Few options left for Sioux Falls horse farm

Farm Forum

SIOUX FALLS (AP) – There’s a place in the city where horses graze, where summer flies buzz in the corral and the ghosts of Sioux Falls past move among the urban sprawl.

Out on the northeast corner of Sixth Street and Bahnson Avenue, Lois and Kelly Brown’s 112-year-old family farmstead is an odd brushstroke on the canvas of Sioux Falls life.

Apartments west across the street tower above the old chicken house. Children chase across the blacktop jungle of Anne Sullivan Elementary’s schoolyard to the north, their voices trilling through the shelter belt. And from Sixth Street to the south, the din of four-lane traffic wafts up the steps of the Browns’ wood and stone home.

Suburbia has sprung up where corn, soybeans and potatoes once grew. Even so, a kid wandering along Bahnson’s sidewalk still can stop near the barn and get close to the Browns’ two Arabian horses, Razz and Taz, or to the newcomer, the Tennessee walking steed Ace.

Listen close enough on any given weeknight in summer and you might hear the clop-clop-clop of horses amid the din of games from the nearby softball fields.

But perhaps not for long.

Now something else has sprung from the Browns’ land – “for sale” signs. In their mid-60s, the Browns are ready to ease back on the work it takes to maintain a place that came into the family’s possession April 1, 1901, after Lois Brown’s great-grandfather, W.G. Lacey, had brought his family from New York to escape a tuberculosis scare out there.

“It’s horrible,” she told the Argus Leader of selling the place. “You can’t believe the crack I’ve got in my heart. Yet I have a husband that I want to spend some time with. And this place here is a lot of work.”

Dashing hope for pool or urban farm

The Browns have talked to the city about buying the buildings and the roughly six acres – listed at $1,045,440. Lois Brown had city officials out last year to discuss maintaining it as an urban farm or maybe some pioneer-type activities. She also suggested that the city might consider putting a swimming pool on the property – perhaps even an aquatics center.

But Jeff Schmitt, Sioux Falls’ chief planning and zoning official, and Parks and Recreation Director Don Kearney said none of that is likely to happen.

Back when the city was putting together a master plan for the area and developing the pieces that now are Oakview Library and the Kenny Anderson community center and park, “maybe the Parks Department would have been interested in this site,” Schmitt said.

“But you can’t go in and retrofit something in there now,” he said. “It’s not laid out right for getting this property now. How do you get a road back there, or highway access? How do you get parking? It doesn’t work with how the site is laid out.”

With agricultural activities available at the fairgrounds, and the ability for visitors to interact with farm animals at the Great Plains Zoo, “I don’t want to maintain and operate another urban farm in Sioux Falls,” Schmitt said.

Kearney said his office decided the site was too small for an aquatics center. The area already is served by Kenny Anderson park, and he said the asking price is too much.

“The consensus from city staff is that it was more likely a residential development opportunity,” Kearney said.

If so, then Lois Brown sees that as a loss for the community. But parting with the land was going to be difficult no matter who comes into its possession.

Farm filled with remembrances

At every turn, there are echoes from her personal and familial past, stretching all the way back to 1901, when her great grandmother, Margaret McDonald Lacey, bought the land from the children of Dr. Josiah L. Phillips, the man for whom Phillips Avenue is named.

In her mind’s eyes, Brown sees all the loved ones tied to the land in this part of Sioux Falls. There’s her uncle, Charles Lacey, a legislator who introduced the bill to turn the medical school at the University of South Dakota into a four-year program. And Charlie’s sister, Eileen, one of the first women to graduate from USD’s School of Law. And her grandmother, Christina, a multitalented woman who won a national award as a champion green thumb gardener and once was dubbed South Dakota’s American Mother.

From her front porch, Brown sees the child she was 60 years ago, chasing across the yard with her siblings, using their grandmother’s BB gun to shoot pigeons and rabbits that Grandma later would turn into meals.

She can again hear the gun blasts of her father, Edward, hunting with his cousin, future governor and World War II flying ace Joe Foss, where the library now stands.

She can close her eyes, listen to the roar of traffic to the south and conjure up an image of her Grandpa Greg pulling a plow behind a horse into the rising sun and carving Sixth Street out of the earth.

“I remember when I was very small, probably 3 or 4 years old, sitting on the porch at night and playing on it,” she said. “It could be an unsafe place, playing on the railing. I remember my grandpa wouldn’t let me off that porch. I wanted to run around like any other 3 year old, but he said it was too dangerous.”

Grandpa Greg, of course, is

gone now. And the Browns will leave at some point, too – moving to a little acreage south of Sioux Falls where they can keep their horses without nearly as much work.

Left behind will be a farm island in a sea of city, grandfathered in as an agricultural zone when Sioux Falls annexed the area. And it can stay that way if the next owner wants a barn and horses, too, Schmitt said.

But Lois Brown wonders whether that will happen. She sees 112 years of history giving way to something like townhomes or apartment complexes, and turns wistful at the possibility.

“You think about all the other people in the area who have gone,” she said. “Slowly but surely, this dairy farm goes and that dairy farm goes, and now the city is here. Things change. Life changes.”

People, like time, move on, taking their furniture and their memories and their lives with them. And when they do, sometimes all that remains is the “for sale” sign.