White Rock, South Dakota

White Rock, South Dakota

I set out for White Rock, South Dakota on the suggestion of a visitor with the intention to shoot what remains, a shoot of some significance for me since it is my first foray into shooting the abandoned in South Dakota.

Ten years ago, my fellow photographer Terry Hinnenkamp suffered a catastrophic car break down on the way to check out White Rock in a little white car he drove at the time, and I couldn’t help but think I might be tempting fate by returning in a little white car myself.  Luckily, no mechanical problems.

White Rock, South Dakota

White Rock, South Dakota is the northeastern-most town in South Dakota, so to get there from my home in Fargo, I headed straight south on I29 toward Wahpeton, but got off the interstate before I crossed the South Dakota border and headed east toward Fairmount.  A few minutes later I was heading south toward the border once more, and I was excited to cross into another state on a small, friendly highway instead of an interstate.  I arrived at the border, which is about a mile from White Rock, and stopped to photograph the sign above.

White Rock, South Dakota

White Rock, South Dakota

Right along side the road next to the border markers was this old trailer, clearly used as a fireworks stand at some point in the past.  It made me nostalgic for the days when you bought your stuff at a stand alongside the road instead of a superstore with air conditioning.

White Rock, South Dakota

Just a mile down the road, I arrived at White Rock, South Dakota.  It’s on the Bois de Sioux River, and the population was listed as three in the 2010 Census.

White Rock, South Dakota

As I was shooting, I noticed a lot of No Hunting and No Trespassing signs. I mean a lot of them. And for just a moment, I thought it was a little much.

White Rock, South Dakota

Then I turned around and saw a couple of deer watching me from down the road. They bounded off into the trees, I walked around the corner, and scared the crap out of a deer that was just standing there, ten feet from the road. I immediately understood why they had to put up so many No Hunting signs. It’s wildlife paradise in these parts.

White Rock, South Dakota

White Rock, South Dakota

White Rock, South Dakota

The caption on the monument at the entrance to town reads:

White Rock, South Dakota.  A frontier town established in 1884 in the heart of a fertile grain growing area, it’s business community consisted of seven grain elevators, three hotels, four saloons, and two banks.  It had a large department store, several mercantile stores, two lumber yards, two drug stores, two churches and a twelve grade school system.  The top population was 600 people.

White Rock, South Dakota

White Rock, South Dakota

This tractor tire marks the spot of the former 1st National Bank, a building which was also the Post Office and a bar during it’s lifetime.

White Rock, South Dakota

Sidewalks from a long gone structure.

White Rock, South Dakota

White Rock, South Dakota

White Rock, South Dakota

I suspect this is the basement of what was once the church (confirmed by visitors in the comments section below).  There’s a building which was once attached still standing next door, but this and a set of steps are all that remain of the building that was once here.

White Rock, South Dakota

Photos by Troy Larson, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

78 thoughts on “White Rock, South Dakota

  1. The church shown is Augustana Lutheran Church. It is now located near Rosholt, SD at the threshing bee grounds. August 16-17 marks the annual show. You should come check it out! There are many old buildings from locations like this.

  2. The church, Augustana Lutheran Church, was moved to the Threshing Bee grounds in Rosholt, SD where people use it once a month during the summer for services on Sunday mornings. It can also be used for weddings, etc by the public. It was given to the Rosholt Area Threshermen’s Assn (RATA) to preserve it as it would go to ruin in White Rock. This happened around 5 years ago. It is a neat, well-kept up church and we are proud to have it on our grounds.

  3. I don’t know if that trailer was ever a fireworks stand, but I noticed it received it’s flag mural right after 9/11, and presumed it was a statement of patriotism… and I loved it!!

      1. When I was a kid in the 80s my family would drive there from Wyndmere to buy fireworks. They called it Stateline Fireworks if I remember correctly. Maybe there was a law against buying fireworks in ND in the 80s?

  4. Also, if you had visited White Rock more than 20 years ago, you’d have found a wreck of a dumping ground. People dropped off their old vehicles without so much as a by-your-leave. Those few residents left did a terrific job of clearing all that out. When we moved to the area 19 years ago, a friend took me there to show me the spectacle, and was surprised when all of it was gone. Kudos to those who did it, and restored dignity to what used to be the metropolis in the area. It was where all the farmers took their grain to market. An old-timer said he once counted 52 wagons ahead of him to unload. The banks, stores and lumber yards all benefited from the trade, and many farmers celebrated their grain sales at one of the four saloons.

