Going Back to Hillhead

Going Back to Hillhead

After I visited Hillhead in 2014, it was pointed out to me that I missed the building that was once the school. So, when I was planning a trip to shoot some places around Aberdeen in June of 2015, I decided I would travel through Hillhead again on the way back home and see if I could get a shot of the school.

Hillhead, South Dakota

The old grocery store looks much as it did in 2014, standing alone along the highway where little traffic passes. An eighth of a mile north, there’s a small, barely noticeable driveway where you can pull off the highway.

Hillhead, South Dakota

Not even ten feet off the road the “driveway” becomes two rutted wheel tracks that descend into a natural depression shrouded in overgrowth. I stopped the car and stepped out, and immediately got a shudder when I saw the old school, barely visible through the dense tree cover. There was something very haunting about it.

Hillhead, South Dakota

I walked a little further down the path and stepped forward into the brush, and there it was… the former school. I could hear an animal making noise in the brush, and since I was traveling alone on this day, I elected not to go any further onto the grounds. Even so, I ended up with a few dozen woodticks who tried to hitch a ride when I was about to leave.

Hillhead, South Dakota

Hillhead, South Dakota

Hillhead’s local lore includes intriguing tales involving thirties-era gangsters, even Pretty Boy Floyd. Brown Earth Church, which was featured in our book, Churches of the High Plains, is another great site in this part of South Dakota, not too far way.

Hillhead, South Dakota

Photos by Troy Larson, copyright Sonic Tremor Media

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9 thoughts on “Going Back to Hillhead

  1. My Dad, Marvin Hilleson, went to grade school in this school! He was born in 1918 and was raised on a farm near Hillhead. Thanks for posting these pictures!

  2. Great pictures of the school!
    The highway was built up leaving the school way below. That was approximately 1960. That was to make the highway less hilly. It was awful for parents picking up and dropping off kids. But the school closed less than 10 years latter.
    The gravel road in front of the store was the original Main Street.
    The long shot of a gravel road looks like it was taken from “Stanley Hill” named for a family that lived near the bottom a long time ago. About 50 years ago a serious curve that went around the top of the coley was straightened out and the top of the hill was scrapped off a bit and some of the steepness of the hill was adjusted to make it a little easier going up or down.
    The weather for Hillhead is still listed and it is still on the map. Guess it was such a great place that people don’t want to let go of it.

  3. This was great to see, my dad told me some great stores about his days here! The previous comment is my aunt Anna, I am glad she shared this!

  4. my grandparents lived in Hillhead in the early 1900s they owned and operated a general -grocery store. they lived on the same premises.. on a trip to see Henry’s parents John Joseph and Henrietta (Behr)Baumann. it caught on fire and burned to the ground all was lost and everything they had or owned was with in They were well todo citizens and after the fire they became very poor Now I am looking to cofirm this Anna’s Parents were Samuel and Tina Olsen They had at that time one son Named Lawerence born 1911 Anna was born in 1892 Torborg is the Norweigan way of saying their name I guess she ahd brothers Martimus ,0line, Olie, Jacob, William , Tinus, Corneilus known as Col. any help any memories any pictures stirred woul dbe interested

  5. we had stories that 4 gangsters lived in Grandmas basement in Hillhead back when need property deeds the land in which the homes we on were never to be sold only to family the link would go on maybe

  6. My mom went to that school too. They had one room for half the grades and another for the rest. When it was time to go to high school she had to go to Veblen and in the winter stayed with a family and worked for them. When I was about four on a visit there she sent me to the school for a day. It closed soon after. Such a fond memory! When I was a teen we used to sunbathe in the hills behind and play softball with other kids in the yard. So sad when it got so overgrown! BTW the store in your story belonged to my grandfather. I have photos of it when it was open in the late 50’s

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