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{graphic} Pipestone County History

"After riding another fifteen miles across the trackless, treeless, boundless expanse of bare-brown, desolate, lonesome prairie, we arrived at the embryo town of Pipestone, its one little lone house barely visible in the deepening twilight."-Mrs. J. M. Bull, in a letter printed in the Pipestone County Star, June 22, 1916, reminiscing about life during Pipestone's first years of settlement.

The town of Pipestone, Minnesota, possesses a rich historic legacy as a transportation and quarrying center. Noted for its architecture constructed of locally quarried Sioux quartzite and catlinite, Pipestone stands as a vivid reminder of a time when Minnesota's expanding western frontier entered the sacred land of the red pipestone. Visitors to Pipestone will have a chance to witness the town's interesting architecture, as well as the nearby pipestone quarries and surrounding communities. From the earliest American Indian settlements up to the present, the history of Pipestone is one where the clashing of cultures produced a town created from the sacred earth. The surrounding area in Pipestone County is also rich in history, and the neighboring town of Jasper stands today as a reminder that Pipestone did not possess a monopoly on quarrying and railroad transportation.

[photo] "Scalp Dance, Sioux" painting by George Catlin. The Dakota (Sioux) American Indians were the latest in a long line of pre-European inhabitants of southwestern Minnesota
Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum

American Indian Settlement: According to A History of Pipestone County, produced by the Pipestone County Historical Society in 1984, the first evidence of human occupation of southwest Minnesota dates to 8000 B.C., following the Pleistocene epoch of earth's last great ice age. Hunters equipped with stone-tipped spears hunted big game in the area, such as the mammoth and a very large species of bison, also extinct. A large spearhead (Clovis point), one of the oldest artifacts in Minnesota, was discovered in Pipestone County. The first petroglyphs (rock drawings) were created about 2000 B.C. in the area; some were found at the Pipestone quarries. Around 200 B.C. the Fox Lake Culture had emerged in the Pipestone area. They left behind mounds and pottery samples, and used the bow and arrow. Clay pots, dating back to 200 B.C., demonstrate that the Fox Lake American Indians possessed a sophisticated culture. The Great Oasis Culture followed the Fox Lake people; these people lived in the area from 900 to 1400 A.D. The Oasis Culture is believed to be the first to make use of the pipestone from the quarries. They created carved tablets inscribed with figures resembling crosses as well as pipes from the stone of the quarries. Dwelling in thatch houses, there is little evidence that the Great Oasis Culture practiced much agriculture, although members in northeastern Iowa are thought to have cultivated corn. These people were replaced by the Oto and Iowa people, descendants of the Mississippian people known as the Oyote. In the 1600s and 1700s, the Dakota migrated to the area, and among them were the Yankton Dakota, a part of the powerful Dakota or Sioux Nation, who settled near the location of the present-day town, and utilized the soft red stone, called pipestone.

Pipestone artisan
National Park Service

European and American Exploration and the Founding of Pipestone: The French were the first Europeans to explore Minnesota. The Groselliers and Radisson, Father Louis Hennepin, Baron LaHonton and others left accounts of their journeys as well as descriptions of the red stone found in pipes and other items American Indians traded. The region passed from French to American control in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. With the 1814 Treaty of Ghent clarifying the boundary between British North America (present-day Canada) and the United States of America, large areas of the American west became part of the United States. The famous Lewis and Clark expedition traveled through the area soon after. Lewis and Clark noted the pipestone quarry in their journals. Fur trader Philander Prescott wrote another account of the area in 1831. Five years later, the artist and writer George Catlin traveled through the region. He sketched the landscape surrounding the quarries, and this drew general interest in the site.

Pipestone County was established in 1857, but it was still many years before European-American settlers came to live in the county. The region had been visited by explorers and traders, but settlers stayed away, considering the county "Indian territory," until well after the Civil War. In 1837 the United States government negotiated treaties with the Sioux and the Ojibwa, who held title to the entire Minnesota region, to give up lands in the triangle bounded by the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers and by a line drawn eastward from the mouth of the Crow Wing River. As soon as the treaty was signed, lumbermen moved into the region, and settlements rapidly grew up at Stillwater and St. Paul. Further treaties with the American Indians, combined with the growing might and population of the United States, eventually opened up the rest of Minnesota for settlement. Alarmed at the number of settlers entering the region, the Sioux rose in August of 1862, which resulted in nearly all the Sioux being expelled from the State. During the 38 day war, 500-800 American settlers and an unknown number of Sioux were killed. After this war, immigration grew in the western Minnesota. The first Pipestone County survey occurred in 1871, but the surveyors neglected to mark the Sioux reservation on the drawing of the land that was later named Sweet Township. The town of Pipestone, Minnesota, county seat of Pipestone County, was first platted from 1873 to 1874, and finally incorporated on February 1, 1891. Two individuals, Charles H. Bennett and Daniel E. Sweet were instrumental in the founding of Pipestone. In April 1873, Sweet surveyed the 20-block townsite in Section 12 of the township which was later to be named Sweet. The town itself was located near the center of the county, a mile south of the quarries where the red pipestone is found, and for which both the town and county are named.

