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TRUE DAKOTAN Rotating Header Image

Gann Valley turns 125 this weekend

BY CRAIG WENZEL – TRUE DAKOTAN EDITOR   

GEORGE BRIDGE, longtime Gann Valley resident and showman, sits on one of his Scottish Highlander steers (1960s?)

The 125th anniversary of the town of Gann Valley will be held this Saturday, July 31, 2010 with an all-day celebration.  The observance actually begins the day before when the quasqui-centennial wagon train leaves the Ron Peterson residence on the Shelby road at 9:00 a.m. The train will arrive at Gann Valley at around 5:00 p.m., in time for an evening meal. The evening meal is intended for wagon train participants..

Saturday’s celebration features an all-day special postal cancellation and quilt raffle. A quasquicentennial parade is set to begin at 10:00 a.m. at the Legion hall. There is no charge to enter the parade. Concessions will be available all day. Games will be played beginning at 1:00 p.m.  Everyone is invited to the community supper at 5:00 p.m. There is a small charge for the meal. The day concludes with a street dance with music by the local favorites, “The South Hand Band”. Music begins at 9:00. 
The following information taken from “A History of Buffalo County – 1885-1985″.
On Jan. 14, 1885, the proposals of A. L. Spencer donating 30 acres of land in Section 33-107-68 and Herst C. Gann, donating a courthouse building were accepted and on Jan. 19, 1885, the county commissioners met at the new location and it was officially declared the county seat and named Gann Valley.
In November, 1886, was held the first general election and the county seat was changed to Buffalo Center, Section 1-107-69, and remained there until in April, 1888, when it was again relocated at Gann Valley, after quite a struggle by boomers on each side.

  

 

 

 

TOWERING OVER “NORMAL SIZED FRIENDS”, August Klindt is shown in the circa 1940s photograph taken near Gann Valley. Known as the “Gann Valley Giant”, Clint was a Buffalo County legend as a farmer and one-time county sheriff. He also traveled with a circus sideshow where people paid to see “the giant” pass fifty-cent pieces through his gigantic ring. Clint spent his retirement years in Wessington Springs, living at the Pheasant Hotel on Main Street. His “ten-gallon” hat is on display at the Jerauld County Heritage Museum in Wessington Springs. During his farming years he lived neighbors to the Buck and Doris Keyser family, northwest of Gann Valley. It was estimated he was seven feet tall and probably weighed more than 400 pounds. People from the are still remember his friendly manner and the way he drove his tractor around the neighborhood. He is shown above with the late Jack and Eva (Wenzel) Jones.

In 1885, another paper was established and named “The Buffalo County Sentinel.” It existed only a short time. In 1888, “The Dakota Chief” was established at Gann Valley with Morton Alexander as publisher. Later the name was changed to “The Gann Valley Chief” and the paper continued publication into the 1970s. Editor’s note: The Gann Valley Chief was purchased by the Wessington Springs Independent, which was later purchased by the Wessington Springs True DakotanBuffalo County was at one time the largest county in the state, comprising an area of 5,000 square miles. 

Early Businesses
Today’s residents of our little town of Gann Valley know little of the excitement and industry of its early days.
 In 1903, a drug store opened with Shull and Sullivan as proprietors. Sullivan was from Wessington Springs. 
The Osman and Johnson general store was the first store serving the early settlers.
In 1903, N. A. Keeler built a large addition to his blacksmith and wagon shop. The Keelers were early and well-known residents here.

 In November of that year, John S. Nelson built a new blacksmith shop south of Leach’s livery barn. The Nelson Brothers, John and Otto, were early and long-time blacksmiths here. As early as 1915 they put a cement floor in their shop for a first-class auto repair shop. The car was making its appearance on the horizon.  In that year Jack Meyers built a large livery barn where the Leach hotel used to stand, one block south of the post office now. It was a busy place for some years.  

Gann Valley ball team. (front) Lyle McLaughlin, David Cahill, Kermit Lawver, back Frankie Cable, Gary Grabin, Roger Mentzer,( back) Willie Wenzel, Miles Campbell, Ronnie Lawver, Joe Harn, Duane Gaulke, Lee Zastrow. When asked if he recalled the year this photo was taken, longtime Gann Valley resident Lee Zastgrow, now of Wessington Springs, wrote: I think this was taken in 1954 or 1955. I was an eighth grader or freshman that year. We moved to the Gann Valley area in the spring of 1953 and this was my first experience with baseball. Forrest Harn was the Manager (Joann (Baker) Judstra’s dad).

