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Brookings Central Residential Historic District

Brookings City, Brookings County, SD

House in the Brookings Residential Historic District

Photo: House in the Brookings Residential Historic District. The District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Photographed by User:Jatakuck (own work), 2011, [cc-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed August, 2022.


The Brookings Central Residential Historic District [†] encompasses approximately a nine square block area which extends from Third Street to the south, to Sixth Street to the north, to Medary Avenue to the east and Fifth Avenue to the west. The district is surrounded by commercial and municipal development to the west, and residential development to the east, north, and south. Sixth Street, which is also State Highway 14, is a main thoroughfare running east/west through the city. Wide paved streets allow easy access through the neighborhood, while large trees planted along the sidewalks provide shade and are aesthetically pleasing.

The buildings within the densely packed Brookings Central Residential Historic District are mostly two-story residential buildings, interspersed by several one-story homes, a number of churches, two apartment buildings and a service station. Most of the district displays frame construction, with a few examples of brick buildings.

The houses within the district are primarily vernacular in form, but some show influences of the architectural styles which were popular at their time of construction. Though the contributing buildings within the district were constructed from circa 1884 to 1943, the district is influenced by representatives of a variety of architectural styles including Queen Anne, Gothic Revival, Craftsman-Bungalow, Colonial Revival, and Neo-Classical Revival. The development of these styles in Brookings followed the general trend of architectural residential styles in South Dakota and across the Midwest.

Of the 212 buildings located in the Brookings Central Residential Historic District, 129 contribute to the historic character of the district, while 83 are non-contributing. It must be realized, however, that a large number of non-contributing buildings are garages and outbuildings. Of the 121 primary buildings within the historic district, eighty-eight, or 71.5% are contributing to the district's historic character. The Brookings Central Residential Historic District represents the residential architectural development of the city from the earliest extant houses in the district, the circa 1884-2886 W.D. Allison House at 715 Third Street and the Mary Deeth House at 716-18 Fourth Street, through the early modern period when the last contributing historic buildings, the Selma Wetterburg House at 615 Fifth Street and the Kathryn Mitchell House at 416 Ninth Avenue, were each constructed in 1943.

Based upon the evidence presented by the extant buildings in the district, the vernacular form and Queen Anne styles of architecture were the most prevalent influences in residential Brookings in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The vernacular form in the upper Midwest, recognized by its lack of stylistic elements, was prevalent from the early railroad era of the 1870s into the early twentieth century. It was seen as a form of architecture which could be built by local architects and builders, using a minimal amount of decorative material. One and two-story front and side gabled balloon frame buildings had simple, functional floor plans, generally providing space for a living room, kitchen and bedrooms. Porches and rear additions provided additional living space.

The architecture of the Brookings Central Residential Historic District reflects the architectural tastes of the residents of this small city. The styles and forms represent examples which were prevalent throughout the upper Midwest from the mid 1880s thorough the mid 1940s.

Three excellent examples of the vernacular form in the Brookings Central Residential Historic District are evident. The W.D. Allison House at 715 Third Street was constructed 1884-86 as a two-story front gabled frame house. It features an offset door, two-over-one sash windows and a narrow frieze under the simple eave. The Mrs. John Rittman House was built circa 1919 at 706 Sixth Street as a one-story frame front gabled house. The windows are one-over-one sash and the gabled roof is slightly belled. The small open porch features a simple pediment. The Fanny Spooner House was constructed in 1916 at 416 Eighth Avenue. This onestory frame front gabled house features an offset front door, and two-over-two sash windows.


The Brookings Central Residential Historic District in Brookings, Brookings County, South Dakota illustrates the evaluation of various types and periods of construction from 1884 to 1943. It is thematically related to the South Dakota Historic context entitled "Permanent Rural and Urban Pioneer Settlement." As a result of the district's close proximity to municipal facilities and the commercial hub, the district was erected as an early middle class neighborhood in Brookings. Few buildings detract from the general late nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth century character created by the 113 houses, and their associated outbuildings, two apartment buildings and five churches. Although some have been remodeled, the majority of the buildings retain a significant amount of historic integrity and represent one of the best concentrations of architecturally significant residential and religious affiliated buildings in the city.

