Geddes, S.D., fights to preserve historic home

Farm Forum

GEDDES – In the early 1900s, Peter Norbeck gave much to South Dakota even before becoming its governor and U.S. senator.

He started his adulthood as a well driller, providing important water supplies for rural areas and eventually drilling 10,000 wells. As a public official, he played key roles in promoting agriculture, conservation and the Black Hills.

Norbeck’s childhood home remains on display in Geddes, but time has taken a toll on the structure. Now, local residents are fighting to preserve the two-story wood house as a testament to his life.

“It’s just been gradual, but the house has deteriorated so much the last few years. It really needs a lot of work,” said Sharon Ackley, treasurer of the Charles Mix County Historical Restoration Society (CMCHRS).

The historical society has raised about $2,000 of the estimated $40,000 cost of the restoration work. The members plan fundraisers and are seeking grants and donations.

“There are so many people who don’t know about the Norbeck house,” she said. “We are hoping awareness of the project will bring us more funds.”

Norbeck’s boyhood home was moved to the Historic Village in Geddes from the Norbeck homestead seven miles northwest of the town. The foundation and floor must be repaired and stabilized, and the roof needs new shingles. Other needed work includes Sheetrock on the walls and ceilings, along with repair and replacement of windows.

The challenge remains immense, Ackley said.

“It would be nice if we could get this done in one year, but I think that’s unrealistic,” she said. “We are hoping for two years, and it will more likely be three.”

Visitors come to see the Norbeck house but aren’t allowed to enter it, Ackley said.

“We had a lady stop this past summer. She was living in California and stopped to see the Norbeck house because Peter gave her dad a job so (the father) could go to the doctor,” Ackley said.

“But we haven’t been giving tours of the house because the floor is unsafe and we don’t want anybody to get hurt. Visitors may not get very far into (the house), and they could fall through the floor.”

The Norbeck home was given to the society by Mr. and Mrs. Morries Rommen. The house was moved into Geddes by the Vander Pol Moving Company, serving as the community’s Living Legacy project for South Dakota’s centennial in 1989.

Norbeck was born Aug. 27, 1870, to the Rev. George and Karen Norbeck. His childhood in Geddes played a pivotal role in developing his lifetime traits and accomplishments, said CMCHRS secretary Ron Dufek.

“Peter Norbeck’s father was a minister, and he accepted a call from the Frankes Congregation,” Dufek said. “They moved here from Clay County and lived in Bloomington, northwest of Geddes.”

Peter later attended the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. He was the first big driller for artesian wells in the state.

“He went into the well business in 1892, when he was only 22,” Dufek said.

Norbeck married his wife, Lydia, on June 7, 1900, and they had four children: Nellie, Ruth, Harold and Selma.

Norbeck’s interest in government was fueled by his father’s service in both the territorial and first state legislature.

In 1908, Peter Norbeck was elected to the South Dakota state senate. He later served as lieutenant governor and governor before serving as U.S. senator from March 1921 until his death in 1936.

As lieutenant governor, he played an important role in enacting a law designed to protect deposits in all banks operating under state charters.

During his two terms as governor, he was responsible for the bridges across the Missouri River and the passage of a state highway law.

Other legislation included rural credits, enactment of a workmen’s compensation law, the establishment of a state-owned cement plant and the passage of state hail insurance.

He started a large road building program and directed the investigation for hydroelectric development. His commission employed two engineers to survey possible dam sites on the Missouri River.

Two decades later, Congress provided for Missouri River basin development as it is known today.

Norbeck made his first trip to the Black Hills in 1905. The trip spurred his later work in developing Wind Cave, and he led the creation of Custer State Park and Needles Highway. He personally raised the initial funds to begin Mount Rushmore in 1924.

During his public service, Norbeck advocated for agriculture and conservation.

Norbeck held a number of “firsts” in his lifetime, according to the Geddes historical society’s research. He was the first native son to become governor and U.S. senator for South Dakota, and the first man ever to drive to the Black Hills by automobile.

Norbeck died Dec. 20, 1936, at Redfield. His funeral was in a little church erected by his father, and he was buried at Bloomington in the Frankes Congregation cemetery. Norbeck was buried near the family homestead in Charles Mix County.

“It was a place close to his heart,” Dufek said.

Norbeck will go down as a champion for South Dakotans and their needs, Dufek said. That fact makes restoration of his boyhood home even more important, he added.

“If it hadn’t been for (Norbeck), not a lot of these projects would have been started in South Dakota,” Dufek said.