonard failed to return from their mission.   Lt. Leonard’s body washed ashore 12 days later.   An unnamed soldier from the 417th wrote about the loss of Joe and Ray: “They had been vectored onto a “Bogey” and whether they flew into the water or were shot down was never determined at the time.  Having flown “baggage” many times with Lt. Leonard, I suspect the later.  They were both gallant airmen.”  Christensen’s body was never recovered and may still be in the Beaufighter at the bottom of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

On June 2, on a farm in Beadle County, South Dakota, a telegram from the War Department was delivered to Mr. Peter Christensen and his wife, Ella, saying, “The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son Flight Officer Raymond Christensen has been reported Missing in Action since Thirteen May over Corsica.  If further details or other information are received you will be promptly notified.”  He would later be classified as Killed in Action.  Peter Christensen was part owner of Bell Bakery in Huron.

Pilot Malcolm “Duff” Campbell, a South Dakota native, lived with his family in Huron for some years before they relocated to Oklahoma.  At that time, Malcolm had completed one year of college, and listed his civil occupation as an actor.  He married Joy Ackers, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Ackers of Tulsa on Friday, October 8, 1943 in Tulsa before being chosen to join the 417th NFS.

Campbell flew some high-profile missions, and was bestowed a number of honors, including the Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, plus other Army awards.  He was also given the Croix De Guerre with Silver Gilt Star by the French.

During one mission, he and his radar operator were successful in shooting down a Messerschmitt Bf-109.  Typically, an enemy plane that was salvageable was brought back to the home base, but this type of plane was difficult even for experienced German pilots to fly, says Lt. Col. Braxton "Brick" Eisel, author of "Beaufighters in the Night."  A volunteer was needed to fly the captured plane, and "Duff" Campbell was the one to step forward.  Soon after getting the plane in the sky, the aircraft rolled and Campbell was unable to recover.   The plane crashed and burst into flames.  Malcolm Campbell died on May 17, 1945, in Lorraine, France, ten days after V-E day. He was buried at the Lorraine American Cemetery at St. Avold, France, Plot C, Row 12, Grave 83.

©Karen Seeman, 2022

Letters of Raymond Christensen
Dan Whitney,  Richard Ziebart,
The Evening Huronite, Huron, S.D., numerous issues
National Archives and Records Administration. U. S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938 - 1946. (
National Archives and Records Administration.  World War II and Korean Conflict Veterans Interred Overseas. (
Beaufighters in the Night: 417th Night Fighter Squadron USAAF.  Lt. Col Braxton "Brick" Eisel - USAF.  2007.
Various Huron, S.D. City Directories
Various U.S. Censuses
American Battle Monuments Commission (

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Early Huron, South Dakota Sewer System

 The above rare photo shows sewer being installed in Huron, and is actually a postcard.  It was sent by C. K.[?] Deeser to his Aunt Nettie Gleghorn in Akron, Ohio; the back of it reads, "Dear Aunt Nettie, Well its a long time since you heard from me but I'm still alive and working every day.  I'm down in the ditch 22 ft laying tile at $3.25 a day that's not bad mony [sic]  Well please write to me at once and oblidge [sic] yours truly C. K. Deeser, Windsor Hotel, Huron South Dakota  Write Soon."   

I was unable to find any way to date this, as the postmark is illegible.  His Aunt Nettie was at this address in 1910; she moved there sometime after her marriage in 1902 and left sometime before 1920.  And in researching the timeline of Huron's sewer system, I found that various portions were under construction at different times over quite a long time span.

The photo below was from a calendar published by the Daily Plainsman with photos courtesy of Dakotaland Museum.  While the machinery being used is not the same piece as pictured above, it is very similar, and the estimated date of the photo was 1900-1910.

As it turns out, the building in the background of the postcard is the Windsor House hotel.  The Sanborn Fire Map above shows the hotel on the NE corner of 3rd st. and Illinois.  In the postcard, there's a man at left wearing dark clothes; just above him on the building is what appears to be a sign.  This was a vital clue I completely overlooked, but thanks to the keen observational skills of my friend Stan Phillippi, I was able to enlarge it, turn it into a "negative," and enhance it.  Then it was clear to read as "Windsor House."  This looks to be the same sign as in the photo of the Windsor House below.  The red "x" on the Sanborn map above appears to mark the location of the photographer, as I see it.