Important men involved in the initial formation of Brookings included W.H. Skinner and George Sexauer. W.H. Skinner, who was involved in Brookings' early real estate activity, platted a large portion of the Brookings Central Residential Historic District and still serves as the namesake for several blocks in the district. George P. Sexauer emerged as a prominent Brookings citizen when he bought the Brookings Mill Company in 1897. Sexauer owned and operated a grain mill in both Volga and Brookings. In 1900, he constructed a Queen Anne home at 929 Fourth Street. Sexauer was known as the "elevator king of South Dakota" according to the Golden Anniversary Dedication of The Volga Tribune. The Sexauer House is the only building in Brookings Central Residential Historic District currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The presence of the railroad allowed Brookings to thrive, while nearby communities not located along the tracks disappeared. By November 4, 1879, Brookings was elected to serve as county seat. During that same month, a car load of lumber arrived in Brookings which facilitated both the construction of business and residential buildings in the city.

In 1877, 250 people were living in Brookings County. Three years later, after the arrival of the rail lines, the census reports note that 4,959 people lived in the county. By 1890, just ten year later, the population figures more than doubled and reached 10,132. On May 2, 1881, Brookings received incorporation and a city charter followed one year later.

The growth of Brookings in the twentieth century can be substantiated by the presentation of census figures. By 1905, 14,019 people were living in Brookings County and in 1915 the figure rose to 15,544. The census figures of the city of Brookings in 1910 and 1915 were 2,971 and 3,416 respectively. Thus, the population of Brookings encompassed approximately 21 percent of the entire county's population. By 1920, 3,924 people resided in the city of Brookings. Just five years later, in 1925, an additional 689 people were reported to be living in the city. By 1935, 31 percent of the population of the county lived in Brookings. While the county reported 16,781 people, the city reported 5,311 residents. The rise in population directly related to a rise in the construction of new houses, particularly in the area east of downtown where the Brookings Central Residential Historic District is located. Many of the these early twentieth century houses reflect the popular trend of the Craftsman/Bungalow style.

Prior to the twentieth century, the overall advancement of Brookings County can be documented through increasing property values and collected taxes. In 1880, the county's real estate and personal property totalled $260,012. Ten years later, the real estate and personal property boasted an assessed value of $4,900,034. Thus, the assessed valuation was approximately nineteen times greater in one decade. Reasons for this prosperous growth may be attributed to the presence of the railroad, location of the agricultural college at Brookings, and the establishment of Brookings as county seat in 1879 (Sandro 1936, 26). A similar analysis can be completed regarding the taxes in Brookings. County taxes in 1880 were $2,000, whereas the municipality and school district taxes equalled $192. Twenty-two years later, the county taxes increased by $19,194 over the $2,000 of 1880 and the municipality and school district taxes had risen by $81,380.

The Brookings Central Residential Historic District, with its wide variety of residential styles, reflects three distinctive building periods in Brookings' history. The district is comprised mostly of residential buildings, with church related buildings interspersed throughout the area. Of the 113 houses and their related outbuildings, and five churches in the district, thirty were constructed between 1884 and 1900, the initial construction period of the area. The period from 1901 to 1920, with the construction of forty-six properties plus outbuildings, represents the most prolific building phase in the district. Church facilities made up a number of the newly constructed buildings during the period. A less influential, yet distinctive construction phase within the district is reflected by the twenty-two houses constructed between 1921 and 1943.

The Brookings Central Residential Historic District was comprised of a diverse group of people, who held a variety of occupations. Some of the first residents in the district included Clyde Tidball, a local druggist; G.J. Coller, a physician, Frank Ellis, a real estate agent; Edward Lorimer, a hardware store and lumberyard owner; John Alton, bank bookkeeper; Dyar Campbell, bank cashier; and George Etting, farmer. The diversity of the neighborhood is also apparent by the variety of styles and sizes of buildings in the district. The buildings range from gabled vernacular houses to ornate Gothic Revival churches. Furthermore, since the district houses five different churches it is difficult to categorize the area by one specific religious or ethnic affiliation.

The size of the homes in the district, as well as the materials used during construction appear to be fairly uniform throughout the nine block area. The majority of the buildings within the district are two-story. A majority of the buildings are of frame construction, with the exception of the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Parsonage, the Calvary Cathedral Church, and a few houses which are constructed of brick.

