McVicker Plaza · 2 E. Main Street · Vermillion, SD 57069
Call Susan Heggestad
605-624-5571 · 800-809-2071
History of Vermillion
Much history has been written about Vermillion. Vermillion was a river town on the Missouri River when the river was located just below the bluffs and the town site was built on the riverbanks.
A steamboat landing was at the foot of the Ravine Hill, which is now South Dakota Street, and the mouth of the Vermillion River was not far from that point.
On August 24, 1804, Lewis and Clark camped at the mouth of the Vermillion River and from there made their trek to Spirit Mound.
Before the settlers and homesteaders came in 1859 and 1860 or later, the junction of the Missouri River and Vermilion River had for generations been the camping ground of one of the bands of the Yankton Sioux Indians. Here they cultivated their little fields of corn. In summer their tepees stood on top of the bluff to get the summer breezes and when winter came they moved to the bottom of the hill to get the shelter from the winter's storms. Along the bluff was the silent resting place of their deceased relatives.
After Lewis and Clark were here in 1804, numerous trappers and fur traders went up and down the river and the Columbia Fur Co. established a trading post at the mouth of the Vermillion River. In 1843, John James Audubon, the famous artist visited the Vermillion ravine to check on the abundance of bird life.
On August 8, 1844, the first white settlers to the area were a group of Mormons seeking a new home after being driven out of Illinois.
From the time they left Illinois until they reached the Missouri River they did not have sufficient food. Arriving here, they were in buffalo country and they had plenty of meat and wild honey so fared better. In 1846 they laid out a large farm and wanted to raise grain. Very shortly after that word came from the leading man to pull up stakes and move down river near Omaha. From there they continued to points west until they arrived in Utah in July of1847.
By 1859 and 1860 the Yankton Sioux Indians were moved to the government lands and Dakota Territory was opened to homesteaders. In this area many were of Scandinavian descent. In the southwest part of Clay County we have many Norwegian families. A little further north many Danish families came to file their homesteads. The Swedes settled in the middle part of the county and the eastern and southeastern part of the county had the Irish and French families coming to make their new homes.
As these families came, Vermillion grew and became a thriving community. However, just when everything was doing so well, a huge flood in 1881 came and washed Vermillion away. This did not discourage the merchants as they immediately came to the top of the bluff and began building their new stores.
The town of Vermillion was incorporated in 1873. There were 3 hotels, 3 general stores and a bank. There were 3 sawmills, 3 drug stores, a barbershop and flourmill.
The spiritual need of the people was served by 4 churches, Baptist, Methodist, Congregational and Episcopal.
The University of South Dakota was established in 1862 at the first meeting of the Territorial Legislature held at Yankton.
Vermillion was not without hardships. Not only the flood did much damage but fires demolished the business district and diphtheria Epidemic hit Vermillion. Many families were touched by death and one family lost 6 children in 10 days.
However, people built back the buildings and families pushed forward to make Vermillion a wonderful place to live. Today we have a mixture of people coming from the farming community, the university students and professors and the business people all working together to keep our town moving ahead. It is a town of many retired people who have chosen to continue to live here. We have an excellent educational program in our schools and churches. Vermillion is a wonderful place to live. There is never a lack of things to do in Vermillion. There are activities year around sponsored by the Vermillion Area Chamber & Development Company, the University of South Dakota and the City of Vermillion. Thanks for picking Vermillion as a place to visit. We welcome you and hope you have enjoyed your visit and please come back anytime to visit us.