Welcome to Sioux Falls, South Dakota!
I’m posting two pictures of the falls, one close up and one from the observation tower, so you can get some perspective on their size.
Christi and I stayed at a Hilton Garden Inn located right next to the Big Sioux River that feeds into the falls. There’s a wonderful park that leads there and we enjoyed exploring.
Birth of Sioux Falls
Sioux Falls is named for the Sioux Tribe of American Indians and the waterfalls of the Big Sioux River. Pioneers began staking claims on the banks of the Big Sioux River prior to the Civil War in 1856. Homesteaders continued to settle in Sioux Falls bringing the population up to 2,100 by 1880.
The village of Sioux Falls was incorporated in 1876 and became a city in March 1889. By the turn of the century, the prairie settlement had grown into a city of more than 10,000. Today, the city’s population is around 190,000. So it has definitely grown over the years.
Our destination that first morning was Mount Pleasant Cemetery, located just east of downtown. Mount Pleasant Cemetery has a well-written web site with a lot of details that I found helpful.
History of Mount Pleasant Cemetery
Established in November 1873, Mount Pleasant is the oldest cemetery in Sioux Falls. The incorporation group chose the name, and elected Dr. Joseph Roberts as chairman and later the board’s first president. The group found 32 people who would pay $10 for a cemetery plot, collected as much of the money from them as possible and determined they were now “in the cemetery business.”
Originally covering about 20 acres, Mount Pleasant (at one point) covered 150 acres. The present cemetery is comprised of about 52 acres, nearly 100 having been lost over the decades to development. Although present burials number around 16,000, the cemetery still retains about 40 percent of its remaining burial space.
Inside the gateway, the Glidden Memorial Chapel was built in 1924 with a $13,000 bequest of Josephine Glidden in memory of her husband Daniel, an early member of the cemetery board. We were quite surprised to find it unlocked and took a few moments to look inside.
A sign nearby explained that pioneer banker Dennis McKinney (also a friend of the Glidden family) was the first person whose funeral was held in the chapel. McKinney was also president of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery board for several years. He died on Dec. 24, 1924 and because the ground was frozen, his body was stored in the chapel’s crypt until conditions enabled him to be buried.
Mount Pleasant’s web site explains that over time, the Glidden Memorial Chapel fell into disrepair and at one point, the doors were removed and it became a home to mowers, tractors, and grounds-keeping equipment. Fortunately, volunteer efforts to clean up and restore the chapel took place in the 1980s and it was restored to its former glory. The Glidden Memorial Chapel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.
A stone’s throw from the Glidden Chapel is this helpful sign with information about the cemetery. I was amazed to see an actual price list for services available, including the cost of a plot, burial and columbarium niches. I also learned that green burial is available at Mount Pleasant, which is pretty rare for an older cemetery. My guess is that because it has a lot of available burial space, they can handle it.
I did notice that the sign was part of a 2011 Eagle Scout project, so prices may have gone up since then. But I was impressed to see them just the same as an indication of the owners’ transparency about costs.
We drove around the cemetery to get an overview of the place. Truth be told, if you are looking for large obelisks and grand monuments, Mount Pleasant is going to disappoint you. But it is well maintained and a lovely setting.
The Gale obelisk is arguably the largest monument at Mount Pleasant, representing a family that made a distinct mark on Sioux Falls history.
The Gale family originally hailed from New Jersey but later moved to Albion, N.Y. David Gale and Elizabeth Decker Gale had several children of which Artemas was one of the most enterprising. Born in 1825, he married a woman named Louise whose maiden name I was never able to pin down. After purchasing land in St. Paul, Minn., he moved there in the 1850s and worked as a furniture/grain dealer while also dong some some land speculating.
He and Louise purchased land in Sioux Falls in the 1860s but didn’t build a homestead there until 1872. During their first years, he was active in school matters and was also director of the Dakota National Bank for much of his life. Over time, he amassed quite a fortune.
The couple had no children of their own but adopted at least two sons that show up on census records, Sidney and Ernest. Louise died in 1880 at the age of 51. According to newspapers, the disposition of her will caused Artemas a bit of a headache because of her land holdings.
Not long after Louisa’s death, two of Artemas’ siblings moved to Sioux Falls from New York. Younger bachelor brother Gabriel, born in 1837, had never married and was the last to leave the Gale family farm. Widowed sister Kathleen Gale McKennan, born in 1841, had lived in Sioux Falls for a time before she married and moved back to New York. She shared brother Artemas’ mind for business and invested well. Youngest sister Frances Gale Carpenter and her husband, Charles, moved to Sioux Falls in 1885.
Kathleen Gale McKennan’s Legacy
Both Artemas and Kathleen especially were keen on establishing a park in Sioux Falls for its residents to enjoy. In 1906, Helen contacted her friend E.A. Sherman and discussed with him her idea to give her house and the 20 acres of adjacent land to the city for a park. She died on Sept. 29, 1906 after giving to the city of Sioux Falls what would become the jewel of the park system. She also left money for the development of a new hospital, which was named McKennan Hospital.
Brother Gabriel, who has suffered from the kidney disease then called Bright’s Disease, died on June 12, 1908. He’d been living with a married couple to whom he left his estate in his will, which his siblings contested in court. They claimed he was insane at the time he wrote it.
Living with sister Florence since 1900, Artmeas was already gravely ill when his brother Gabriel died. Artemas passed away on Jan. 17, 1909. The names of Artemas, Louise, Gabriel, and Kathleen are all inscribed on the Gale obelisk at Mount Pleasant.
William Stevens, Dakota Pioneer
Markers like those for William Stevens invite my interest because of the early date of his death, which predates the establishment of Mount Pleasant. That leads me to believe he was originally buried in the old city cemetery that predated Mount Pleasant and his remains moved there after it opened.
William Stevens was born in Oswego, N.Y.on Oct. 12, 1828. He’s listed as one of the early settlers of Sioux Falls when South Dakota was still a young territory, purchasing land in 1858. The 1860 U.S. Census lists him as a farmer with no wife or children.
Fled His Farm
According to the Congressional Record, Stevens farmed his land until 1862 when Sioux Indians attacked the settlement and he (along with his neighbors) fled. Later, the land was part of the property upon which Fort Dakota was built in 1865. After the Army left Fort Dakota, Stevens returned to his farm in the spring of 1869, making repairs to his original home. But William was already suffering from tuberculosis and his health took a turn for the worse. In his last days, he was cared for at a neighbor’s home until his death on Nov. 16, 1869.
Apparently, Stevens did have family and in later years, his heirs tried to purchase his farm from the South Dakota government in 1876. From what I can tell, they were given permission to do so.
I don’t often include modern grave markers in the blog but this one reached out to me so I’m going to include it. I’ve never seen one quite like it before.
Born in 1952, Kathleen “Katie” McNeill-Merrill was a native Nebraskan. She eventually moved to Sioux Falls, married and had two children. She was a successful real estate professional and was much loved in the community. She died on Jan. 6, 2004 at the age of 51. I don’t know the cause of her death.
At the top of her monument is a laurel wreath behind which are is a stairway leading to an arch. In ancient times, the Greeks equated laurel wreaths with the god Apollo. They awarded laurel wreaths to victors in the Olympics and poetic competitions. Today, the laurel wreath stands for victory and peace.
I’m not sure what the stairway and arch are meant to signify. They could mean many things, including the steps into Heaven.
Join me next time when Christi and I visit Sioux Falls’ Woodland Cemetery.