  5. Thanks for all the photos and walk down memory lane. In the late 50’s and maybe even 60’s I would get there with my dad who farmed land nearby. Always got to stop at Helen’s for a pop. Loved to go to Augustana’s ice cream socials which were held every summer till the church was moved to the threshing grounds. A great place with great people!

  6. That Flag trailer house was indeed a firework stand a couple and their son run during the summer from Fairmount.. Was the place to go to get fireworks.. always great selections and great deals..

  7. My great-grandfather was one of the original settlers near White Rock and my grandfather did an interview with a local paper ba k in the late 70’s about the history of White Rock. My mother has most of tbe history still and lives just outside White Rock on the MN side.

    1. I would love to get a copy of the information your mother has on White Rock, Sd. My mother was born there July 27, 1903. I would be most happy to pay for any costs.

      My e-mail address is mabelgalvin@gmail.com and my phone number is (218)724-4366.

      I was born in ND.in 1942. I really miss my prairie roots but love living by the “Big Lake”. ie Lake Superior in Duluth, MN.

      I look forward to hearing from you as I do genealogy and don’t have much information on my mother’s roots.

      Sincerely, Mabel Galvin

      1. But everyone knows how your mother felt about you, Mabel, because you told everyone in Duluth about your mother.

  8. My dad was born in White Rock,in 1921 we have the book of the Birth and Death of White Rock.Have visited it many times!

  9. My father Elis Schedin was born near White Rock & his father is buried at Graceland Cemetary(Charles Schedin) we just got to visit there this year for the first time & believe we have found the family farm from years ago…waiting to go back to walk to the tree claim they say a house foundation is still there….how cool to stand in the spot where your father was born in 1921.

  10. My Father died in White Rock in 1974. My grand fathers obituary was printed in the White Rock newpaper in 1916.

  11. We use to go to White Rock when we were kids because you only had to be 18 to drink and had to be 21 in Minnesota. Spent many Friday and Saturday Nights in White Rock, Rosholt, and New Effinton.

    1. I remember riding along with some older neighborhood kids back in about 1972, and they would go on beer runs from MN because of the drinking age. I remember the old Bank building still standing back then, and a sidewalk, and the street was wider there for angle in parking. We parked there one evening, and my friend bought a six pack of beer in White Rock from some tiny store, or house converted into a store. It sure wasn’t much. That’s the last time we ever were able to buy beer there. From then on it was on to Rosholt, until they got older. I remember 15 cent beers in Rosholt at the Erickson brother’s bar on Main street, and 75 cent pitchers. I would walk in (under age) and sit down at a booth that had high backs, and my older friends would order at the bar, and we would have our beers and chips, and get a six pack to go.

      1. Through high school we all partied there in the early 70’s. Although you were supposed to be 19, if you were old enough to walk up to the bar, you were served tap beer for 15 cents.

  12. I discovered not too long ago that my grandfather spent a couple years in White Rock in the 1890’s living with relatives in the area before he ventured on to farm in Saskatchewan on his own. Sort of sad to see that such a thriving place is no more.

  13. My mother, Hazel Payne was born in White Rock, So. Dakota on July 27, 1903. If anyone knows of any newspapers or records that I can access to find information I’d love to hear from you.

  14. Mabel, my mother, Ruth Allison, was born in White Rock (1911) to Ninian and Laura Allison. She was on of nine childern. The Allison family farm (40 acres) was located at the corner of SD, ND and MN by the stone marker.

    Hess and Allison was the town livery stable. Hess and Ninian rounded up wild horses in Montana and drove them overalond to White Rock. Philip Hess and my Grandparents are burried in Graceland Cemetary just across the line in Minesota. So is Doctor Rott,the town Doctor of the time. I suspect a number of others are there too.
    Link to Graceland Records : http://files.usgwarchives.net/mn/traverse/cemeteries/gracelan.txt
    Note there is another graveyard to the West but I don’t remember the name.

    An anticle that would be of interest to you was published in the Wheaton Gazette (Wheaton MN) on June 30 , 1983. It’s titiled “White Rock a town that died” Lots of detail about White Rock and pictures also.

    A link for contact: http://www.mnnews.com/newspapers/wheaton.html

    1. I am a descendant of the Hess family. My great grandmother was born there in 1904…Frances Hess. Her parents were George and Lottie. I would love to come out there and discover what was the birthing ground of my roots.

