Dakotaland Museum featured in online magazine: Roadside America

Photos courtesy of Roadside America An ax swung by Abraham Lincoln in his tree-chopping youth at Dakotaland Museum, which was featured in the online magazine, Roadside America.

“The Dakotaland Museum began as the Dairy Exhibit Building at the South Dakota State Fairgrounds. It once housed a giant refrigerator displaying cheese and ice cream; now it whets appetites with over 20,000 unrefrigerated artifacts, all meaningful to the city of Huron and surrounding Beadle County.”

So begins a Roadside America e-magazine article, which features the Dakotaland Museum as its Sight of the Week for Aug. 7-13. The article will also be archived on its site permanently for easy viewing after the 13th.

“I’m happy to let you know that the Dakotaland Museum has been chosen as the Sight of the Week by the editors of Roadside America,” announced Ken Smith, senior editor of Roadside America. “The Dakotaland Museum feature story will be shared on our public-facing social media — we hope that you share it on yours, too — and it will be the lead feature on the Roadside America website for the week of Aug. 7-13.”

It all started about a year ago. Three photojournalists arrived by appointment for a tour of the museum and took several photos and asked a lot of questions.

Then last month Smith conducted a telephone interview with Executive Director Louise Van Poll and followed up with multiple text message questions and answers.

“At the beginning, people would come to the State Fair and just bring stuff,” Van Poll said. “Within two years they had to build an addition on the building.”

So much is packed into the museum, said Van Poll, that she only recently discovered a large model of the city’s minor league Memorial Ballpark (which is across the street from the World’s Largest Pheasant) still in its travel box. It had sat on the floor as a room divider.

“Apparently it’d been in the museum ever since it opened,” Van Poll said — and that was in 1960. “We didn’t even know that we had it.”

The museum has its share of regional oddities and unexpected exotica, including the head of a two-faced calf, a pair of Chinese shoes woven from straw and chicken feathers, a violin carried on Sherman’s March to the Sea, and an entire showcase of State Fair mementos, including the 1929 Buttermaking Trophy. A 1940s permanent wave machine from a Huron beauty parlor.

Before television or movies, there were Magic Lantern slide shows. Louise Van Poll, executive director of Huron’s museums, holds one of the slides housed at Dakotaland Museum.

Hundreds of taxidermy animals — fish, birds, mammals — are on display. All of them are from Beadle County and most of them are the handiwork of Hedwig “Hattie” Kouf (1869-1954).

One surprising relic in the museum is the ax of future President Abraham Lincoln. According to Van Poll, Abe and a man named William Henry Daugherty were lumberjacks in Illinois. Abe gave his ax to William, and when the Daugherty family moved to South Dakota the ax did, too, eventually finding its way into the museum. Van Poll said that its age has been verified by carbon dating of the wood handle.”

The largest wood artifact at the museum is an old shack that’s been reassembled indoors. Built in 1861, the shack is rare example of anything wood in South Dakota from that time; most early cabins on the treeless prairie were built of sod. The shack, Van Poll said, was where 11 people sheltered during the Children’s Blizzard of 1888. “They called it that because so many children died trying to get home from school” — a weather hazard that was not uncommon in the Dakotas. Sticking out of the shack’s upper floor window is a bison head (this buffalo was killed in 1878 by Sandy McCrosty) flanked by traces of yellow paint.

In the 1920s the building was painted yellow as a directional aid for the often poorly-marked Black and Yellow Auto Trail (rival to North Dakota’s Yellowstone Trail), the predecessor to today’s US Highway 14.

The entire article and photos can be seen at https://www.roadsideamerica.com as the Sight of the Week and the Dakotaland Museum story appears on the web at this permanent address: https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/26102.

It will be featured later this week on Roadside America’s Facebook and Facebook Community pages: The Dakotaland Museum is also mapped and available on the Roadside America app for iPhone, which allows travelers to find and visit attractions while on the road.

“We are delighted to give the Dakotaland Museum this well-deserved recommendation,” said Smith.