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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Stepping back in time at 1880 Town in South Dakota USA

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed visiting this reconstructed town. It is an authentic open air venue where visitors can wander both outside and inside the buildings. Rather than constructing replicas of buildings to attract tourists, there are over 30 old buildings that have been moved from the plains of South Dakota and rebuilt on site.

a two storey house with white balcony sits behind an old open carriage with two wooden seats. The house is from the 1880s

The weathered buildings are genuine, and jam packed full of artifacts from over 100 years ago. The emphasis is on properties from 1880 to 1920. 1880 Town has been planned and perfected over the years since it was started in the 1970s by Clarence Hullinger and his son Richard.

an old single storey wooden building, with a sign above the porch stating Barber Shop and bath, barber is in red ink, shop in blue and bath in white. a horse hitching post stands out the front and a wooden sidewalk surrounds the building.

Taken apart beam by beam and reconstructed on site takes time, some buildings took over a year to painstakingly photograph and deconstruct, then reconstruct on site so that each piece and nail hole lined up perfectly.

an old wooden blacksmith shop with a hitching post for hourses outside. The sign says Everett Zaugg Blacksmith. the skull of a horned animal hangs on a beam outside

My favorite building would have to be the two storey Longhorn Saloon. As the piano player performed old time songs, I could imagine the dancing, drinking, gambling and carousing that would have gone on within the place back in the day.

the view from the balcony on the second floor looking down onto a saloon. The walls are painted a deep red, there is wood trim and a pressed tin ceiling painted white. A piano player sits at a piano playing, and a woman sits listening at one of the tables. Round tables with two chairs are on the balcony and a chandalier hangs from the ceiling above

In the saloon today you can get a drink, listen to the piano player on the stage, wander upstairs to see the bedrooms, or dress up in 1880s outfits for great photos. Costume rental is around $10 for adults and $7 for children.

old fashioned costumes from the 1800s hang on racks. Dresses, hats, jackets, gloves and bonnets. The dresses are neck to ankle length

There is no shortage of places around the town where great backdrops for your photos can be found.

in the main street of the old wild west town stands what looks like a metal bathtub with a hand crank pump next to it. Is this for bathing or watering horses?
a black enclosed carriage with a horse statue pulling it states: Dr Phil Goodes Tonic, the magic elixer. for man or beast
wooden buildings line the left side of the main street and wooden painted buildings line the right side of the main street. in the distance is a wooden spired church

Preserved under glass in the saloon is a piece of tin with bullet holes in it. Wording on the glass states “Original bullet holes from this building shot from inside.” The old expression - if these walls could talk, I really wish they could! Just imagine the story behind these bullet holes.

bullet holes riddle a sheet of tin that was in the wall of an old wild west saloon

Movie props from the Academy Award winning Dances with Wolves were purchased and on display in the historic 14-sided round barn. The barn was originally built in 1919. The town also acquired other items used in the movie from individuals, as well as some of the animals. Cisco, the horse Kevin Costner rode in the movie, lived at 1880 Town until he died.

in a 14 sided round barn under the peaked roof is a sign saying Dances with Wolves, printed on an animal hide. The room has a teepee and other objects from the movie. The entry walkway is covered in photos from the movie set.

Casey Tibbs was a world champion rodeo cowboy and movie star, originally from Fort Pierre South Dakota. A lot of his items are on display in one of the houses on site, including one of his saddles, jackets, hats, event advertisements, photographs, and sculptures.

a leather saddle used by Casey Tibbs world champion rodeo rider is covered with carvings of his accomplishments

There is a display of Native American memorabilia including toys children played with, clothing, tools and photos.

Native American childrens toys hang on a wall with photos and beaded clothing.

The 1915 St Stephen’s church has been the site of many weddings and is glorious with its original stained glass windows and bell.

a simple white wooden church with stained glass windows. A ramp leads up to its double doors and a tree grown on each side of the ramps. The cross on the spire reaches up to a bright blue sky

The 1886 Gettysburg Railway depot is a favorite of train fans, as is the old train carriage outside.

the sign says Western Union Telegraph and Cable Office. It hangs outside a wooden building, horizontal slats painted red, the trim around the doors and windows a weathered natural wood.
an old red painted wooden train carriage with yellow painted hand rails and steps sits next to a high water tower.

The barn is home to antique buggies, toys and horse stalls, as well as an antique automated hay and manure handling system. The barn was moved from its home 45 miles away in Draper SD. Looking at the old buggies, without suspension, I can only imagine how rough the journey in this vehicles would have been.

three horse drawn carriages are in a barn. One has covered sides and top, the other have covered tops but open sides. A statue of a horse stands here too.

The one room school house reminded me of one of my favorite TV show growing up - Little House on the Prairie. Laura Ingalls would have sat at a desk very similar to these, with the same view of the fields out the windows. With school books still on the desks, I felt as if I had stepped into the school house while the children were outside enjoying recess. Visitors can ring the bell at the school, as well as the bells at the fire station and the church.

wooden desks and seats are piled high in an old schoolroom. Neat rows of these desks, 4 wide lead to the school teachers desk at the front. An old world map hangs on the wall behind the desk. A very large and old heater stands on the other side of the teachers desk.

There is so much to see and do here. Walking through the buildings and seeing how people lived and worked in the “good old days” gives you a true appreciation for our modern appliances, and things such as indoor toilets, and sanitary hospitals and operating theatres.

an old operating room and doctors surgery is behind a metal barrier, old fashioned medical instruments are on every surface, jugs and vials and containers. A single bed is in the middle of the room overed in a white sheet. Lace curtains cover one window and an oil lamp is aglow on the wall

There are literally thousands of antiques and memorabilia to look at. In the Vanishing Prairie Museum valuable items from the General Custer period and an amazing array of old photographs are on display.

an old sepia colored photo shows a range of famous men standing and sitting on stairs outside a building, T. Roosevelt, doc holiday, butch cassidy etc are written at the bottom of the photo
an old sepia coloured photo of eight indian chiefs, all with feathers in their hair sitting on the grass. Below are individual photos of indian chiefs.

The 1950s train diner once ran the tracks between Chicago and California before its final stop in 1982 at 1880 Town. Visitors can walk through and check out the 1950s memorabilia, or sit at one of the nostalgic railway dining car and enjoy a meal of homemade chili, soup, hotdogs, hamburgers, topped off with a slice of pie and ice-cream and a root beer float.

the inside of a 1950s train carriage has tables with four seats, two each side facing the table. there is a central isle leading to a door to another carriage. there are four tables on each side of the carriage.

Visitors can also check out the Longhorn Ranch next to the town. 1,200 acres of prairie where herds of Texas Longhorns graze. 1880 Town is open May to October. Depending on the time of year there are often live shows and wagon rides throughout the town.


Located on I-90, west of the town of Murdo, 1880 Town South Dakota USA


Happy Travels!


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