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Okaton Elevator {Changes of the past 12 years}

The history of our country, of our counties and of the neighborhood brings light to the transformation of the landscape. Sometimes that transformation is beautiful, other times it is sad. 

Heading west from Chamberlain, SD, towns were built every 10 miles to accommodate the laborers of the railroad. No matter where they were working, they would only have five miles to go either direction. This also helped the train as it could go up to 10 miles before needing water. Ranchers and farmers moved across western South Dakota, establishing many of these towns in the early 1900s. 
As you travel I-90, west of the Missouri, you will notice towns, or their remains, at those mile markers. 

Every time I return home from a trip east, once I hit the Missouri and the beautiful rolling hills on the western side of the river I start tracking the towns. When one travels a road consistently, you get to know it pretty well. Reliance, Lyman, Kennebec, Presho, Vivian, Draper, Murdo and Okaton.

                                                                                                        (#1)  2006, Nikon N80, Kodak 200 ISO*

Okaton is the town I live nearest.
When the interstate was being built in the late 60’s to early 70’s the town of Okaton was already losing inhabitants. Many of those who homesteaded the area were having a hard time making it work as the lack of water, the 30s combined with the weather and land posed hardship for keeping families alive. 
One word can be described for those who remained: stubborn. Especially if you were a Dutch Roghair, as my husbands family is. 

In the early 90’s, the railroad was still running grain cars through Okaton. The interstate had been built through remains of the northern part of town as many homes were vacated. This is why the Okaton Evangelical Free Church is just north of I-90, with the rest of the town to the south. 

As the homesteaders left, there wasn’t many people to keep local businesses running. Murdo was the county seat and all legal business was done there. Many small businesses in Okaton closed or were bought out and moved to Murdo, such as the current First National Bank, formerly Okaton State Bank. 

Famously known along the interstate as the Ghost Town, Okaton continued to have a gas station and rock shop opened in the summer until a few years ago. Currently, five homes are occupied within the town plus the various ranches and farms surrounding. My husband and I lease the land to the south and east of the Okaton Grain Elevator-my most favorite building on the prairie. 

                                                                                                                                                            (#2)  2013, Nikon D700

Since moving to Okaton in 2005, I have seen a lot of changes to this prairie skyscraper. Photo #1 was taken from the south side, showing the scale house still in tact in the summer of 2006.
The photos 2, 3 and 4 shows pieces slowly deteriorating in 2013.  

                                                                                                                             (#3)   2013, Nikon D700

                                                                                                                                                        (#4)         2013, Nikon D700

From the elevator, you can see down to the White River and approximately 30 miles to the horizon. 

                                                                                                                                                    (#5)             2016, Nikon D700

Though the building has changed, it’s rich history remains. I often wonder what the town was like bustling with people and the trains running through, hauling out grain the hardworking farmers harvested. Great-Grandpa Henry Roghair stepped off the train in 1925 and since then, Roghair’s have lived in Okaton’s surrounding area.

I am grateful to live here and to be able to witness the passing of time one broken board torn by the wind after another. 

                                            (#6)   2017, Nikon D700

I may have not seen the glory days, but I get to stay near by as the Okaton Grain Elevator slowly says good-bye. I hope I never see the day when she ceases to overlook the prairie. 

*This is probably my favorite of all my photos of the elevator. I’d hiked from my house and spent the evening photographing. That was my first time exploring the beauty of the building. I was still shooting 35mm film in 2006. Since we lease the land to the south of the elevator, I was free to explore various angles without trespassing. I love this angle showing the scale house. Not a view everyone gets to see.  

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Stotts

    Awesome pics. Haven’t been there in a few years. We used to go to Grandma and Grampas place when we were kids. Awesome memeries from the 50’s and60’s!!

    1. Cristen

      Thank you for sharing! I wish I could have seen Okaton back in the day, especially the 50’s before I-90 went through, and when the train was running! I’ve heard some fun stories.

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