Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A profile of Nemo, South Dakota

By Iva Beardshear
(Re-printed from the 1981 book "Some History of Lawrence County")

In the southeast corner of Lawrence County in a small valley surrounded by towering limestone-capped cliffs is the little village of Nemo which came into being in 1877.  The origin of the name is unknown.

Homestake sawmill at Nemo, South Dakota
In 1898 the Homestake Mining Company set up a timber camp in Nemo and began operations of harvesting the timber.  It was the first timber sold by the National Forests and was known as Case One.  The timber camp employees traveled two miles south to the mill at Estes to work until 1912.

In 1898 the Black Hills and Ft. Pierre narrow gauge railroad was extended to Nemo and in 1908 extended to Piedmont.

The 1900 U.S. Census of Nemo Township lists two hundred residents.  The main occupations given are farmer, day laborer, farm laborer, teamster and railroad laborer.  A Swede named Lewis Anderson is listed as working in a meat market, James McLeod was a sawmill engineer and Thomas Stevens was the sawmill foreman.  Among others listed are James Gore, Frank Stevens and Gabriel Fredrickson, all of whom were store clerks; John O’Brien, a mechanical engineer; and James Hoyt, a timber inspector.

Robert O. Robinson, who had been born in Canada in October of 1851, was manager of the timber department from 1891 until his retirement in 1921.  He, too, is listed on the 1900 census along with his wife, Irene, and two children, Hellen and James K.

Nemo continued to thrive and grow, and a new, larger and more modern mill was built in Nemo in 1912.  Housing was provided for employees during these years.  The town contained a hotel for the convenience of the employees, a good two-story elementary school, a branch store of the Hearst Mercantile Company, Woodman Hall, a resident doctor and several summer homes.

W. D. Beardshear succeeded Robinson as manager on January 1, 1921 and continued to add improvement and modern methods.  A booklet published in 1921 and entitled “A Souvenir of Nemo, South Dakota” stated, “The camp is well equipped with a water system and electric lights, and comfortable and commodious houses are supplied to the employees.  The saw-mill is one of the best in the Black Hills, and annually turns out many million feet of lumber and timber, which is shipped by rail to Lead for the use of the mine and its reduction plants.

The Hearst Mercantile Company has a branch store here which has been under the management of Gabe Fredricksen for about twenty-five years.  They carry a large stock of general merchandise, though employees are free to trade wherever they please.

The new Community Church now in process of erection will be built of logs and finished in keeping with the forest.  The Presbyterians keep a resident minister in Nemo, but all denominations receive a cordial reception.”  In 1921 Rev. Mrs. A.E. Deason was pastor of the Community Church.

Undated view of Nemo, South Dakota
The 20’s also saw a new and larger schoolhouse to accommodate the growing population and three-year high school.  The Woodman Hall received a large addition used for high school basketball and community gatherings.  For many years the people of Nemo held a community Thanksgiving similar to that which the Pilgrims had.  This gathering would number from 75 to 200 people.

The railroad was taken out in 1930, giving way to trucking transportation of the mine timbers and lumber.  In the late 30’s the available timber being cut to allow new growth was not large enough for harvesting; the Homestake built a large modern mill in Spearfish.  Of course that took the larger part of the population from Nemo.

Nemo, however, is still a lively place with a population of some thirty-five or forty families.  In 1946 the Frank Troxell family bought the properties and established a resort for hunting, fishing and horseback riding.  There is still a small store there and a good restaurant at the 4T Guest Ranch.  The church continues to have Sunday services and there is a great deal of social activity for the size of the place.