  15. My maternal grandmother, Leone Caldwell, lived in White Rock around 1900. At the time she was about 17, the oldest of three girls. Her father, Welford Caldwell, was a carpenter. The town was named after a huge white rock, which eventually was blown to bits. Does anyone know the reason for destroying that rock, and when?

  16. I use to go to White Rock in the 60’s to visit my great grandmother , Kate Stoebe, and my great aunt, Helen Welton, who owned Welton’s ( Helen’s). My grandfather was born there in 1903 and graduated from White Rock High School. I have the program from his graduation along with a few report cards and books.. My great grandparents are buried at Graceland .

  17. My dad ran the elevator in White Rock in 1950. We lived in a house with no water or sewer next to the school. Had to drive 5 miles to a gas station on the MN border to get water in a 5 gallon can. My brother and I went to the one room school house with one teacher and grades 1-9 all together. I was in 2nd grade and my brother in first. Lost my two front baby teeth playing football during recess. At the time there was one restaurant in town. Luckily for me… we moved to Minneapolis in 1951.

  18. My great grandparents Otto and Mary Anderson lived in White Rock sometime after 1896. Three of their children Ida Mae, Ole Albert, and Gerda Rebecca were born in White Rock 1898, 1900, and 1903 respectively. Ole died at age two and is buried in Graceland. His older brother Carl Johan also died while the family lived in White Rock. (He was about 17 and died from an accidental gunshot while duck hunting. He is also buried in Graceland. 1907)

    Should anyone have any photos of this family please contact me at Kjgrundei@gmail.com. I have visited White Rock and was so impressed by how silent the place is and how beautiful by the river. Lovely area-and continues to be for the history it holds.

    Mary and Otto had eight children when they moved to White Rock-three additional children born there.

    Thanks you for this sight-it is a lovely tribute to this town and so happy to read other recollections.

  19. In the late 50’s, early 60’s, White Rock was a “destination” for a lot of kids from Minnesota, and Welton’s Tavern was the place to be!! You could drink beer at 18 years of age in SD in those days, and we’d go there, drink up on 3.2 beer, maybe shoot some hoops in the old gymnasium, and then foolishly, drive back to Barrett, Evansville, Elbow Lake, Wendell, Hoffman, etc, etc full of beer bravado!! Ran in the ditch a few times on those country roads, but by some miracle, we always seemed to make it back home. There was a guy from Elbow Lake who was actually named “honorary Mayor” of White Rock, Good times indeed!!

  20. My friend Margie and I would spend a week every summer staying at her grandma Matties house. Her grandma was the postmistress at the post office so we usually had our days to ourselves. We would walk downtown to Helens of course, sometimes there would be a baseball game in the evening or we would play rummy with her grandma and her neighbor lady. Great memories!

    1. Margie is my cousin. I grew up in White Rock, spent most of my summers and every Sunday there. I not only spent a lot of time in Helens but also at Anderson general store.

  21. I lived in Rosholt my growing up years the 50s and 60s. White Rock was the stopping off place to have some drinks for the people coming from North Dakota on the way to White Eagle ball room in New Effington Sd for the Saturday night dances. We moved back to Rosholt Sd 25 years ago and the house we bought was a house that was moved into Rosholt from White Rock. Talk about ghosts I am sure this house as lots to tell.

  22. My dad (Melvin Zahnow) was born in just over the border in ND but grew up in White Rock. His parents were Louis and Selma Zahnow. He had a brother, Arnold and a sister Lillian. We used to subscribe to the Wheaton Gazette back in the 80s.

    1. My father was born in White Rock in 1919. His father was David Johnson. David had a sister named Selma Zahnow. I was surprised to see her name in your post.

  23. Our family lived on a farm out side of White Rock, I remember my dad always referred to two brothers, being called Pete and Re-Pete, they lived in ol’shackled home, and they were always together.. this was back in the mid 60’s, we only lived there for a couple years, no running water, a well and an out house is what we used, later after we moved to Wheaton,Mn.. White Rock was famous for Keg partys and many people would attend these partys with only 1 or 2 buildings standing we gathered on what use to be main street and always had a great time, I never saw the GHOST’S that so many people talked about, but we always kept our eyes open.. great memories

      1. I remember Pete and RePete in 1950, but not in much detail as I was only 7 yrs old. Their home and property was delapitated and littered with old broken down junk. They wore bib overhalls and appeared to have not taken a shower or bath for quite some time.