Bennett, born in Union town, Michigan, in 1846, served four years in the Civil War and acquired a pharmacist's education by working in pharmacies in the East. He lived for a while in Sioux City, Iowa, before it had a railroad, and built a thriving drugstore business in Le Mars, Iowa, before coming to Pipestone in 1873. Bennett used his own capital and all he could borrow in efforts to develop the community. In 1883 he persuaded the Close Brothers, William and Frederick, two Englishmen, to settle in Pipestone. The Close Brothers advertised the bountiful landscape in circulars distributed throughout the Northeast and England, promoting the rich black soil, civilized nature of the country, and the paradise which awaited the hopeful immigrant. The English land-speculating brothers did not mention the severe weather, devastating insect pests and the treeless landscape, which had earlier prohibited settlement. The selective nature of the ads helped to lure settlers, and with the increased settlement the railroads arrived. Later two more Close brothers, John and James, arrived, and along with S. H. Graves, they formed the Close Brothers Company. Through connections with wealthy Englishmen, they were able to buy large amounts of land in southwestern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa, forming one of the largest land companies in the region.

Pipestone City Hall, now the Pipestone County Museum
Courtesy of Lorraine Draper

Railroads, Quarries and the Growth of the Town: The plotting of the townsite in 1876 did not result in the immediate growth of the town. A rush for land began in anticipation of railroad construction after 1878. On Thanksgiving day, 1879, the first train arrived in Pipestone. By 1890, the town possessed four different rail lines and became the transportation and shipping hub of southwestern Minnesota. In 1879 the Minnesota and Black Hills branch of the Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad was constructed from Heron Lake in Jackson County to Woodstock. In 1881 this line was extended to Pipestone. The nearby towns of Ruthton, Holland, and Ihlen were developed in 1888 in anticipation of the 1889 construction of the Willmar and Sioux Falls branch of the Great Northern Railroad. The town of Jasper was also founded in 1888 by several Pipestone capitalists interested in quarry development.

Railroad lines brought many different businesses and people to the growing town. With 20 trains entering the town each day, Pipestone thrived. The increased rail service brought many positive aspects to life in Pipestone, but it also brought increased tensions, as fuel sources were scarce in the flat plains and the railroads monopolized the small coal supply. In 1879, 22 businesses were operating in Pipestone, and in just one year the number jumped to 53. Three physicians were in residence by 1879. Over the next 20 years Pipestone became a real "boom town" and it was then that the buildings in the Pipestone Commercial Historic District were constructed. Masons used locally quarried stone to build these lasting monuments to their craft. The railroad brought access to outside culture, and Pipestone even boasted the Ferris Grand Opera House in the Ferris Grand Block Building built in 1898. Not all changes were positive, though, as monopolies existed concerning the use of grain elevators, pooling and freight costs. Farmers' cooperatives formed to combat these procedures. The antimonopoly feeling of the time produced the Farmers' Alliance and the Arkansas Agricultural Wheel in the southern states, and a number of organizations, collectively called the Northern Alliance, in the midwestern and north central states. Smaller in numbers, the Northern Alliance was more concerned with railroad issues and resorted to a third party movement to pass reforms.

The town of Pipestone was largely built with rock quarried from the large deposits of Sioux quartzite in the county. Beginning in the late 19th century, masons, builders and quarry workers collaborated to construct buildings from the stone. Their high level of craftsmanship, sense of beauty and ability to construct buildings of lasting quality are part of Pipestone's tradition. Several popular architectural revival styles were applied to the town's early downtown buildings, but rural architecture largely escaped the excesses found in the eclectic town architecture of the period. The high standard for the buildings found along Main Street in Pipestone are testimony to the builders. The local quarries also produced building materials for distant cities, with the railroads transporting the red stone to numerous locations.

