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How The City of Sioux Falls Came To Be

By Mike Zitterich

Once upon a time, the City Of Sioux Falls had two major islands within the main business district of the Town. The first, largest, and more famous of the two, was Brookings Island. Known today as Seney Island, which stands today below the Sioux Steel Property being developed into commercial real-estate. The second, and lesser known island was appropriately named, "Second Island".

Second Island, which received its name primarily because it was the second largest of the two islands on the river, as it passed through Sioux Falls proper, was located at the junction of where 9th Street and Second Avenue come together in Downtown Sioux Falls. It may have been the smaller island, but it was large enough to hold citywide events on it, and for more than eighty years, it did just that.

First, let us review the history of how the city came to be. Two companies came to the area between 1840 and 1850 to explore, settle, and search for land to build their commercial power house. The falls, on the Big Sioux River, became the center attraction. Western Town Company, which was a group of land surveyors from Dubuque, Iowa, would purchase roughly 160 acres of land under the 1841 Preemption Act. The Preemption Act allowed settlers to seek out and squat on a piece of land, with the intent to claim it, patent it, and develop it. By 1856, the company was able to purchase the rights to the land just south of the Falls, from 3rd Street south to 7th Street. For those who know this area, this is the same property which held Sioux Steel, Pitts Steel, Ravens Industries, and the Railroad Yard. This group of settlers would eventually occupy, and hold the land rights to Seney Island.



By 1862 a second group of investors, the Dakota Land Company, would come to the area with similar intentions. This became the second group of settlers to move to Sioux Falls with the intent to form a city. Eventually, The Dakota Land Company would claim the land between 7th Street, going south to 12th Street. For those familiar with a city map, this area would later be known as Downtown Sioux Falls, as the city grew in population. In addition, Dakota Land Company would occupy what became known as "Second Island." A fitting title, for the second company, or group of settlers to explore, and "settle" the area.

While the Western Town Company established it's town-site known as Sioux Falls in 1856, during the 1860's the two groups would work together to form Sioux Falls City. Combining their two settlements in order to form one big city, the Dakota Land Company agreed to build "Fort Sod," in an effort to protect the residents from the area's original inhabitants. That fort, is now a parking lot for the Great Western Bank building, directly southwest of Second Island.

Between 1881 and 1920, Second Island like its sister island to the south, was fast becoming a popular destination for residents, who oftentimes held picnics on the island. Second island, modeled after iconic boardwalks and Coney island, held a small building that doubled as a Dance Hall, Concert Venue, Roller-skating Rink, and Mess Hall.

The island itself had a small 'western channel' that went around its western boundary. The "west bank" of the Sioux River, as it passed through what quickly became Downtown Sioux Falls, was often times the lowest point along the river. It often flooded, which led to some desperate times for local businesses, homeowners, and all who claimed properties in that area of town. By the 1930's, plans were being put into motion to quickly re-develop and completely change this area for the future.

By 1936, work began on building the massive stone flood walls which you can see today. This would bring in with it tons and tons of dirt, gravel, and fill in order to fill in the land behind the wall. Yes, this meant the plan was to raise the land behind the wall, which would then usher in the newly adopted "Urban Development" of the 1940's. New buildings were erected, and in 1965 the river ramp was replaced. Gone was the island, but in its place now stands the 9th street extension, allowing traffic to connect to 2nd Avenue, heading southbound to 14th.

The picture below, is what Second Island appears like today. As you can see, a remnant of the Island is still there, if you know where to look. Located between the two Flood Gates in the wall, one located behind the former Western Bank building, and the other gate next to the Rock Island Railroad Bridge. The two gates mark the points of which the former western channel connected to the river, on both sides of the island.

From 1965 to 2009, the River Ramp which stood over the island itself, was again redeveloped to build the River Greenway Project. The ramp was removed, and once again the former island showed some signs of life, despite the fact it is 10 feet beneath the surface. But if you look closely, you can still see the island beneath the flood wall, a glimpse into the past. Behind the wall, however, you see the higher filled in embankment due to the Urban Development of the 1940's.

Although both islands are all but gone today, a well planned out Metropolis has come together around the Falls, the center attraction to the City of Sioux Falls. Today this area is a thriving financial commercial hub for the State of South Dakota.

Western Town Company (Company A)

"Wilmot W. Brookings. Brookings set out for Dakota Territory in June of 1857. He arrived at Sioux Falls on August 27, 1857, and became one of the first settlers there. He and his group represented the Western Town Company quickly formed and established the Sioux Falls City, along with many investors of the Dakota Land Company, quickly with the help of both groups, despite a small hiccup between 1866-1871, With the help of his dear friend Richard F. Pettigrew, Sioux Falls quickly became, the commercial hub of what became the State of South Dakota."

Dakota Land Company (Company B)

"Governor Samuel Medary approved the charter on 23 May 1857. Contemporaries portrayed the Dakota Land Company as a "company of gentlemen, principally residents of St. Paul,"' who "represented some of the leading capitalists of New England."* Listed among the incorporators were Samuel A. Medary, William H. Nobles, Joseph R. Brown, Alpheus G. Fuller, Jefferson P. Kidder, Samuel J. Albright, Byron M. Smith, Judge Charles E. Flandrau, James M. Allen, Franklin J. DeWitt, N. R. Brown, and James W. Lynd. Most were professional politicians active in Minnesota Territorial affairs, and several were destined to play roles in the development of Dakota Territory. All original incorporators of the Dakota Land Company professed strong Democratic convictions....The Dakota Land Company was quick to realize the profits available. With their political ties to the Democratic administration in Washington, company promoters thought territorial status could be achieved for this western area. Judge Charles E. Flandrau explained that the speculators hoped to "avail themselves of the advantages of being proprietors of the capital city and several lesser ones, that might become the seats of the university, penitentiary, and other public institutions."" There was also the matter of a host of appointive jobs that accompanied any new territory. The capitalists envisioned a monopoly, not just of land but of governmental offices as well, if they secured an organic act for Dakota Territory." From the book "The Politics of Land in Dakota Territory" [Early Skirmishes—1857-1861] written by Grant K. Anderson.

Together, Wilmont W. Brookings, Richard Pettigrew, Samuel Medary, all became the early leaders of what has become one of America's fastest growing "Cities' in the upper Midwest. And two uniquely positioned islands, Seney Island near Falls Park, and Second Island near 9th Street and Second Avenue, both played a huge role in the early development of the City of Sioux Falls today.

Help Support The Dakota Leader... DONATE TODAY!

--Mike Zitterich

Post Date: 2022-08-10 09:44:21Last Update: 2022-08-10 11:29:28


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