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State Historical Society hosting Measuring South Dakota program Aug. 7 at Capitol Lake Visitors Center

The South Dakota State Historical Society Museum at the Cultural Heritage Center will change up its usual Family Fun Saturday in August and hold the event Saturday, Aug. 7, at the Capitol Lake Visitors Center in Pierre from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. CDT (9 a.m.-1 p.m. MDT). The event is free and open to the public.

Visitors will explore three ways of measuring South Dakota using hands-on materials. The program will be held outdoors, and hand sanitizer will be available at all stations. Information about historic individuals related to each activity will be available at the hands-on stations as well.

“It’s great to get back to doing hands-on programs in a safe way with this outdoor program,” said Museum Director Jay Smith. “We are looking forward to restarting our hands-on museum programs this fall if vaccinations continue bringing COVID-19 numbers down.”

One of the tools Lewis and Clark used to gather information for their maps was the sextant. This tool let them determine distances and heights of faraway objects. Program visitors will use a sextant to determine the distance to nearby objects.

Surveying crews in Dakota Territory measured the land using a Gunter’s chain. Gunter’s chains, named after their inventor, Edmund Gunter, are 100 links long and measure 66 linear feet. “Chaining” meant stretching the chain out straight, marking its end point and gathering the chain up. Visitors will use a 50-link reproduction chain to measure distance like the early surveyors in Dakota Territory.  

Joseph Nicollet, a 19th-century French geographer and mapmaker, mapped the Upper Mississippi River basin, including what would become South Dakota. His maps were the most accurate at the time. Nicollet was the first mapmaker to use “hachuring” – hash marks – to show elevation or differences in land height. On Aug. 7 visitors can build their own carpet “mountain” and draw a contour map using Nicollet’s hachuring technique.

Museum hours at the Cultural Heritage Center are 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. CDT (8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. MDT) Monday through Saturday and 1-4:30 p.m. CDT (12-3:30 p.m. MDT) on Sundays. Admission is now free for all South Dakotans and all children age 17 and younger. Call 605-773-3458 for more information. For information on State Historical Society membership, call 605-773-6000 or email

About the South Dakota State Historical Society
The South Dakota State Historical Society is a division of the Department of Education. The State Historical Society, an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution since 2013, is headquartered at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. The center houses the society’s world-class museum, the archives, and the historic preservation, publishing, and administrative/development offices. Call 605-773-3458 or visit for more information. The society also has the Archaeological Research Center in Rapid City; call 605-394-1936 for more information.

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