Scenic & Historic Dell Rapids

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While Dell Rapids Public and Parochial Schools have been sowing the seeds of knowledge for over a century, the city’s agricultural roots are just as entrenched.

The city’s agricultural ties can be traced back to pioneer Lyman S. Merry.  He left the rocky, wooded land of west-central Wisconsin in June of 1873 to file for a homestead in the Dell Rapids area.  Back in Wisconsin, preparing for his second journey to Dakota, he claimed: “You could put your plow in the virgin sod and turn a furrow 40 rods long and not hit a stone.”

With such promise for a good life from farming, Lyman S. Merry, like many others, helped to produce the agricultural empire that surrounds Dell Rapids to this day.  Blessed with sufficient rainfall and rich soil, it’s no wonder that Dell Rapids is known for its lush pastures and abundant hay and grain crops. The excellent market for grain has contributed significantly to the overall growth and economic stability of Dell Rapids.

Today, just as in the early 1880’s, grain haulers may be lined up for blocks waiting to unload wheat, oats, corn, flax or soy beans. In 1925, the Farmer’s Grain Company was the town’s largest business.  Today it remains one of the largest and best operations in the area.

While farming has played a vital role in Dell Rapids, some talented individuals have planted their marks on agriculture.  Research conducted by plant pathologist Doctor Charlotte Elliot, who came to Dell Rapids with her parents at age two in 1884, has enhanced the production of hybrid corn.  She is directly responsible for the success of hybrid corn production.  Despite her international reputation, she always considered Dell Rapids her home.

In 1945, the Dekalb Seed Corn Company established several fields in the area to raise hybrid seed.  Female rows were detasseled by hand by a crew of 20 girls headed by Kathrin Thompson Zylstra.  While World War II took many men away from town, the girls found the work to be “no snap.”  Despite their weariness and discomfort, they stuck to the job.  Hybrid corn continues to be the major cultivated crop raised by farmers in the area.

Even the moon appears to be frowning in sympathy as the strenuous work of harvest goes on.  But beauty and satisfaction are some of the rewards of area residents as well as farmers during the harvest season. Today crops are planted, cultivated and harvested using the most modern machinery.  In the early days, however, all corn was picked by hand. In 1938, the J. N. Jensen farm northeast of town was selected as the site for the National Hand Corn Picking Contest.  Over 125 thousand people, from as far away as New York, arrived in 35 thousand cars to watch the event!

While field crops continue to dominate the economy, dairying and cattle feeding also add to the agricultural diversity and prosperity of the area.