[photo] 100 Block of West Main St., including the prominent Ferris Grand Block c.1904
Courtesy of the Pipestone County Historical Society
Pipestone's Progress: Schools and Government: Pipestone's government began tackling local issues from the beginning of settlement. Pipestone's first school was a 10 by 15 foot wooden building, opening in the summer of 1878 with six students taught by Florence Bennett. This school was located at the corner of Hiawatha Avenue and 2nd Street. In 1881, a one-story 26 by 40 foot frame building was built on the northeast corner of the present Central School site. Two years later a two-story, five-room brick-veneered building, trimmed with Kasota sandstone, was built in the center of that property. A fire on March 29, 1893, destroyed both buildings, and school was held in the town churches as construction began on a three-story stone building. It was completed and ready for occupancy in the fall of 1894. As the population increased, two small schools were built in the eastern and western sections. The East Ward and West Ward schools served the first four grades. The use of these schools ceased when a large addition was made to central school in 1910, doubling its size. With increased enrollment after consolidation in the 1950s, district elementary students were bused to either Brown or Hill schools, both post-World War II schools.

Pipestone's history of education also includes the American effort to provide education to the nearby Sioux. Congress passed a bill in 1891 which appropriated $30,000 to build the Pipestone Indian Training School, located about one mile north of town, on the Pipestone reservation, which included the pipestone quarries. The school appropriated the entire 648 acres of reservation land surrounding the quarries, and the Yankton leaders, who did not object to the school itself, regarded its location as an attempt by the United States government to invalidate their claim to the quarries. The school opened February 2, 1883. It grew to consist of 56 buildings, including a farm and cottages. Eleven buildings were made of Sioux quartzite from the reservation quarries, including the Pipestone Indian School Superintendent's House, which dates to 1907.

Jasper and Ihlen: In 1888 two other towns in Pipestone County were founded south of the town of Pipestone. On April 19, 1888, the Pipestone county surveyor, Alfred S. Tee, surveyed the Jasper townsite, 12 miles south of Pipestone. The townsite was divided into 12 blocks and dedicated on May 4, 1888. Partially in neighboring Rock County, Jasper became a rival to Pipestone, and home to a stone quarry founded by the five Rae Brothers, Alexander, Andrew, William, Robert and George, who immigrated from Scotland. By the spring of 1889, 235 people were living in Jasper. Jasper was the last town in Rock and Pipestone Counties connected to rail transportation. The first passenger train arrived in Jasper on October 21, 1888. Religious services began in Jasper the same year, and the town soon possessed six churches. In the same year, the Great Northern Railroad company founded the town of Ihlen, five miles south of Pipestone. All trains stopped in Ihlen, while the conductor reported the number of cars in each train to the company. Ihlen's businesses were established soon thereafter. In June 1885 the first general store was opened by John Olson. In 1894 Albert Olson opened a hardware store and the bank of Ihlen soon followed, in 1904. The early 1920s saw the greatest railroad activity in Ihlen, but by the end of the decade it began to taper off as the advent of diesel-powered locomotives made it unnecessary for trains to stop there.

Jasper Stone Quarries, the only active quarry in the area

Courtesy of Lorraine Draper

Pipestone and the 20th Century:As Pipestone grew, so did the public improvements. The town council established a local Board of Health, street committee and a waterworks committee, which produced a water system that used wind power to raise the water to an elevated tank for water pressure. This happened in October of 1887, at a total cost of $17,000. In 1895, the town installed street lights on the major streets in town. Soon after, the streets were paved. In 1907 Pipestone established standards for sidewalks, crossings and curbs. The Benjamin Building on 112 East Main Street was built in 1929, just before the Great Depression, and was named for its owner, Dr. W. G. Benjamin, who practiced medicine at this location until 1970.

The 20th century also brought Pipestone's first hospital, the Brown Hospital, constructed in 1912. The police and fire department expanded, and the original three-person mayor-council grew to a five-person mayor-council. An airport was constructed in 1946. As automobiles became common, the need for train travel decreased and the Calumet Hotel began to suffer for lack of business. Establishment of the Pipestone National Monument in 1937 and the Song of Hiawatha Pageant caused usage of the hotel to soar from the 1940s to 1960s, as Pipestone became a popular tourist spot. The Song of Hiawatha Pageant, which ended its run in 2008, was held annually during the summer. This show, derived from Longfellow's poem, possessed a cast of 200, and was known for its lighting effects and costumes. The Pipestone town charter, a document that outlines the form of government, initially limited the power of local government, but in 1978 the town adopted a new "home rule" charter that expanded the powers and responsibilities of local government. In the late 1970s Pipestone's historic and architectural significance was recognized by its listing as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, Pipestone is a progressive community of about 4,600 people and the county seat for the roughly 10,000 people in Pipestone County. With numerous sports facilities, a performing arts center, various festivals and the town's proximity to three local regional airports, including the Pipestone Municipal Airport, Pipestone is still a transportation hub, with the Pipestone National Monument, the Pipestone Commercial Historic District and other nearby historic locations waiting to be discovered by the interested traveler.

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[graphic] Link to essay on Pipestone County History [graphic] Link to essay on Downtown Revitalization[graphic] Link to essay on Pipestone: The Rock

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