Power of the press

Brookings County Now & Then

Ah, the power of the press.

Punky called after last week’s Now & Then.

Her old SDSU yearbooks are now in the county museum. 

And there’s also good news for local history buffs. 

We’ve found the old Brookings County safe.

Last week I mentioned trying to find Punky and wondering whatever happened to that safe our county commissioners sold for $100 in July 1896 to then newly organized Sully County.

Credit Dick Stolp, retired manager of BankWest Insurance in Onida. He and his wife Patti, who now live in Brookings, located Ed Eller, a semi-retired farmer and businessman in Onida who owns the safe.

It’s in the basement of his deceased parents’ home on the outskirts of Onida.

Ed’s father, Elton, bought it years ago at a county sale. 

Ed doesn’t remember when that happened, but he has a clear memory of how that 1,200-pounder ended up in the basement. 

 “I was about 11 in 1963 and watched our new house being built. I remember that after the foundation had been poured they lowered the safe into the basement before they built the first floor over it,” he said. 

(See the picture of it with this epistle.) 

I’m 99.9 percent sure it’s the old Brookings safe.

Heavy monsters like that aren’t in great abundance out here on the Dakota flatlands. And Ed is sure his dad purchased it at a surplus property sale, indicating the seller was a government entity.

That’s proof enough for me that it is the same safe trundled off to Pierre in a Chicago & North Western boxcar. Once in Pierre, it was manhandled onto a sturdy wagon for the horse-drawn 30-mile trip north to Onida.    

It became an important part of Sully County’s first wood-framed courthouse that stood where today The Wheatland Inn is located.

When Sully County built its beautiful, clock-capped courthouse at the end of Onida’s Main Street in 1911, the safe was moved there.

But the new courthouse already had a large, built-in safe so it was probably stored, forgotten and forlorn, in the basement for possible future use. 

That safe was never used. Eventually it was sold, and Mr. Eller bought it. 

From the picture of the safe, you can read that it was manufactured by Hall’s Safe and Lock Company. I’m told Hall’s safes that have an apostrophe before the “s” in Hall’s were built before 1893. 

We’ve also learned Hall’s safes were the most decorative of any ever built, as the artwork on the safe attests.  

Ed says the safe is not for sale.   

“It’s a part of Brookings County history,” Ed said. “but it’s also a big part of Sully County’s history.”

That’s fine. The old safe is in good Onida hands.

I just wish our county commission had held out for a little more than a lousy 100 bucks. 

It’s probably worth $1,000 or more today. 

So Sully County, South Dakota’s fifth wealthiest county in terms of personal income, got a bargain.

We poor souls who are barely surviving here in Brookings County are way down on the state’s personal income list at No. 20.

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