Sesquicentennial Highlights

Sesquicentennial Highlights
Onto The Bluff

With an astonishing spirit of enterprise the citizens of Vermillion promptly built their city anew, on higher land, beyond the reach of future floods. Not a businessman left the community. The new city which sprang up, phoenixlike, on the hilltop is superior in all respects to the town destroyed.

This achievement is sufficient comment on the tireless energy and the adventurous will of Clay County pioneers.


The same year the city donated $800 and city lots for a location for a new courthouse, to which the county commissioners added an appropriation of $2000 for the building. New blocks and streets were laid out and many shade trees were planted.

In 1882 a new school building of red brick costing $8000 was built in Vermilion. It was dedicated Jan. 3, 1883. Vermillion schools now had an enrollment of 202 with 43 in high school.

Twenty years later the first territorial legislature created and located the state university at Vermillion. Up to this time it had existed on paper only. In a special election in November of 1882, the people of Clay County voted bonds for $10,000 to erect a building and to open the university.

The University opened for class work on Oct. 16, 1882. The first classes where held in the new courthouse, just completed. On Sept. 18, 1883m the university was formally opened and classes held for the first time, on the present campus. Enrollment the first year was 35 students, but increased to 64 before the end of the school year.

In the year of 1882, prosperity of Clay County continued. The county is largely made up of farmers, all more or less prosperous and many are wealthy. They owe their prosperity to �Clay County soil.�

Vermillion handles more dairy products than any other town in Dakota. The county is also strong in corn, cattle and hogs. By 1885 there is no more free land left in Clay County.

However, much of the land still is lying idle and can be bought at reasonable prices selling from $10 to $25 per acre. Land lying further away from the railroad may be purchased for much less.

By 1886 the high level of the Dakota boom period had passed. Clay County entered a long period of hard times caused by drought. In 1887 a vote on prohibition carried in Vermillion by a good majority.

Saloons were closed and Vermillion was held in high repute as one of the banner prohibition cities of the territory. After three decades, this little portion of wild prairie had been transformed into an organized, prosperous unit in the new state of South Dakota in 1889.

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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