Zell is a tiny town in South Dakota, straddling the county line between Faulk and Hand counties. This former convent and the neighboring church are featured in our book hardcover coffee table book, Churches of the High Plains.
This is the former St. Mary’s convent. The first Bishop of the Dakota Territory, Martin Marty, invited some Benedictine Sisters to South Dakota in 1864, and in 1874, they settled in Zell. This is one of the the structures they eventually built to serve their mission. We believe this building was erected in 1912, and it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Update: Joe Lutter contacted us to let us know he owns this building and would be willing to sell it. If you’re interested, you can contact Joe at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The St. Mary’s complex, which includes a large church, is on the south side of the highway which places it in Hand County, while the rest of the town is north of the highway, in Faulk County.
This convent was originally designated a monastery. It was somewhat common for the term to be used interchangeably for both men’s and women’s facilities in the 1800s.
Thanks to Jeff Blaseg for tipping us off to this place.
The sign in front of the church says “No Services on Weekends.”
The cemetery next to the convent is beautiful and very well-kept.
According to this unsourced article, the present population of Zell is around 50, but based on what we saw, we think that number might include some people who live outside of town.
The rest of the town is north of the highway, which places it in Faulk County.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC