FAULKTON, S.D. — A pink castle rises from the prairie south of Faulkton filled with artifacts from one of South Dakota’s most illustrious families.
The Pickler Mansion, built between 1882 and 1894, was once owned by John Pickler, South Dakota’s first congressman.
While the building sat vacant from 1958 to 1987, it is now nearly restored to its original grandeur.
Pickler was one of the first settlers in Faulkton and made a small fortune as a lawyer specializing in land deals.
The mansion is well-known for its museum-quality, early 1900s antiques and for its famous guests. Susan B. Anthony stayed at the mansion four days in 1890 while campaigning for women’s suffrage.
Alice Pickler, John Pickler’s wife, was the secretary of the women’s suffrage moment in South Dakota. After the mansion was deeded to the Faulk County Historical Society, 13 letters from Anthony to Alice Pickler were found.
Teddy Roosevelt is believed to have stopped there when he was in Faulkton as vice president. Pickler, a Republican, was good friends with Roosevelt and helped write legislation to develop the national forest system.
“This mansion is just a treasure-trove of history,” said Jody Moritz, president of the historical society, who was leading tours of the mansion on Sunday. “What was found here when we started to go through the papers was unbelievable.”
Some of the other major historical documents found in the mansion were:
. A letter from President Teddy Roosevelt thanking Pickler’s for his support in the election.
. Several of Pickler’s Civil War battlefield letters.
. Invitations to six presidential inaugurations.
. Documents discussing statehood issues, including whether Dakota Territory should be divided into North and South Dakota or East and West Dakota. Pickler advocated the East-West distinction.
“Most people had no idea of his importance as a founding father of Faulkton and of the state,” Moritz said. “For me, it was mind boggling to find out all the Picklers were involved in.”
Then there is the house itself.
It started as a claim shack with a trap door to a dug out hole where the family could hide in case of an American Indian attack. Moritz said there was never an attack, only a few men from Redfield who one time dressed up to try to scare the settlers off their claims.
Several nice rooms were then built onto the claim shack. Pickler had moved to Faulkton from Muscatine, Iowa, and, unlike most pioneers, had money from a law practice. He paid carpenters to build the house before his wife and three children arrived.
The biggest change to the house was in 1892, when a hotel building was added to it. When the railroad bypassed LaFoon in favor in Faulkton, LaFoon essentially closed down. Pickler bought the town hotel at a cheap price and had it moved to Faulkton.
After it was attached, the entire mansion was painted pink by Charles T. Greener. He was a noted portrait artist. His paintings of two governors are on display at the state Capitol in Pierre. He, however, could not get enough work painting portraits, so he painted houses to make a living.
Moritz said Greener could paint the inside of a room, never take the curtains down and never spill a drop of paint.
He is reported to have said to the Picklers’ that the house “should be pink like a painted lady,” Moritz said.
Visitors to the house today see a freshly painted salmon pink exterior. The most recent paint job was finished on Memorial Day.
The house has 12 stoves for heating. A beautifully restored potbellied stove is in the living room.
There are early 1900s beds, furniture, dishes and rugs. The library has more than 2,500 books. An 1899 map graces one of the walls.
In the bathroom is an extra-long tub especially made for Pickler. At 6-foot-3 he was too tall for most tubs and could not stand hunching over to bathe in a small tub.
The house might have even more antiques but it was vandalized many times when it sat empty from for nearly 30 years. Moritz said it was vandalized 38 times during that time period.
The restoration of the mansion took a major leap forward in 1990 when the city of Faulkton received a government grant which could be used for restoration projects. About $128,000 was spent on repairing the building and reshingling the roof.
On July 1, Moritz and Taylor Melius, a senior at Faulkton High School, led tours of the mansion. More people than normal were in town for Faulkton’s Wild West Days, which run through Wednesday.
Jay Jahnig, of Faulkton, who was on the tour said he has been on the tour several times and learned something new each time.
One hour guided tours are available by contacting the historical society at 605-598-4285. The museum is open 1-4 p.m. everyday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Admission is $5 per person plus tax. The money is used to fund restoration projects.
Information from: Aberdeen American News, http://www.aberdeennews.com