  24. We would ride our bikes to White Rock as our farm was just a few miles down the gravel road. Our great-grandparents, Clarence & Annie Reddy lived there, I believe their house is the third house pictured above. It’s been many years since I’ve drove through there but the article brought back many memories. I remember watching my great-grandpa cut the grass with a reel mower and begging him to let me help or visiting the neighbor lady who lived next door who always had a treat for me, which I loved. Our Great-Grandma Reddy would teach many of us grandkids to drive, letting us sit on her lap and steer her big car, I believe the steering wheel was bigger than we were! She would just tell us to never tell anybody but I think the whole town probably had a good idea what we were upto! I imagine now White Rock is filled with many spirits & angels watching as nature has taking over but to me I will always remember the memories we made with our Great-Grandpa & Great-Grandma Reddy. Thanks for the article and for sharing!

    1. Just reminiscing with my Dad, Merlin Nickolauson, says he lived on the Reddy farm (maybe Otto’s?) on the west edge of town. Fun stories with my Daddy

      1. I knew and liked a Nickolauson from White Rock in the 50’s. Didn’t know his first name, only knew him as Nick. He and his buddy Jim. “Nick & Jim”!!! Could that be your Dad?

  25. White Rocks only current resident, Steve Burgess lives in his Grandmothers house. He stopped & visited me yesterday, had I saw this before his visit I would have gotten his Grandma’s name. The National Enquirer did a story years ago on him being White Rocks only resident, also ran a pic! Steve worked for me for years!

  26. Steve’s grandmas name was Dagney Johnson. He is my ex. His mother is Ruby Burgess. The purple house was mine. I lived there from 1983-1989. Have many pictures and even a register of voters from 1938.

  27. Does anyone know if there is any written history on the school? I would be very interested in finding that information…getting a copy if there is.

  28. In my 1956 graduating Wheaton Minn. high-school class there was a kid by the name of Verny Phillips who lived in White Rock. He lived with his family in a fairly large house near the south west corner of White Rock. In those days Hellen Welton’s bar and the old high school gym were also still standing. We sometimes played basketball in the gym while occasionally rain leaked through the roof but the lights still worked!

  29. I love that you making places like this searchable. This is so interesting. It would be interesting to see photos of what these places once were.

  30. My name is Al Tohm, I grew up on a farm just outside of White Rock, in Minnesota. My years were late 50’s to middle 60’s. Helens was the place to go for fireworks and Pepsi. Our little gang would sit on top on Helens and watch the drinking parties. Spent many nights at softball fields watching and playing. Sneaking into old school was always an adventure. Playing basketball in old gym was always fun. We always sold grain to elevator, can still remember the smell of grain an feed. My grand parents and sister are in cemetery, Frank and Emma Tohm.
    I remember going to corner grocery store, the hardware store and Raddes garage. Wonderful times that I will never forget. Oh can not forget Pete and rePete, and the old cloths and props in the Legion building. Also can remember the fire hall. Could go on an on. Great place too grow up.

  31. My name is Al Tohm, I grew up on a farm just outside of White Rock in Minnesota. We spent a lot of time in White Rock from 1956 to 1964. Helens was the place to be for fireworks an Pepsi. Our gang would sit on the roof of Helens and watch the drinking and other thing parties. We spent many night at the softball park, watching and playing. Sneaking into old school, second floor had old Indian chief, scary as heck.
    Remember the old grocery store, hardware store and Raddes garage. My grand parents Frank and Emma Tohm and my sister are at cemetery. Played many a basketball games in old Roser gym, really cold some nights. And who could forget Pete and RePete. Not many knew about the great old costumes in a coffin hide in the old fire station. Wonderful times, great place to grow up.

  32. From Fargo, love visiting white rock from time to time just to enjoy the peace and solitude, have been looking to buy a burial plot at lake view cemetery but churches in the area and Roberts county aren’t sure who I need to contact, any ideas?

  33. I don’t recall the name of the railroad but I remember in 1952 the train that went through Wheaton, where I lived, was still powered by a steam locomotive and I think it went through White Rock on its way north to wherever.

