Sesquicentennial Highlights

Sesquicentennial Highlights
The Railroad Arrives

Crops of 1870 were very good. Many wheat fields ran 40 bushels to the acre. The necessity for the railroad for transporting surplus crops was evident. Wagon transportation to Sioux City was expensive and steamboats were not dependable for winter marketing because of ice. After much discussion and many preliminaries, the Dakota Southern Railroad was completed, and opened for traffic from Sioux City to Vermillion, in December 1872. Citizens of Vermillion built the depot at Vermillion at a cost of $4,000, gave the railroad company the right of way through Clay County and deeded the company 15-city lots as a subsidy.

Regular passenger and freight trains ran from Sioux City to Yankton on Feb. 3, 1873. Ample transportation for surplus produce was now assured. Clay County had, at last, a modern highway to eastern markets.


The value of land near Vermillion doubled almost at once. The city of Vermillion grew rapidly in the early �70s. Farmers were raising good crops of small grain and corn was being planted more extensively. Wheat, the main money crop of the settlers, was often $1 a bushel.

Vermillion Is Organized

Vermillion was organized as a village in 1873 and was incorporated in 1877 by special act of Territorial Legislative Assembly. The first bank in Clay County was opened in October 1871.

Vermillion had been made the seat of the U. S. Court for the First Judicial District. The first Grange in Dakota Territory was organized in Clay County near Vermillion on Dec. 4, 1872.

Trying Times For Residents

In March of 1874, a three-day snowstorm with heavy winds hit Vermillion. This left the town without train service for several days. The roads were blocked with snow and ice in the Missouri River was 33 inches thick.

With warmer weather in April, floodwaters covered the bottomlands around Vermillion. Many people suffered from want of proper food and clothing. The city organized a relief system to aid the stricken families and while they were busy carrying aid to the destitute a disastrous fire in January 1875 practically destroyed the town.

Nearly all county records were lost and the county treasurer lost $3,000 in money, most of which was school funds and consequently there were no regular schools in Clay County the next year.

Clay County was left in dire straights after the flood and fire. In 1875, the crops were excellent and a combined harvest festival and county fair was held in September as a celebration. The following two years were not as good to the community. Grasshoppers came and destroyed about two thirds of the grain crops in 1876 but 1877 the rains came and the fields were promises of good crops. Just before harvest, a disastrous hailstorm passed over the county and destroyed everything in a strip over two miles wide.

2009 will mark the 150th birthday of the city of Vermillion. Each week until the sesquicentennial celebration, this column will present notable historic information pertaining to the city and surrounding areas.

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