I believe the postcard photo was taken from 3rd street, based on a comparison of the building in the photo with the Sanborn Fire map.  If that is the case, the sewer was probably installed early on, as most of the sewer information from local newspapers seems to be an "add-on" to this portion of the sewer and the other main portion on 9th St. SW.

Above photos: The results of enhancing this tiny portion of the postcard.  
Below: The Windsor House hotel showing the sign above the door clearly.


In trying to track down C. K. Deeser and Aunt Nettie Gleghorn, I found one Deeser male of the appropriate age that was her nephew - Charles Deeser.  He was born in 1878 and died in 1946 at the age of 67 in his home state of Ohio.  He lived much of his life in Tuscarawas County.  And oddly enough, his World War II Draft Registration form indicated that he was in the sewer pipe business.  His obituary states that he retired from a sewer pipe company.  That said, I was unable to find any proof that it was indeed him who spent those early days in Huron laying tile for $3.25 a day.

It's probably a good assumption that his job brought him to Huron, and that he didn't stay here long.  But his postcard to his Aunt Nettie provides us with an interesting glimpse of Huron as its most basic infrastructure was being implemented.


Photo Postcard courtesy of Sonny Decker
1907 Huron City Directory
1909-1910 Huron City Directory
1911-1912 Huron City Directory
Huron Daily Plainsman/Dakotaland Museum Calendar, unknown  year
Sanborn Fire Maps, Huron, South Dakota, 1910
Daily Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, Sept. 23, 1910
Daily Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, Aug 1, 1908
Daily Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, Aug 3, 1908
Daily Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, July 26, 1907
Daily Huronite, Huron, South Dakota, March 14, 1911
Weekly State Spirit, Huron, South Dakota, Aug. 26, 1909
Weekly State Spirit, Huron, South Dakota, Aug. 10, 1911
Huron Journal World, Huron, South Dakota, Jan. 21, 1904
1900 Federal Census, Ohio, Tuscarawas county
1910 Federal Census, Ohio, Summit county
1920 Federal Census, Ohio, Summit county - various family Deeser family trees - family tree - headstone and information for Charles Deeser
World War I Draft Registration Card - Charles Deeser
World War II Draft Registration Card - Charles Deeser
Obituary of Charles Deeser, The Daily Times (New Philadelphia, Ohio), Jan. 5, 1946

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Fair Store, Huron, South Dakota

The Fair Store, in business for over 20 years in the store front many of us know as The Little Zee, was opened by Arthur F. Miller about 1909.  Initially opened on 3rd street between Dakota and Wisconsin avenues, the store outgrew the space within the first two years and moved to the ground floor of the Masonic Temple building at 4th and Dakota about 1911.

Miller and his wife, Albeane, came to Huron in 1906 from Tipton, Iowa where Mr. Miller ran a similar general merchandise store.  It appears that Miller worked for someone else before opening his own store in Huron.  The Fair Store was a huge success, eventually adding more departments including a grocery department when an addition was put on the building.   According to his obituary, the store was "one of the largest independent retail establishments in the city."

Miller was active in various civic events in Huron, and was a member of the Masonic order, Rotary club, as well as the Odd Fellows and Elk lodges.

Arthur Frank Miller was born at Baraboo, Wisconsin in 1866.   He married Albeane VanLeshout.   In 1932 he was diagnosed with carcinoma, and his health began to decline.  He was able to give less and less of his attention to his business, and his last 6 months were spent bedridden.  He decided to liquidate the business in October of 1933.  He passed away the following month.  His widow, Albeane, lived until 1951.  The couple had no children.  They were buried in Riverside cemetery.


Evening Huroite, April 19, 1933, pg. 5
Evening Huronite, Oct. 03, 1933, pg. 6
Evening Huronite, Nov. 29, 1933, pg.1 family tree
Huron City Directories, 1909 - 1934
Huron Revisited