‘An easy place to live…an easy place to be’
By Jaime Ridgley
Photos Courtesy of Molly McRoberts
Gettysburg. About an hour away from the state capital, this rural town has strong ties to the infamous battle. It epitomizes small town living with its close-knit community, where everyone seems to know everyone, and tourists make their way to the area each summer to enjoy all there is to offer.
But this Gettysburg isn’t the one made famous a century and a half ago by the events that took place those three days in July 1863.
This Gettysburg is in the middle of the South Dakota prairie.
A sign on the edge of town playfully refers to its namesake: “Gettysburg, SD—‘Where the Battle Wasn’t.’”
This town of roughly 1,300 sits in Potter County in central South Dakota. With U.S. 212 cutting through its center and the Missouri River nearby, the town sees its share of tourists and travelers, says Gettysburg, S.D., native Molly McRoberts, editor of the Potter County News, a weekly community newspaper.
In Gettysburg, S.D., tourists are more interested in water sports, hunting, and catching walleye, the state fish, than boning up on Civil War history. “The resorts are pretty well self-contained, but [tourists]always come to town to pick up a few things,” McRoberts says. “When it’s not a nice enough day to fish, they come in and see what else there is to do in town.
“But it’s always a nice enough day to fish, isn’t it?” McRoberts continues with a smile. “We love to fish in this part of the world.”
Residents and visitors alike can shop at the Dollar General, which opened about three years ago, or visit the mini-mall on U.S. 212 for some lunch or to buy a gift.
“Our business district offers most anything you’ll need—grocery, hardware, pharmacy, convenience stores, and a restaurant,” says Potter County Commissioner Sandy Hagny. “Just ask around if you can’t find it; there will be lots of friendly faces to help you out.”
But, looking to shop at a big box store? Or take in a movie? You’ll have to travel 100 miles for that, says Kara Williams, economic development coordinator for Gettysburg-Whitlock Bay Development Corporation.
Gettysburg, Meet Gettysburg
Gettysburg, S.D. was settled in the early 1880s by Civil War veterans who moved west; a monument by the town’s courthouse lists all the men from the county who fought in the war. “The name recognition with Gettysburg ties us in with the Civil War, but we don’t have a lot other than that,” explains McRoberts. There was a Civil War festival for a while a few years back, she says, but, as a small town, it was hard to keep it going.
The town is home to the Dakota Sunset Museum, which features the history of the early settlers as well as the Arikara, who were native to the area, says McRoberts. One of the museum’s highlights is Medicine Rock, a 40-ton rock embedded with human hand and footprints that was found about 15 miles outside of town near the Missouri River, according to the museum’s website, as well as a Civil War-themed display (naturally), a one-room schoolhouse, and a blacksmith shop.
Agriculture is the main industry in town, whether it’s farming commodity crops like soybeans, corn, and wheat, or running small cattle and dairy farms. “We’re seeing more of the young people coming back, especially people who are involved in the farming community, the family farms. Agriculture is the big thing in Gettysburg, and younger members of the farming community are coming back and taking over for their dads and grandpas, which is great,” McRoberts says.
Local company C&B Operations, which runs 37 John Deere dealerships in six Midwestern states, is headquartered in Gettysburg, S.D., and employs about 800 people, says Williams, and CHS Northern Plains, a farmer-owned agricultural service center, is also headquartered there. Additionally, the town is home to South Dakota’s oldest run family business, Schlachter Lumber, founded in 1884, she says.
The town’s hospital employs about 50, and momentum is building in the efforts to raise $3 million to construct a new hospital building. “It’s looking very positive that they’ll get the money raised in order to move forward with the project beginning this fall,” Hagny says.
A Town By Any Other Name
Hagny describes Gettysburg, S.D., as a friendly, family oriented, hardworking agricultural community that gets things done. She’s lived there since high school and finds it to be a compassionate, generous community. “If you are willing to work hard, we are willing to embrace you and treat you like family,” she says.
Williams appreciates the camaraderie of the town in which she grew up. “We have a great community that watches out for [one another,]” she says. “It’s a great place to raise a family. It’s a great place just to live because there’s a real sense of community and caring…I’ve lived in Chicago and Los Angeles, and I know I’m not missing anything.”
McRoberts, whose great-great-grandfather A.G. Williams was the first editor and publisher of the paper she works at today, moved away from the town for a while but kept finding herself vacationing there before returning permanently. “I was just always drawn to Gettysburg,” she says. “It’s such an easy place to live, an easy place to be.”
For her, Gettysburg, S.D., is like no other. “I think it’s one of the greatest places in the world to live,” McRoberts says, “and I love to tell the stories of the people I care about the most—my friends and neighbors in the community.”
Did You Know?
Gettysburg, Pa., and Gettysburg, S.D., became Sister Cities in 1991. “We love Gettysburg, Pa.,” says Potter County Commissioner Sandy Hagny, who has visited several times and made lifelong friends here. “It’s a much larger city than our Gettysburg but has much of the same small town feel as our Gettysburg in many ways.”
Gettysburg, S.D., has a total of about 250 students in its school system (kindergarten through grade 12), and its 2019 graduating class of Gettysburg High School had 25 students this May.
The landscape of Gettysburg, S.D., is quite different than the Gettysburg we know. “We love our prairie,” says Molly McRoberts, editor of the Potter County News. “Nothing sneaks up on you. There are no mountains to block your view. And we have the prettiest sunsets in the world.”
Kara Williams, economic development coordinator, lives on a slight hill in Gettysburg, S.D., and says she can see the town of Onida, S.D., from her home—30 miles away.
There’s at least another town named Gettysburg in the U.S.—the Village of Gettysburg, Ohio, with a total of 513 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.