Prairie Outpost: Hillhead, South Dakota

Prairie Outpost: Hillhead, South Dakota

This is Hillhead, in Marshall County, about 18 miles northeast of Britton, South Dakota. I’ve seen references to Hillhead, South Dakota online in which it’s listed as a ghost town, and technically it is since the remaining original buildings have been abandoned, but there are inhabited dwellings in the immediate vicinity of the old town site.

Hillhead, South Dakota

As the name suggests, this town is right on top of a hill.  Hillhead was originally named Airmont, later changed to Hilltop, then changed again to Hillhead to avoid confusion with other towns that had similar names.

Hillhead, South Dakota

The building shown above was Hillhead’s general store.

Hillhead, South Dakota

This house is just a short walk down the hill.  It’s located down in the ravine and the trees have been growing up around it.  The road leaves a person standing about shoulder-level with the top of the house and gives you the impression the old home is slowly sinking into the earth and getting consumed by foliage.

Hillhead, South Dakota

Hillhead has some interesting local folklore, including tales about thirties-era gangsters, maybe even Pretty Boy Floyd himself, spending time in town.  You can read more about it in an Argus Leader piece from Brenda Wade Schmidt first published in 2004, and reprinted here.

Hillhead, South Dakota

In the photo above, you can see the remains of three properties… the house and garage in the foreground, the dark, weathered house right in the center, and way in the back, between the power pole and the garage, you can see the roof of a collapsed house with a chimney sticking up out of it.

I would find out after I left that I missed the old schoolhouse, hidden in the foliage, just down the road, so when I returned in 2015, I made a point to get a couple shots.

What do you know about Hillhead, South Dakota? Please leave a comment below.

Photos by Troy Larson, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC





40 thoughts on “Prairie Outpost: Hillhead, South Dakota

  1. Have good friends just across highway 25 from there. Going down there for the fourth of July. The place they live used to be a mink farm. The Klefstad family that started the Sargent County Bank in ND had a store in Hillhead at one time.

  2. If the writer/photographer had walked down the hill to the north, probably less than a quarter mile, he would have seen the old one room school house, it closed in the early sixties and is now surrounded by trees and brush, but still stands! Cool arcticle, but it could have been made better with little more effort.

    1. The old school house and the grocery store, that you captured, are the last of the old town before it died. I loved the 2 middle pictures of Hillhead that you posted. I went to the school there – 8 years. Lawrence Welk played at the Dance Hall once and felt insulted by a drunk local man’s comment and said he would never come back and didn’t. Your pictures are uniqiue to the current look of the town and love seeing them. I would love to have those middle 2 sent to me on facebook – same address. Do you do that ?
      Good job and thanks !.

  3. Dixie Tyler, those are photos of the Drabek house/store(?) and Bernice Oland’s home across the street to the north. The other photo is of Oscar Braatan’s old store/home which was later owned by somebody else. The old school isn’t pictured as far as I can tell. 🙂

    1. Dixie you are right that was Drabek’s store and home in the back. I went to school with Patty and my brother and I also went to school with Bernice ‘s daughter Bonnie and her brother I think he was named Bobbie. There another store on the corner across from the post office next to the tracks one of the sisters that owned was named Tilly. I know more

  4. I’ve been passing through Hillhead most of my life as I grew up north of Cayuga, ND and we spent many summers at Roy Lake State Park. Directly north of Hillhead about 1/2 mile south of the ND border was the town of Marlow when my great grandparents once lived.

  5. Stella you are correct. I miss Bernice & Oscar. Both were such wonderful people I knew growing up there. My brother now owns the school house & surrounding land. His Dad attended the schoolhouse when he was a boy. My Mom still lives in Hillhead. I am hoping to plan a Centennial for Hillhead this summer. I will try to update this website when I have more info. So glad I found this website. Thanks Troy for the great pix.

  6. I just found an old picture of the class of 1918 taken inside the school, I am guessing my grandpa and siblings are in it, as it was sent as a gift to my great aunt. Anybody have any records of a Canadian family named Dixon living there? I would imagine not, but always wondered when and where they entered the states and left Canada.

    1. US Census that are more than 70 years old are usually available online. The 1920 Census shows a Bert & Rose Dixon with kids Della, Gladys, Clifford, Raymond in Kingsbury, about 100 miles south. Other than that, no Dixons in SD. Weird.

  7. The store was my Grandfather Drabek’s. My mother Angeline was born there. We spent many wonderful summers there growing up. A ghost town? Bet Gramps would get a kick out of that. Gramps told me about the Little Boy Floyd episode.

  8. I may be back in this area again tomorrow. Does anyone know if the old school is marked No Trespassing? Does anybody know of there’s an owner I could get permission from to photograph the old school, as requested in this thread?