  34. My late Father was born in Mora, MN in 1913. As a boy he used to ride his bike to White Rock, SD during the 1920’s. His Mother was Alice Grummons who unfortunately died in 1919 when he was only 6. Here grandfather William Grummons lived in White Rock and was an officer in the Minnesota Volunteers of the Civil War and got the hell beat out of them in Tennessee. My name is Winfield Abbe, son of Charles and have lived in Athens, Georgia about 51 years. My brother is Karl Abbe who lives in Bonny Doone, California and makes bicycle windscreens. His e mail is zzipdesign@aol.com. Thanks for your great comments. About 25 years ago my wife Mary Anne and I visited White Rock and found is grave marker at the cemetery. Evidently the town died when the railroad moved.

    1. Lot’s of Grummons family history based in White Rock. See the story in the Rosholt Centennial History 1913-2013 book. Stories of the Grummons and Burgor families.

  35. Thanks for the photos. I was there the summer of 2016 with my dad, trying to find his grandparents’ old home site, but wasn’t able to. But we did visit their graves at Graceland Cemetery. Has anyone mentioned that someone published a book about White Rock called Views of the Present – VIsions of the Past? It’s by Randy Olson. It has lots of history and photos. I was able to find a copy online.

  36. My mother Lowe Paddock grew up in White Rock Her mother was Mabel Paddock Her grandpa ran Jarl Bros store. She told many stories of the store as well as Pete and Repete She was the school teacher at the one room school house in Rosholt I think that building is in Wheaton now

  37. Does anyone have knowledge of the Hudsons Bay trading post that was called Lac Travers Post – and was located near the town site? It goes back to 1823 but was wondering if there has been archeological work done etc. My GGGG Grandparents were married there in 1820.

    1. I believe that you are using the french words maybe lac Travers is supposed to be Lake Traverse. One side is on Minnesota and one side is on South Dakota.

  38. Thanks for your reply, I was able to get in touch with a lady who was involved with the cemetery association and I bought a plot in late 2017, just in time as the cemetery was turned over to Roberts co in late 2018

  39. Dear Brandie,
    Frances was my mothers sister. I knew Aunt Fran. She was a lot of fun and I loved her. Please email me re: the family

  40. I remember my mother, Lila Hess telling that her brother, my uncle, Archie Hess used to run the theater for silent movies on Saturday nights and my mother played the piano. Their parents were
    George and Lottie Hess.

    1. Phyllis,
      My goodness! Thank you for your reply. I cannot find your email address on here. But mine is:

      Yep, I knew Fran belonged to George and Lottie but I did not know that about the movie theater and piano! That is so fascinating! I really hope to hear from you soon!

  41. My great-great uncle, Rev. C.W. Ehlers, was a circuit riding preacher in White Rock in the late 1890’s. In his biography he speaks of getting offerings as low as 11 cents there. He could not afford to stay at the hotel for $2.00, so he set up home in a barn stall.

  42. I am interested in the History of old hunting camps anywhere near the White Rock area whether on the South Dakota or Minnesota side. I know there were many in the area on lakes like Club House, Mollison, Mud, Cottonwood, etc but would be interested to hear any information on any of the old camps, hunters, or the farms they hunted on.

  43. I am in the process of searching my relatives who emigrated from Sweden to the United States in the late 19th century. Two of my grandfather’s brothers traveled to White Rock and one of them, Axel Werner Stromstedt, got married and settled there. None of them are buried there. They both worked as blacksmiths.
    Interesting reading and would love to go by and see where they ended up. Maybe some trace left? Both passed away during the 1950’s. Have a plan to look up where they are buried and learn more about my family history.

  44. Recognizing a couple of names. I lived just outside of White Rock going to church & Sunday School there, the grocery store, and the post office. My Dad still has some of the homesteaded property. I recall riding home on the bus, which dropped off the White Rock students, and as we left Wheaton looking out and kidding, looks like White Rocks on fire, and it was. This would have been mid – later 60s. Have still visited a few times to reminisce, last time the church outhouse was still in the trees.

  45. Hi my name is roger. My mother was a resident arround I believe 1917. Do you know of a couple grave markers with the names Billy maybe whigham and clarence Dodd. They died arround 40 minutes apart during the flu outbreak. Thanks

  46. Hi my name is roger. My mother was a resident arround I believe 1917. Do you know of a couple grave markers with the names Billy maybe Wilhelm and clarence Dodd. They died arround 40 minutes apart during the flu outbreak. Thanks

  47. my wife and I just visited white rock, not much remaining in 2020, curiosity has me….what caused white rock to disappear? any information would be appreciated.

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