Our ramblings in 2013 have taken us over ten thousand miles visiting distant relatives and researching family history for both my wife and myself.
On our spring trip, after visiting my wife’s 93-year-old first cousin once removed in Rose City, Minn., a few miles north of Alexandria, Minn., and research in the Douglas County, Minn., Historical Society Museum library, we found “An Unexpected Treasure on the Plains of South Dakota,” Hitchcock, South Dakota, Population 108, Next 3 Exits — (well, really next three dirt roads). This is the sign that greets you as you enter Hitchcock from the west on S.D. Highway 28. There is also a sign that says “Free Museum.” Little did we know what a treasure find the Hitchcock Museum would be!
We had gone to Hitchcock for a quick look around as that was where my wife’s mother and her siblings had gone to high school back around 1930. We pulled up to the museum just as the owner was leaving the Post Office next door after bringing his wife Rita, the postmistress, back from lunch. He asked if we would like to see the museum and, of course, we said, “Yes!”
Upon entering the museum, Ray Waldner, the owner, went around the building turning on the lights. As the lights came on, my mouth hung further and further open. I could not believe what I was seeing. Ray has a collection of about everything old from his days of growing up in this area of the plains of South Dakota. There are more old things in this museum, neatly displayed, than anyone can imagine. And Ray himself is a treasure trove of information about the area, having lived there all of his life. My wife’s grandparents at one time had a general store in the little town of LaDelle, a few miles away, that today is only a dot on the map. Ray gave us much history on that town, too. I was in awe of all of the old things displayed in this museum, from saddles to license plates, to barbed wire, to old manual typewriters, to old metal disk music players. There is no way to describe everything there. My wife was in awe of the old newspapers, pictures and other information about her family. We were able to get copies of newspaper articles about the graduation of her mother’s class from high school in 1932, as well as other articles and pictures about her family. It was a very emotional experience for her. And the neat part about this is that Ray does all of this just for his love of the history of the area.
There is a donation jar available, but I doubt is does much more than pay the light bill. We spent about two hours in the museum, and then Ray took us around town and over to the school where my wife’s family went to high school. It is now an elementary school, as the school districts of a couple of towns have combined. My wife got to walk the floor where her mother walked and visualize her and her sisters and brother gaining their education there many years ago. At one time, Hitchcock was a booming town with several grain elevators on the rail line. Most of the people are now gone, as well as the rail line and most of the grain elevators. This town and the Hitchcock Museum are real nostalgia for anyone who has an interest in the past. Don’t miss the Hitchock Museum if you are ever in the area.
We are already planning our trip back for next spring and plan to spend a couple days at the Hitchcock Museum.
Hitchcock is located about 35 miles north and west of Huron — which is about 55 miles north of Mitchell.
The location of the Hitchcock Museum is on Clarke Street in the same building as the Post Office.
Our fall trip took us to the southwest and as far east as Oklahoma City, but that is another story for another time.
For the complete article see the 01-29-2014 issue.
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