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The Founder of Colton, SD

by Esther Colton Todnem

My parents were born and reared in Wisconsin. In 1878 my father, J.E. Colton, homesteaded in South Dakota. After much plowing of prairie land and planting of cottonwood trees, he returned to Wisconsin that fall. On Thanksgiving Day, my parents were married. They spent the winter in Wisconsin and returned to the homestead in South Dakota early in 1879.

Much could be written about their pioneer experiences, such as the prairie fire of 1879 and blizzard of 1888. But this is the story of their part in founding the early development of the town of Colton.

From 1879 to 1897 the address of the Colton family was Taopi, S.D. three miles west of what is now Colton. There was a country store and post office operated by the settlers who lived across the road from it. This store and the post office was called Taopi and settlers from miles around brought their eggs and home churned butter to trade for groceries at this store.

However, in the days of poor country roads and horse and buggy travel, this got to be a tedious journey. So my father organized a cooperative creamery company. In 1897 the company became a reality with a  new building for a creamery and a board of directors.

After the building of the creamery, enough new businesses sprang up to line both sides of a block in what came to be called “Main Street” — a post office, hotel, grocery and dry goods store, meat market, wagon shop, blacksmith shop, harness maker’s shop, a combined hardware, undertaking and furniture store and implement shop. There was a feed and livery barn in a different location.

The area’s pioneer physician, Dr. P.D. Bliss, drove about the country making house calls. Incidentally, he remained here for the rest of his career.

When it came time to select a name for the new town my father, who was a great admirer of William Jennings Bryan, voted for the name of “Bryanville”. However, the other members of the board insisted that the new town should be called “Colton” in honor of J.E. Colton on whose land the town had been built and who had spent much time and effort in organizing the creamery and inducing other businesses to settle there.

In 1901 my father established “The Colton Courier,” the local newspaper, which was printed here for many years. He had the town platted and organized the Colton Land and Investment Co., which sold lots to the townspeople for homes. He had a half interest in this company. The other stockholders were his brother, W.O. Colton, and Dave Crooks, the founder of the town of Crooks.

The first schoolhouse in Colton was a one-room building where a teacher taught eight grades. Circa 1905-1906 a new building was erected on a block given by the Colton Land and Investment Co. By 1907 there was a two-year high school in this building for a time, and later the first class graduated in 1917. The third school building in this same block dated back to the mid 1920’s.

In 1904 my father began negotiations with the South Dakota Central Railroad Co. to build through Colton. In 1905 or 1906 the first train came into Colton and we had passenger service for many years. The South Dakota Central was later taken over by the Burlington and the railroad is still there but there is no passenger service.

My parents were always enemies of alcohol. They were determined that intoxicating liquor should never be sold legally in Colton. For this reason they gave part of their farm to the town for a park. This did not keep the town “dry”. Several years ago, Colton acquired a municipal liquor store and paid the heirs a nominal sum for the park.

My parents seemed to have an unusual capacity for making friends and influencing people. Many of the townspeople came to them for advice on financial and personal problems. My father died in 1910 at the age of 53. This is a comparatively early age but he had lived a full life of achievement. Mother lived to be 80 in 1937 and often spoke of the pleasure and satisfaction that had been hers in the change from pioneer living to a well populated town.

{ Ed. Esther became a well-respected teacher in smaller communities in the Midwest, married in later years without children, returned to Colton as a widow and lived out her life there where it had started.}

Source Materials: Minneapolis Star and Tribune.  February 23, 1985.
Norwegians, Swedes and More: Norway to Minnesota (Winge-Hegre) Book 2,
Author: Loren H. Amundson

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