Scenic & Historic Dell Rapids

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A half-a-dozen years after the end of the Civil War in June of 1871, a weary, lone traveler on horseback from Osage, Iowa, by the name of Peter Morse, saw a river winding into the distance through an area marked by red cliffs. A year later, two experienced mill men, Dennis and Frank Rice, returned with Peter Morse to this area of red cliffs. They built a dam and set up a saw mill.  But, because there were very few trees in the area at that time, they ran out of timber.  The men abandoned the saw mill and built a flouring mill instead. The flouring mill’s original stone and wheel still can be seen in the Dell Rapids city park.

Geologists have classified the rock formations in the area as part of the Potsdam Formation — an outcrop running at least 26-hundred feet deep at the Dell Rapids Quarry site. Thousands of years ago, a shift in the Earth’s surface at Dell Rapids caused an enormous fissure, producing the Dells.

A new settlement was established on both sides of the Big Sioux River and was called “Dell City.”  Early residents pooled their money to buy a seven-dollar boat to allow them to cross the river. Later, a man called “Uncle” Bill Lyons, operated a ferry.  While individual fares were five cents, the cost to transport a team of horses was a dime. By the end of 1872, “Dell City” had a post office, two churches—Baptist and Presbyterian—and a union Sunday School.  Because of the “Rapids” on the river that divided the town, its name soon was changed to Dell Rapids. In 1880, the train chugged into town.  By then, the town consisted of 993 residents, 50 businesses, and three churches.

While the first house was built in the 1870’s on the north bank of the Big Sioux, expansion of the town soon followed. Over the years the city has grown from the north bank of the river to what is now 10th Street. Before 1960, however, what is now 10th Street was known only as “Lover’s Lane.” In the early 1970’s Dell Rapids began a massive expansion to the north, pleasantly blending the old with the new, with only fond memories of “Lover’s Lane” separating the two.