Welcome to the Brandon Historical Society homepage! The Society was founded in 1999 by citizens concerned with preserving and representing the rich history of the Brandon, SD, area. Our musuem was located in the historic 1916 school building until it was razed in the summer of 2016. Recently, however, the Society was leased the former Chamber of Commerce building located at 109 N. Pipestone Street. Additionally, we have recently renovated and restored the Nels Graff cabin, which was built in 1870 and moved to Pioneer Park here in Brandon, SD. Please contact us for a tour of this historic gem! If you would like to see historic and other relevant photos, check out our image gallery. Our bi-annual newsletter can also be found above. If you are interested in becoming a member, please print and mail the membership form found on the link above. In addition, if you would like to purchase a Brandon Area History book for $20, please contact the Society. Last, for a brief history of Brandon and the surrounding area, see below. Thanks!
The Brandon area has been inhabited for hundreds of years, as witnessed by the Eminija Mounds (dated to 500-1000 A.D.) south of Brandon on Highway 11. Other examples include the even-earlier Blood Run settlement (now Good Earth State Park) further to the south on the Big Sioux River. However, the first Euro-American settlers arrived near Splitrock Creek in 1857. They were drawn to the area thanks to abundant fresh water and lumber (both rare commodities on the relatively arid, barren Great Plains). However, these early settlers abandoned their farms in 1862 during the so-called Great Sioux Uprising, in which Dakota Natives in present-day western Minnesota and eastern South Dakota rebelled against the American government and intrusive settlers. This uprising was violently subdued and the Natives were removed to reservations further west. The first permanent settlers, then, would not arrive until 1868, residing in dugouts and log cabins along or near Splitrock Creek and the Big Sioux River.
The village of Brandon was originally platted in 1878 although homesteaders (mostly of Scandanavian and German descent) had been here for a decade prior. The land for the township was surveyed by the Worthing and Sioux Falls Railroad. This railroad would be vital to area settlers, who relied on the supplies, settlers and news that railroads brought. All of these things attracted businesses and, in turn, more people. These early businesses reflected the needs and economy of the growing village–a lumberyard, a bank, a general store, a creamery (to process milk) and a grain elevator. The settlement grew slowly over the next hundred years. For example, in 1950, there were only 203 residents in Brandon, and it was still unincorporated. By 1978, however, that number had grown to 2,300. Today, there are more than 10,000 citizens. This recent growth is largely due to the construction of Interstate 90 in the 1960s, Brandon's proximity to Sioux Falls and the boom in that city's economy (especially the banking, medical services and construction industries). The reason for the town name of "Brandon" is still a source of mystery. Some records suggest it was named for one of the surveyors (either government or railroad). Others indicate it was named for either a railroad employee or pioneer family in the county. Brandon was more recently in the news thanks to native Dale Moss, who starred in the 2020 season of the reality television show "The Bachelorette."
Settled around the same time as Brandon, Corson was–and remains–an unincorporated village (meaning it has no local/township government). Consisting almost exclusively of Norwegian immigrants, the town of Corson was named for railroad executive Fred Corson, which is appropriate as the village was founded directly along the tracks of the Willmar and Sioux Falls Railroad. Developed in 1888, Corson, at its peak, contained its own school, church, grain elevator and bank. The elevator particularly flourished due to the number of local farms and its location virtually right on the railroad tracks, making it easy for local farmers to sell and transport their crops to market. In fact, Corson maintained its own school and societal clubs until the 1960s, after which the town dwindled due to the growth of Brandon and Sioux Falls and decreasing importance of the railroad that came with the construction of Interstate 90. The school closed in 1962, when it merged with the Brandon Valley School District. There are a few lasting remnants of Corson's heyday. For example, the former Corson Community Club and Hall is now home to the Mighty Corson Art Players. Splitrock Lutheran Church three miles to the north also stands as a testament to the independence and vigor of the originial settlers of this area. Additionally, Corson resident Carl "Kayo" Erickson became a local celebrity when he earned a role as one of the Munchkins in the legandary film The Wizard of Oz.
Unlike Brandon and Corson–which were largely created based on proximity to water, lumber and railroad access–Rowena was quite literally "built upon the rocks." The area was (and still is) known for its massive quantity of red jasper and granite, close to the surface and easily attainable (as evidenced by the adjacent township named "Red Rock"). In 1887, the Sioux Falls Granite Company was formed three miles east of Rowena (basically what is today Arrowhead Park and the Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum) and grew so big that a town named East Sioux Falls sprung up. Several years later, the Minnehaha Granite Company was organized and located its headquarters in Rowena. The abundance of stone in the area attracted skilled stone workers and masons from Europe–particularly from Norway and Great Britain. This further spurred the economy of the small town, including the arrival of the railroad. The town itself was founded by Thomas J. Ryan in 1888, who bought parcels of land in order to sell them for profit, seeking to take advantage of the booming, granite-based economy. He named the town "Rowena" after a character in British author Sir Walter Scott's masterpiece of literature Ivanhoe. He loved the beauty of the name and felt it fit due to the influx of masonry workers from Scotland, England and Wales.
The town grew quickly, sometimes using the local granite to construct buildings (some of which are still standing today). It included several churches (most notably a Methodist church), a school, a bank, a grainery/elevator, a hotel capable of housing 60 people, a blacksmith shop, a butcher shop, two tractor repair shops, a hardware store, three gas stations, a recreation and billiards hall and a train depot. Unfortunately, business dried up as the major granite operations moved to Sioux Falls, Dell Rapids and Jasper, MN. As people left, businesses died, leaving a shell of its former glory. However, several beautiful structures remain and, recently, a new quarry and concrete operations have sprung up on the east side of town. Like Corson, students have been incorporated into the Brandon Valley School Distric since 1962. It should also be noted that one of Hollywood's earliest "blonde bombshells" Mamie Van Doren was raised in Rowena!
Clearly, then, the Brandon Area has a vibrant history and bright future! Should you have questions or want further information, please see the Brandon Area History book. This book is available for purchase for $20 but can also be found at the Brandon Public Library and at every school library in the Brandon Valley School District.