Sunday, September 12, 2010

Jorgensen barn program a big hit!

When Joe Jorgensen bought property along Spearfish Creek in north Spearfish back in 1984, he knew it was a good deal – but he may not have fully appreciated the history that came with the purchase.

The Homestake Gold Mine had owned the acreage – along with a lot of other property in Lawrence County – since before World War II.  But the buildings on Jorgensen’s property – including the huge barn that looms over the back of the property – dated back to the 1800’s.      

A former teacher-turned realtor, Jorgensen soon learned more about the property and over the years has gathered considerable information about it.  He shared much of that information last Tuesday (9/7/10) with a standing-room only audience that gathered in the spacious barn adjacent to Jorgensen Park just off Hillsview Drive in Spearfish.   Extremely pleasant weather helped lure well over 100 people to the event.

It was a rare off-site meeting of the Spearfish Area Historical Society, which launched a new season of programs for history buffs from Spearfish and the surrounding area.  And they certainly weren’t disappointed.  The program was a “Barn and Saddle Tour.”

There was an impressive display of more than 100 saddles collected by Arnold Jorgensen, and many were real collector’s items – including one acquired by Melvin Stewart of Burke, South Dakota at Hitler’s ‘Eagle’s Nest” near Berchtesgaden, Germany  There were land documents, historical photographs, household items, and farm equipment – including a branding chute crafted by Jorgensen’s grandfather.  But perhaps the biggest hit of the evening was the barn itself.

“I went up to the courthouse 10 or 15 years ago to do some research on the buildings here, and I didn’t get very far,” said Jorgensen.   “I spent five or six hours there.  You can just go on forever trying to trace things back.  Then this last week, I was a little more successful.”

Jorgensen expanded his search into adjacent sections and quarter sections.  “All of a sudden, I found some mortgages to Tom Matthews that related to this piece of property.”

The sleuthing paid off, and Jorgesen found documents that showed the initial transfer of the property in November 1883 from the United States of America to one John Aikman.

“The original 160 acres were 40 acres deep.  It ran up to the property where Ray Runnings raises his corn today, and then headed east up along Hillsview Drive for four ‘40’s.”

In May of 1887, the property was deeded to Ed Cashelin for $6,000.  That transaction carried with it all water rights to the Spearfish irrigation ditch from Aikman, George Mann, Samuel Beck and William Seip. 

“The first thing Mr. Cashelin began to do was sub-divide the property, so all the property along Lower Valley Road (Evans Lane) was part of this property, and those lots sold for about a hundred dollars apiece.”

Cashelin and his wife, Columbia, apparently acquired another 160 acres, because when they sold their property in October 1898 to Thomas W. Matthews for $10,000, the deal was for 320 acres total.  

Cashelin’s great-great-granddaughter, Marcia Darland of Spearfish, was on hand for the presentation and provided a clue to the age of the barn.  It was contained in an old photograph
of the Cashelin house, which once sat where Jorgensen’s home is located.  That confirmed that the structure was likely built in the 1883 to 1898 period.

Jorgensen also introduced Tom Matthews of Spearfish, whose namesake, T.N. Matthews, once owned the property – as well as the popular block of downtown Spearfish known as the Matthews Opera House.

Matthews said he had always thought that his ancestors might have built the house and barn now owned by Jorgensen.   “What I have learned is the ownership and evolution of the ownership of this property. This has been great fun.” said Matthews, who also brought along a fistful of old documents and photographs to share with Jorgensen and the gathering.

Jorgensen once served as Mayor of Spearfish and has been active in a wide range of community activities.  He, his sister Kay and brother Spike grew up in Witten.  Joe graduated from Black Hills State University in 1967 with a double major in Social Studies and Speech and Theatre.  He later picked up a Masters in School Administration.  His four year of teaching school in Spearfish was punctuated by a two-year tour with the Army in Germany.

The low-key Jorgensen shared several memories of his parents, Arnold and Twyla Jorgensen.  They owned and operated a small grocery store in Witten for many years, and Arnold became quite a horse trader.  A plaque erected in the nearby park by the Jorgensen children identifies their dad as “the last of the great old horse traders.”

“They were very special people.  They wanted us to have every opportunity that was available.  We took a trip every year, whether it was to the World’s Fair in Seattle, to Montreal, or Washington, D.C.   If we couldn’t make it to one of those places, we at least made it to Hot Springs to go swimming in Evans Plunge!”

Kay Jorgensen, a former state legislator who – like her brother Joe – is also engaged in a variety of civic activities, echoed admiration and love for their parents.

“They wanted life to be better for everyone, and they thought education was the primary way up and out.  They put us in every possible circumstance they could so that we wouldn’t be afraid – so that anything was possible.”

Arnold and Twyla Jorgensen embraced Spearfish after moving here in 1983.  He fell in love with the old barn, and he was determined that when he died, his funeral should be conducted in the old barn, which it was.  Twyla’s memorial service was also conducted there.  Both of the Jorgensens are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.  

So, this venerable old barn, survivor of blizzards, tornadoes and man-made hazards for well over a century, continues to amaze young and old alike with its beauty, durability, and history.  It was featured among the Barns of Lawrence County program presented last year by Leo Orme of Spearfish.  And the stately barn was a fitting topic for opening the new season of Spearfish Area Historical Society programs. 

Several ladies joined forces to offer some delightful snacks and a variety of desserts – a nice touch to a delightful evening!  Among those ladies was Darlene Telkamp and Callie Houghton – but we know there were others, too.  Thanks!

You’ll find more pictures and information about society programs in our Spearfish History Gallery.

“Railroads of the Black Hills” is the subject of the next SAHS gathering on Tuesday, October 5.  Rick Mills of Hermosa, Executive Director of the South Dakota State Railroad Museum in Hill City will share his insight into the important role of the railroads during the development of the Black Hills.  Check out the other planned programs for 2010-11.