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County Capitols: The Courthouses of South Dakota
County Capitols: The Courthouses of South Dakota
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A South Dakota State Historical Society Press Publication

The histories of many South Dakota towns revolve around two prizes that each community hoped to acquire: a railroad and the county seat. If either of these important attributes could be brought to a town, the likelihood for growth increased. As a result, the building of South Dakota’s sixty-four courthouses was a matter of functionality, style, and survival.

Dreaming of great things for their communities, the pioneer town-builders who settled the prairie spaces of southern Dakota Territory took extreme measures to ensure that their towns would become commercial and industrial centers. Land speculators who owned many of the town sites also actively schemed to enhance the attractiveness of towns so that they could sell their lots at a profit.

Using county records, period newspapers, and other archival materials, Arthur L. Rusch shows how the “courthouse fights” between rival communities turned into outright battles, including bidding wars, midnight forays to steal county records and even buildings, and the destruction of courthouses—all in the cause of community survival.

As town leaders became secure in their community’s designation as the county seat they built courthouses to reflect that status. In an opening essay, Jason Haug outlines the development of these county capitols and their architectural styles over time.

Arthur L. Rusch (author). Jason Haug (contributor).