Sesquicentennial Highlights By Cleo Erickson AFTER 1880, VERMILLION AND BIG MO CHANGED ONE WENT SOUTH, OTHER NORTH Sesquicentennial Highlights By Cleo Erickson AFTER 1880, VERMILLION AND BIG MO CHANGED ONE WENT SOUTH, OTHER NORTH Excerpts written by A.H. Lathrop The year 1880 was an eventful one for Vermillion. Though its 700 inhabitants did not realize it, that year saw steamboats visit the town for the last time and the town itself was to move onto the hill the following year. That year also marked the worst diphtheria epidemic to strike this section and it also saw the beginning of the most severe winter experienced here since the advent of the white man. Vermillion, originally a trading post, was located in 1827 at the junction of the Vermillion and Missouri rivers. The territory was opened for settlement in 1859 and James McHenry started the first store to take care of the wants of the early settlers. STAIRWAY UP HILL A Stairway led up the hill to the foot of Market street, and in the year before the flood if one had climbed this stairway and looked back he would have seen: The channel of the Missouri river coming from the south and joining the Vermillion River at the southeast edge of the old town. Just below the stairway was a photograph gallery operated by Henry Butler, south of this was Broadway, which was dominated by three two-story structures—the Lyons building, the Clay County Bank building, and the Lee & Prentis store. Other buildings on the street included the Grange and Lunde general stores and the D. M. Inman bank. The Dakota Southern railroad ran through the north section of the village and there were three large elevators on the west side. On the hill were the residences of M. D. Thompson, A. E. Lee, Wm. Shriner, C. E. Prentis, A. H. Lathrop and Sam Jones. The latter two are still in their original locations—the Jones house on the hill on the west side of the Lathrop house just north of the new bank building. BRICK SCHOOL HOUSE Other buildings on the hill included the Methodist church and the brick school building built in 1872. Vermillion was well supplied with hotels in 1880, there being five—the Chandler House, St. Nicholas, Redmond Hand, Scandinavian and Dakota House. All told there were nearly 50 businesses establishments in Vermillion at that time. Two newspapers kept the people informed—The Dakota Republican and the Vermillion Standard. The professions were represented by four attorneys—John L. Jolley, H. A. Copeland, G. B. Bigelow and S. J. Lewis; two dentists—Dr. C. A. Maxon and Dr. Robert Gibson; one physician—Dr. F. N. Burdick who was the mayor at the time. Business places, besides those already mentioned included: General stores—Lee & Prentis, J. W. Grange, H. J. Lunde, Reeve & King, Austin & Palmer; Elevators—Thompson & Lewis, Jones and Lathrop, H. G. Austin; farm machinery—Nicholas Hansen, Jones & Lathrop, Thompson & Lewis. OTHER BUILDINGS Lumber yards—Jones & Lathrop, R. Pettigrew; Drug Stores—A. Helgeson, G. T. Salmer, C. C. Eves; Meat Markets—W. G. Bower, Ed Lackous; Blacksmith Shops—Ed Vaughn, A. J. Charrlin; Saloons—R. D. Tyler, Miles Russell, R. M. Rasmussen; Hardware Stores—K. B. Finley, L. H. Barron; Harness Sops—H. F. Lounsbery, Hayward & Sons; Bookstore and Jewelers—Bridgman, Lotze; Milliners—Mrs. J. S. Oakley, Miss Knight; Loan office—W. P. Carr. Vermillion's steamboat landing was near the junction of the two rivers. Although the railroad had been completed to the town in 1872, much freight was still hauled on the river. The last boats to tie up at the Vermillion landing were the Nellie Peck, the Far West and the Peninah. Winter got off to an early start that year with a howling blizzard in the middle of October and a foot of snow. The Nellie Peck and the Peninah wintered at Yankton and were badly damaged in the flood of 1881. LIGHTER SIDE The lighter side of pioneer life was taken care of by socials and lawn parties, bowery and harvest dances in the summer and dances and masquerade balls in the winter. The latter were usually held in the Bank hall, which was on the second floor of the Clay County bank building. Traveling shows and entertainments also appeared at the hall, as well as bands and minstrel shows. New Year's Eve was usually