From 1870 to 1940, the emergence and improvement of manufactured materials greatly impacted construction trends seen throughout the country. The development of woodworking machinery coincided with the initial development of the Brookings Central Residential Historic District in the late 1880s. Brookings' close connection to the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company allowed residents to import millwork materials from mills located in the Upper Mississippi Valley. The earliest houses in the district display the use of materials manufactured specifically for vernacular design buildings. Woodworking manufacturing companies often shipped construction parts that were ready for assembly upon arrival at their destination. These early parts were often very simple in design, however, as the manufacturing process improved, companies began to ship more ornate and interchangeable materials. By the early 1900s, a number of ornate Queen Anne homes were constructed in the district. The H.H. and Fannie Reeves House (1901) at 825 Fifth Street features fishscale shingles and intricate bargeboard in the gable peak. The Charles and Mary Skinner House (1905) at 824 Fifth Street features a corner turret decorated with shingles and a widow's walk, as well as Neo-classical details on the porch. The Dexter and Maud Bunday House (1900) at 502 Sixth Avenue exhibits a large wrap-around veranda with turned posts and spindles. The George and Eliza Sexauer House (1900) at 929 Fourth Street exhibits a corner turret with fishscale shingles, and a wrap-around porch with turned post bannister. These houses stand as just a few examples of houses that utilized the improved woodworking materials.

The first architectural form to impact the Brookings Central Residential Historic District was vernacular. Front and side gabled houses, as well as gabled ells and one and two-story cubes, were prominent vernacular styles utilized across the country when the district initially underwent construction. Often, these one and two-story houses retained a balloon frame structure and were covered in clapboard. The second architectural style that influenced the district was Queen Anne. Queen Anne houses, characterized by irregular floor plans and asymmetrical facades, did not influence the Midwest until the 1880s. Queen Anne features did not make a strong impact on the Brookings Central Residential Historic District until the early 1900s. The most elaborate Queen Anne houses in the district were constructed in the first decade of the 1900s. During that same time period, many of the Queen Anne houses also displayed Classical Revival features. By 1910, the Bungalow style of architecture began to move across the country with its popularity being attributed to the California bungalow magazines. The district saw its first bungalow in 1914 with the construction of the Baptist Parsonage House. The bungalow emerged as one of the most prevalent styles constructed in the district.

The majority of the buildings constructed in the residential district apparently are the work of local carpenters and masons who used standard plans and traditional building practices. The stock plan or pattern books probably utilized by Brookings contractors were often published by architects, builders, and companies interested in selling their products.

Besides the standard plans, four buildings in the Brookings Central Residential District were designed by regional and even national architects. The Sioux Falls architectural firm of Perkins and McWayne designed a Colonial Revival style house at 921 Fifth Street in 1932 for Forrest "Butch" and Violet Simmons. Robert Augustus Perkins and Albert McWayne established their architectural firm in 1918. Perkins received degrees in architecture at the Armour Institute of Technology. He then attended the University of California and Columbia University and again studied art and architecture. McWayne graduated in Civil Engineering from Purdue University. After working as a construction superintendent in Chicago for six years he moved to Sioux Falls. The partnership of Perkins and McWayne existed for 36 years until 1954 when Perkins died. Other examples of buildings designed by Perkins and McWayne exist in Brookings at the South Dakota State University campus, including the Pugsley Continuing Education Center (original student union) 1939; Lincoln Music Hall (original library) 1926; and the Central Heating Plant, 1949.

Arthur Clausen, an architect from Minneapolis, designed an unusual house for Dr. Addison and Kate Harris in 1915 at 703 Fifth Street. The design exhibits an eclectic combination of Prairie School style, Bungalow/Craftsman style and Egyptian Revival style. Clausen practiced in Minneapolis from 1908-1917. Clausen also designed the St. Charles Hotel in Pierre, South Dakota which is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1911); Mudcura Sanitorium (1908-1909) Chanhassen, Minnesota; Mudbaden Sanitorium (1915) Jordan, Minnesota; George C. Kline House (1909) Chaska, Minnesota; and the Harold W. Rice House (1912), Richfield, Minnesota. Though a great deal is not known about Clausen, it appears that he specialized in residential as well as institutional types of buildings, and designed in a variety of styles, including Neo-classical.

