Redfield, South Dakota
I have two memories of my trip to Redfield, SD in 2009. When I stopped at the Redfield public library to ask about materials from Redfield College, the librarian had no knowledge of Redfield’s history as a college town. But when we looked at a photo of the main building, she immediately said, “Oh, you mean the Home,” identifying a later function of the building.
My second memory is embarrassing. At the Spink County Museum, I worked for half an hour in front of a display case, using it as a desk to examine documents and take notes. It was only when I turned to leave that I noticed the large sign: “Do not lean on the Display Case.” And the museum staff had been so helpful.
Redfield College was founded in 1885 by the Northern Association of Congregational Churches, and its doors opened in 1887. In 1904 the Wilton German- English College from Iowa merged with Redfield. At that time enrollment reached 166. The 1911-12 Bulletin lists four departments. The College of Arts and Science offered a four-year degree, with emphasis on English language and literature, history and foreign languages. Redfield boasted the “strongest German department of any institution in the state.” The academy “performed the function of a first class preparatory school. It prepared students for life rather than college.” There was also a music department with four offerings: “pianoforte, voice, violin and theory of music” and a commercial department.
Newspaper sources show that Redfield students were active in music, drama, debate and oratory.
In 1916 the theology school from Chicago Seminary was added to Redfield. However, because of financial hardships, Redfield College closed in 1932, merging with Yankton College at Yankton, SD.
Bricks and Mortar
As the postcard picture shows, the campus consisted of two main buildings—an administration building and a gymnasium/classroom building. The original building had burned in 1896 and was replaced that same year. The building shown was originally the Grand Hotel from Columbia, SD. Built in 1883 and advertised as the most luxurious hotel west of Minneapolis, it had closed in 1890. In 1896 it was dismantled and floated down the James River to Redfield, where it was reassembled. When the college closed, the property reverted to city of Redfield. The buildings were given over to the Order of the Eastern Star in 1934 and used as a home for aged and indigent members. In use until 1975, the buildings were then razed.
Postcard view of Redfield College Administration Building and gymnasium. (Courtesy of Spinks County Museum)
School Colors: Red and White
From accounts in The Sioux, the student newspaper, football was not a strong activity at Redfield College. In 1910 the team played two games, losing to traditional rivals Huron College and Aberdeen Normal by scores of 39-0 and 39-0. Following the Aberdeen game, the players found themselves running to catch their train, which had left without them, forcing them to ride home in their dirty uniforms. At that point the remaining two games on the schedule (return matches against the same teams) were cancelled “on account of financial embaresment (sic), inability of some men to partake in the scrimmages every day and lack of football enthusiasm.”
Low numbers is a constant theme running through football articles. Apparently Redfield seldom had as many 22 players for practice, and so were unable to scrimmage or to develop game plans.
Successful against Huron and Aberdeen in 1912, Redfield lost to both in 1913, and also lost to Ellendale (ND) Normal 13-0.
In the 1920’s Redfield was a member of the South Dakota IAC in basketball for a few years. The school continued to play basketball against high school and independent teams until 1930. Newspaper reports suggest that Redfield College also had a women’s team for a while.
1902 Redfield College football team. (Courtesy of Spink County Museum)