March 13, 2014 | Volume 119, Issue No. 11

The small town I never knew existed

Wick's World

As I drove by the old "Stone House" in Millward Township, I reflected on the fact that this was the final remnant of a small town once known as Arthyde.

If not for this remarkable building that is included on the National Register, Arthyde, named after New York brothers Art and Clyde, would be a true "ghost town."

Indeed there seem to be a plethora of ghost towns in the area, such as Ronald, Pliny and Thor, which are often mere intersections or sometimes still sport a church or residence or two. Some ghost towns can be identified by either abandoned buildings or a marker that recognizes the town actually existed. The following is the story of a ghost town in South Dakota that totally disappeared without any sign of existence.

While perusing a South Dakota book titled “History of Brule County,” I stumbled across this interesting fact: Brule City, South Dakota, was once a thriving town that “became the first county seat town in 1879.”

This piqued my interest as I had spent my childhood growing up just five miles up the Missouri River from Brule City and never once heard the mention of its name. I was shocked to learn of this historical small town that existed eight years before the first settlers arrived in my hometown of Chamberlain, South Dakota.

I learned of a man named Charles Collins who ran a newspaper called the Brule City Times. He had a reputation to “paint things in a large way.” He once described his city as having a boulevard two miles long with palatial steamboats that stopped there every day. The only problem with this enticing statement was that the two miles between Spaulding’s Store and Fred Hemingway’s place had yet to be built into a city. Steamboats did stop here but not daily and not until spring when the river was completely open.

A man named W.C. Willrodt left his home in Davenport, Iowa, in the fall of 1880. He was planning to move to Nebraska when he stopped along the way and picked up a copy of Charlie’s newspaper. Impressed by the tantalizing description, Willrodt headed not to Nebraska but to Brule City, South Dakota. The not yet built city already had the vestiges of a ghost town. However, Willrodt was not a man to be undaunted.

“He brought his family to the settlement that was soon joined by Arps and Hansens. They all built fine places and were good citizens and their influence looms large in the history of Brule County.”

Main Street in Brule City eventually grew to house several county seat buildings, a post office, the aforementioned newspaper, the Prouteau Roadhouse, a saw mill, two saloons and a trading post.

According to Eda Mae Bode, “My grandfather could talk the Sioux language so it was an asset at the store where Grandpa worked as the Sioux came across the Missouri River and bought or traded for white man’s goods.”

In the election of 1881, Chamberlain was selected to become the new county seat. According to Bode, “Brule City’s short spurt came to an end with eventual ‘ghost town’ status. Not even a marker shows where the little town was, but it is etched in the mind of the homesteaders and their descendents.”

Eighty years later I worked alongside Eda Mae Bode at the local J.C. Penney’s store in Chamberlain. I was a high school stock boy who sometimes had to sell girdles to little old ladies. Eventually her older daughter married my cousin, while the younger daughter became one of my best friends. Little did I realize that half a century later I would be quoting this wonderful lady in a story about a small town I never knew existed.

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