    1. I see I missed your visit. I was out of town, but yes my brother owns the school and property. As long as you don’t go in the building…photos are ok.

      1. I’m gonna make another try tomorrow. Hopefully I will have some photos to share soon, and I’ll make sure not to go inside the school.

        1. Thank you Troy. I am actually flying home on July 2nd for a week…if your trip gets delayed again…I could arrange to meet you there…

  9. I was visiting relatives in Webster in July 2014 and drove to Hillhead to take a look. in the 1920s the Mosey family owned a store in Hillhead. I wonder if the building pictured was the location of their store? In February 1922 my grandfather, George Mike, left the Mosey store after having spent the night there. He had a load of provisions and a family waiting at home. The family farm was about 6 miles away in Marlowe township. The Mosey’s told him not to leave because a storm was coming. He said his family was waiting and had to go. The horses made it home but my grandfather did not. he was found about a week later, 300 feet from his home, frozen to death. He was 38 years old and left my grandmother with seven young children. I’m visiting Webster next week and I think I’ll make another journey to Hillhead. I can probably check with the county for old licensing information to verify when and where the Mosey’s store was located. Another mystery to solve.

    1. Linda…my prayers to your family…that story is heart wrenching. Facebook has a You Know You Are From Hillhead If…page and it has a lot of photos, info, etc on Hillhead. My Mom still lives there. I could probably ask around and have someone post some photos here.

  10. Thanks Babsdave, I’ll check out the Facebook information. I’d be interested in any photos or information your mom or others might have. I found out there is a Marshall County museum in Britton. They said they have a lot of pictures and historical information for the county. I’m visiting the museum next Monday or Tuesday, during my visit to South Dakota. I’m on my way early Saturday morning.

  11. We use to live across the road from Drabek /Oscar. We had a bee business. I think the warehouse and storage buildings are still there. Wish someone could get pictures of that.

  12. Looking for anyone who will contact me with information about Hillhead or the people that lived there from 1951 through 1955. My name is Jim Hanson my dad had the Texaco gas station, blacksmith shop and hardware store in Hillhead during that time. I went to school in LaBelle #4 in Hillhead during that time, Joe Cusick was the teacher until his death.

      1. Our dad fished, duck hunted every pond or lake he could get onto, I don’t recall the area you mention but as a kid from the age 7 to eleven my mind was on having fun and working sorry, I will say my memories of Hillhead the Lutheran Church and all the people in that area are fond memories.

  13. I am Jim Hanson looking for some contact with anyone with information about Hillhead I lived there between 1951 to 1955. I am also on facebook, I am 73 yo now and have forgotten some of my history.

  14. Jim, I was visiting relatives in Webster S.D. last summer and I stopped at Hillhead then went to the County Seat in Britton to pick up some records I ordered from them. I stopped by the Prairie Rock Museum in Britton and dug through piles of pictures and found some of Hillhead. They are long before the 1950s but there is one that claims to show a blacksmith shop. If you want me to email the pic send a reply to this website with your email address.

    1. My great-great grandfather was a blacksmith in Hillhead. I would be very grateful if you would please send me a photo of the old blacksmith shop.

      1. My great grandfather opened a blacksmith shop in Hillhead in 1914, then sometime later moved to Lake City and opened a blacksmith shop wher he died in 1940. I was wondering if we are related my great grandfather was Jacob sletkolen Hanson.

  15. According to some geologists, about 2 miles directly east of Hillhead (intersection of 443 Ave. and 107 St.) is the “true” source of the Mississippi River, (following the Little Minnesota River to Big Stone Lake where it is called the Minnesota River. Since it starts at a continental divide, and is longer than the Mississippi from the Twin Cities to its N. source, it is a contender for the true source. Here is an article on it. http://www.startribune.com/could-the-mississippi-river-actually-begin-in-south-dakota/387864512/

  16. I found this article because I am reading a book about my mom’s life. It says her family lived in Veblin and later in Hillhead the children are Marvin Evelyn Arlo Jerome dlores my mom Anna Maria and Joyce Olson. It also says Dena married Carl Anderson of Hillhead

  17. My grandfather, Emil Thompson, grew up in Hillhead, SD, with his mother Caroline, step-father Andrew Thompson, and many half-siblings. Does anyone know anything about the family or where they lived? I am especially interested in my great-grandmother’s Swedish roots, and if the Thompson name was changed upon immigration, as Andrew was born in Norway, but I can find little about him and our family name. We vacationed at Roy Lake as kids, and have had a cabin on Lake Traverse for over 40 years. My dad always said he had relatives from “up around there” but he hadn’t known them growing up. Pre-internet it wasn’t as simple to track folks down. I wish I had been able to know my grandfather’s siblings while they were still living and learn more about that side of my family.

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