Scenic & Historic Dell Rapids

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Dating back to the city’s first inhabitants, Dell Rapids citizens have not only worked hard but also have played hard.  Town celebrations, parades and activities that appeal to all ages and show community pride occur throughout the year.

The first recreational areas were at the Dells.  Children climbed up and down the steep sides and adults picnicked.  Children also found plenty to do at the Old Mill where they could walk across the dam on slippery planks or crawl around the old building while adults fished. Early recreation also centered around “meeting the train.”  In winter, Beto’s and Saint Mary’s hill provided thrills and spills for many children …. a tradition still alive today.

The City Park and Bathing Beach were established at the river in 1913.  The bathhouse was built in 1914 and remodeled in 1923.  A quarried stone bathhouse was built in 1934 as a Civil Works Administration project.  It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. An Amphitheater of the same Dell Rapids quartzite was constructed in 1936—A Works Progress Administration Project.

In 1917, the beautiful sand beach in Dell Rapids was said to be the best in the area, with diving towers, ring trapeze, floats, safety cables, and a 40-foot speed chute. Use of the river’s bathing beach was discontinued in 1960 when swimming and wading pools and a new bathhouse were built. Streets in the park were laid out in 1917. Walking paths, bandstand, food stand, and pavilion were provided the same year.

Lawrence Welk’s band was one of the many to provide dance music in the building, which burned in 1947.  After the fire, a cement block building was built for dancing and roller skating.  This new pavilion, which featured many well known bands, was considered to be the largest ballroom in South Dakota.  The building later was used by Dakota Industries to make clothes before being sold to a fiberglass tub manufacturer.  During this time a massive explosion destroyed the building, and it’s never been replaced. The old food stand is used as a picnic shelter, and the American Legion has added two more shelters to service park users.

A free camping area and baseball field are located across the river.  Professionals and talented local players have kept the sport alive since the turn of the century. For years people could cross the river to the ball diamonds by walking across the steel span bridge, built in 1885.  For public safety reasons, the bridge was torn down in 1990.

Before names like Palmer, Nicolas, and Trevino brought the game of golf to the public spotlight, local enthusiasts had a course of a sort on the hilly area south of the “Dells.”  In 1965 work began on a nine-hole course west of town.  Since then it’s grown more beautiful and useful.  The clubhouse not only meets the needs of golfers, but serves many other community needs as well.

After a disastrous downtown fire in 1888, citizens turned their efforts to rebuilding.  Among the most important projects was a campaign for a “Good Opera House.”

The Grand Opera House first raised its curtain in 1888 to a production titled “Lynwood” by a professional touring company. The Grand Opera House staged theater productions until 1912 when the O’Leary Brothers purchased the building and converted it into a movie house.  It was used as such until 1938 when John Underwood built a new classic art deco style theater.

From the early 50’s to 1976, the Grand Old Opera House was again used for a variety of stage productions. A group called The Old Opera House Players, also known as OOPS, was formed in 1976 to reestablish the city’s tradition of live theater.  The group’s name was selected because one of its goals was to own and restore the Old Grand Opera House. Unable to attain that goal, it has staged its productions at various locations, including the front porch of the Dells Hotel and a tent on the south bank of the Big Sioux River. 

In 1990 the Old Opera House Players moved into a converted barn and named it the “Hayloft Theater.”