History’s Attic

This week in History’s Attic

Building a new town. From 1946 to 1949, the Corps Omaha District built Pickstown on a bluff northeast of the river at the cost of $9.5 million. It was designed as a fully self-contained community to house the many construction workers arriving to build the dam. It consisted of 18 dormitories, 312 family dwellings, 25 utility servicing areas servicing 625 trailer spaces, a shopping center, three cafeterias, a school building, movie theater, recreational center with a bowling alley, hospital,hotel,interdenominational church, fire/police station, gas station, railroad operations, and several other buildings for corps operations. The town was designed to hold 3,500-4000 workers.

The town was built with modular construction panels by Modern Homes from Sioux Falls and shipped in on the newly built Branch line railroad. The Commercial buildings were built in the international style, which featured flat roofs and wide eaves with rectangular long windows. these buildings were more suited for the southern climates rather than the tough SD winters, and the flat roofs caused many issues and sealed the doom of many of the buildings.

The residential units featured modular 4×8 sections bolted or nailed together in different designs with no overhangs (many were moved and still found in many local towns more on this in another feature). The town never achieved its full occupancy it was built for. Pickstown had maybe 2000 residents at its top so many of the newly build units were barely used.

After the dam was completed in 1956 there was a rapid decline in population. Most of the commercial district closed and was deserted. And residential units were not far behind. The government was spending too much for upkeep so there was a rapid selloff of structures many schools moved the residential units for classrooms and housing schools could buy units for as little as 17 dollars just to dump them. Entire tracts of homes were sold in groups, and by the 1970s the town was just a skeleton of buildings. With curb and gutter streets bare. Finally in 1986 the town was sold and put back in Local Control. It is starting to build back up, but you can still drive the bare streets and dream what was once there. One of the interesting facts of the construction of the town the government put in a complete water and sewer system. but the sewer system never had a treatment facility, the raw sewage of 2000 people was just dumped into the river downstream of the dam. I guess you could say you could get away with a lot in 1948.

Trivia question:  What were the ball clubs name in the Pickstown school??  Answer:  The Pickstown Engineers

Author Richard Papousek, February 2024