observed in Vermillion with a grand ball. A leap year dance ushered in the year 1880. The Vermillion Standard had the following to say of the party: "Some 20 of the fairest young ladies in the city were in attendance with their fair and festive fellows, and a grand time was had." A breakfast was served after the dance with the following bill-of-fare, which would indicate that there was no meat shortage in those days: Beefsteak, fried oysters, venison steak, raw oysters, sausage, quail-on-toast, codfish balls, boiled eggs, mackerel, fried eggs, ham and eggs, hot rolls, broiled prairie chicken, buckwheat cakes with maple syrup, cream biscuit, boiled pheasant, milk toast and buttered toast. ITEM FROM NEWSPAPER The following items taken from the files of the Standard give an idea as to the activities. Jan. 10—Bloomingdale is having a regular stampede revival. Rev. Samuel Snyder is waking up the sinners of the vicinity. Jan. 17—The New Year starts off well in Vermillion. Two-thirds of the drinking people must have surely sworn off. Two-thirds of the saloons have closed. Feb. 7—Prairie chickens are very numerous a few miles north of the city…There are a good many people going to immigrate to the Hills when spring opens. April 18—Bower Bros. Have finished work to protect the city from the encroachment of the Big Muddy. July 3—A special train containing five companies of the 25th regiment stopped here for dinner Sunday. The officers and their wives took their meals at the Chandler House, while the privates regaled themselves on hardtack and sow belly. Sept. 18—Messrs. King, Helgeson, Dean and Lotze, who have recently fitted up an "old bachelor's" hall in the rooms over Helgeson's drug store, invited in a party of ladies and gentlemen Tuesday evening for a housewarming. DIPHTHERIA COMMON Diphtheria, that feared childhood disease, was a common occurrence in the early days of Vermillion. In the year 1870 there were two deaths in May and one in July. The latter was the six-year-old son of Mr. And Mrs. C. E. Prentis. Mr. Prentis was a member of the firm of Lee & Prentis. The next deaths were in September, when the malady really hit its stride. Six of the 11 children of Mr. & Mrs. Wm. Shriner succumbed to the disease. Six small white stones mark their graves in the Vermillion cemetery. One of the children was the wife of L. W. Chandler, first editor of the Standard, who came from her home in Burlington, Ia., to help care for her brothers and sisters. She contracted the disease in its most virulent form and died seven days after her arrival. The fall term of the Vermillion school was closed and many parents left town with their children in an attempt to escape the epidemic. There were about 60cases of the disease that year and 17 deaths, the last one on October 10th. LONG WINTER The winter of 1880-81 was not only very severe but very long. It started in the middle of October and was going strong on the first of April, with very few mild days in between those dates. On Oct. 15 there were 12 to 15 inches of wet snow. Telegraph wires went down and there were no trains for three days. Thousands of head of livestock were reported lost. By the last of November there had already been a good deal of zero weather and the Missouri river was frozen enough so that teams could cross. The Standard editor wrote on Dec. 4: "We have already had six weeks of good solid winter, something that never occurred before in the memory of the oldest inhabitant." The year ended with much below zero weather. Business in the village was suspended for three days. THICK ICE There was more snow after the first of the year and the thermometer registered 15 to 20 below at times. With the ice on the rivers two feet thick and a quantity of snow on the ground, the stage was set for a flood of major proportions. It came with the spring thaw the last week in March and the greater part of Vermillion-under-the-hill was washed away. While there had been some talk of moving Vermillion onto the hill, it took the combined forces of the Missouri and Vermillion rivers to get the job done. Not only the town moved but the Missouri shifted its channel to the south and has been there ever since.
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