The ice harvest was an important winter occupation. Usually in January, weather permitting, men of the community went to the river, to dams, or to ponds to cut the ice. With saws and picks, they cut and pried loose blocks of ice and loaded them on wagons. There was a large ice house in Gann Valley and some women were fortunate enough to have ice boxes. The ice was sold in chunks about the right size to put into the top of the ice box. 

The Watkins man was a welcome visitor in our pioneer homes. Not only did he bring news of the community beyond, but he sold household items much prized by the ladies, and he always left gum for the “kids.” 

In the 1920’s, the pool hall and the barber shop were busy places. Adolph Gilbert had the pool hall and barber shop near the Pippin Hotel. He barbered there for several years, and later Clifford Pippin, Rufus Pippin, E. Ebert, and Harry Nelson were barbers there. 

E. C. Burton, in the 1920’s had a harness and shoe repair shop in the north side of the Johnson building to do general harness and shoe repair. 

There were once business buildings along the east side of what is now the courthouse yard. Fred Wilhelmy came out from Iowa and had a barber shop in the building there, and there was a dentist in a building there for a time. 

In 1925, Neffie Seger opened an ice cream parlor in the hotel building. 

Gann Valley has had several cafes. After the Farmers’ Savings Bank closed, Lee Trayler and his daughter, Alice, ran a cafe in it and later Bessie Oates ran it. It was destroyed by fire while Mrs. Oates ran it. Jessie Halbig and Clarice Nelson ran a cafe in Gann Valley for some time. When the Rockenbaugh came out from Indiana, they turned the old Hughes store into Rocky’s Roost, a cafe with rooms above. Later Mrs. Neil (Mildred) Ness ran a cafe in the main part of the building. 

In those days, every lady of any class wore a hat; if you had wanted to buy a hat in Gann Valley, you could do so. In January, 1900, Mrs. Bessie Jones and Mary Simmons moved a building to a lot on Main Street just north of the Hughes Store and opened a millinery and dressmaking shop. Later the Misses Winters and Oates were proprietors.buying the H. B. Farren building, which they moved near the first one. By 1905, the old buildings had been moved onto new foundations and connected by a new building. Charley Johnson, a local young man, started working for them at this time, and he was with them for many years. 

Gann Valley was fortunate in 1985 to have one cafe in operation; Jeanne and Tony Krebs operate it in a small building south of the service station. Editor’s note: The Krebs cafe is now closed. 

Fraser’s Store

Nettie and George Fraser came to Gann Valley in 1903. George and his brother Charles had purchased the Osman and Johnson general store. It was a small frame building, and in December they enlarged the store by store next to them.
In 1916, the store was offered for sale as George’s health was very bad; however, they did not manage to sell it and George went south to spend the winter. Since the sons were still in school, Charley Johnson was a real help for Nettie Fraser.

 Donald and Cecil Fraser and Charley Johnson all served their country during World War I. Nettie and George, with some hired help, continued the operation of the store. A general store in those days sold everything; early in its operation it boasted of selling two top buggies in one week; in later years it sank tanks and sold kerosene and gasoline. In 1921, the frame building burned to the ground, and the present tile building was constructed by J. N. D. Nemmers and Company. Fire seemed to plague the Frasers: in September, 1929, a large warehouse they had west of their store burned to the ground and quite a loss of goods was sustained. 

George Fraser died in 1934, and Don Fraser managed the business until his death in 1954. Back in the 1930’s, when times were really tough, the store was lost through a mortgage. Don operated it in a part of Gus Petersen’s garage until he was finally able to repurchase the building and moved the stock back again. 

When Don’s wife, Pearle, became involved in the schools of the county as county superintendent, he had hired help; among them were Pearle’s nieces, Joyce (Baker) Magee and Jeraldine (Baker) Knight and Wilma Melba Gaulke. 

The store celebrated 50 years in business in 1953, serving coffee and doughnuts. Don Fraser died in July, 1954, and Pearle continued the operation with the help of her niece, Jeraldine Knight until July, 1959. At that time she sold it to Janice and Hugh Sedgwick. Janice, too, is a niece. 

The Sedgwicks continued the operation of the store under the name: “Fraser’s Store, since 1903— The Quality Store”. The store is now closed. 

Click here to see the Gann Valley 125th anniversary schedule of events:  gann valley quasquicentennial schedule

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1 Comment on “Gann Valley turns 125 this weekend”

  1. #1 Margaret (Holman)James
    on Dec 8th, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Craig, I am an extension editor and I write a weekly column around Ipswich. I would like to use an exerpt from the book about George Bridge of Gann Valley. How can I get permission to publish it?

    Thanks.

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