Southern State College
Springfield, South Dakota
You can’t get much farther south in South Dakota than Springfield. Coming from Huron, I arrived in the shanks of the day. I first swung by the old campus, now Mike Durfee Prison, but didn’t stop in, opting for the Wagon Wheel Inn to spend the night. I visited the College Museum the next morning, catching a real break. This was the monthly meeting day of the museum group. While my unannounced presence clearly didn’t get the day off to a great start, Dr. Tom Stone graciously talked about the history of the school and furnished yearbooks, school histories and photos.
Founded as Springfield Normal in 1881, the school predated South Dakota statehood. It came in response to a need for teachers in Dakota Territory. Statistics from the first year show 32 “belonging” students, with an average age of 17. In 1896 the first building was completed so that the school was no longer housed at the public school. Then first graduating class from Springfield State Normal School in 1899 numbered 11. In the late 1940’s S.S.N.S. began to add vocational courses including business education, cabinet making, sheet metal work, auto mechanics, photography and interior and exterior decorating. By 1955 enrollment had reached nearly 400 and passed 1000 in the late 1960’s. In 1964, the school was renamed Southern State College, and in 1971 it became the University of South Dakota-Springfield.
Located in a town of fewer than a thousand residents, less than an hour’s drive from the University of South Dakota campus at Vermillion, Southern faced threats of closure throughout its history. After 103 years, this happened in July of 1984. Southern remained strong up to closure, graduating 320 students in May. However, South Dakota needed prison space more than it needed higher education institutions. By December 1984 the campus had been converted to the Mike Durfee State Prison.
Bricks and Mortar
Main Hall was completed in 1896. Built of Sioux Falls Quartzite, trimmed in Black Hills sandstone, it was the only building until 1901, when a larger central section was added. In pictures Main Hall seems to be in the middle of a corn field. In 1981 the building was placed on the National Register. As part of the prison, it was razed in 2004.
The campus also included Summit Hall, a young women’s dormitory, completed in 1904. Science Hall (1911) also included the gymnasium in the top floor. Both continued with the Sioux Falls Quartzite/ Black Hills sandstone motif. Summit was found to be deteriorating and was razed prior to the conversion to a prison.
The college campus converted easily into a prison. The classrooms became educational faculities, the athletic facilities were retained for recreational uses and the dorms remained dorms.
Main Hall (The Normal School at Springfield, South Dakota, Courtesy of Springfield College Museum)
Team name: Pointers
Colors: Red and White
Southern State began playing football in 1899, “with plenty of husky athletes in training.” After 1917 the school became a formal member of the South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference, remaining a member throughout. Their closest rival was Yankton College, only thirty miles away. The team name “Pointers” was adopted in 1924.
The golden years of Southern football were the 1950’s when increased enrollment through the industrial programs brought more candidates to the team. From 1949 through 1958 the Pointers compiled a 66-20-3 record. The 1949 team went 7-0-1, while the 1956 team went 8-1.
The last two Pointer teams combined for a 0-17-1 record. The final team gained the tie with Huron College.
The 1910 Pointer shows that Southern fielded a women’s basketball team in the early years.
1983 South Dakota-Springfield team, the school's last. (Courtesy of Springfield College Museum)