The First Baptist Church, the Gothic Revival brick church located at 527 Fifth Street, was designed by nationally known architect Harry Jones in 1918. Jones, born in 1859, received his education from Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1883, following graduation, Jones was employed by H.H. Richardson of Boston. Two years later, he opened a private practice in Minneapolis, Minnesota. By 1891, Jones began instructing at the University of Minnesota. He is known for his design of churches, private residences, and commercial buildings. In addition to the First Baptist Church in Brookings, Jones also designed the Baptist Church in Lidgerwood, North Dakota, the Scottish Rite Temple Sanctuary (1906), Minneapolis, Minnesota; the United Presbyterian Church, Lisbon, North Dakota; and the Lakewood Cemetery Chapel (1910), Minneapolis, Minnesota; First Congregational Church, Dickinson, North Dakota; the First Church of Christ Scientist (1898), Fairmont, Minnesota; and the Judson Memorial Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Ralph Adams Cram, a nationally acclaimed ecclesiastical architect from the East Coast, designed the Gothic Revival style Cavalry Cathedral Church at 625 Sixth Street in 1917. Cram was a leader in the Gothic Revival movement. He designed many churches throughout the country. Cram received his architectural training in New England. In 1887, Cram and Charles Wentworth formed an architectural firm in Boston. Four years later they were joined by Bertram G. Goodhue and became known as Cram, Wentworth & Goodhue. Following the death of Wentworth, the name of the firm was changed to Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson, which represented a new partner named Frank Ferguson. Cram's firm designed an enormous number of buildings throughout the country including Church of Our Saviour (1897), Middleboro, Massachusetts; All Saints Cathedral (1905), Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; Calvary Baptist (1909), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Presbyterian Church, St. Paul, Minnesota; and St. Mark's Church, Toledo, Ohio.

Non-architect Designed Buildings

The vast majority of buildings in the Brookings Central Residential Historic District were not designed by architects. Their builders undoubtedly relied on pattern designs and contractor's designs for their inspiration. The earliest residential buildings in the district tended to serve the owners need for function, rather than representing financial status. These were often of modest wood frame construction. With the beginning of the twentieth century came alternative siding materials such as stucco and brick,though wood frame examples continued to dominate the streetscapes well into the mid-twentieth century.

During the earliest phases of construction in the district, Queen Anne elements were often used in the late nineteenth century. Prime examples of the Queen Anne influenced houses, exist throughout the district. The later styles, such as the Craftsman/Bungalow, and eventually the Colonial Revival influenced buildings, were erected intermittently throughout the district. The churches erected in the district, constructed of brick, are located on the west edge of the district near the commercial center.

Religious Architecture

The growing population in the city of Brookings prompted the establishment of several religious institutions. Congregations in Brookings followed several statewide trends regarding development of religion in South Dakota. First, similar to other South Dakota cities, ethnic heritage and religious affiliation determined the style of architecture and building materials used by congregations to erect their churches. Second, even though erecting the first church in town was prestigious, cooperation in the construction of buildings often occurred among congregations that espoused similar beliefs.

David Erpsted and David Wood, in an unpublished manuscript entitled "Early Churches," categorize the construction of churches in South Dakota into three phases. During the first phase, which usually occurred shortly after a community was first inhabited, congregations erected practical frame buildings for their houses of worship. On a state level, during the first phase of church construction, only twelve religious groups practiced in the state of South Dakota in the 1890s.

The Methodist Episcopal congregation organized the first religious society in Brookings. During the first phase/ after receiving a gift of land from the Chicago Northwestern Railway Company, it constructed a frame building at the corner of Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue in 1880. Between 1881-1882, the newly erected building also held services conducted for both local Baptists and Presbyterians. Thus, Brookings' church development strongly supports Erpsted and Wood's text regarding interaction between different denominations to ensure a place to worship.

By 1882, the Baptists erected their first church on Fourth Street, while the Presbyterians did not construct a church until 1886 on the corner of Fourth Street and Seventh Avenue. The St. Paul's Episcopal congregation constructed its first building in 1893 on the corner of Sixth Street and Seventh Avenue. It is important to note that St. Paul's Episcopal Church retained the name of Calvary Cathedral from its formation until November 25, 1960.

By the onset of the second building phase, church patrons were better established and could contribute more funds toward the construction of ornate churches. Overall, on the state level, the 1906 federal census listed 56 different church bodies in South Dakota. The Methodist Episcopal, with 291 congregations, served as the largest religious society in South Dakota. While the Roman Catholics with 199 congregations and the United Norwegian Lutheran Church with 132 congregations followed close behind in size. By 1936, South Dakota reported that 42 percent of its population were affiliated with some religious institution.

On a local level, during the second phase, two churches were erected in the Brookings Central Residential Historic District. The Methodist Episcopal Church was constructed in 1904 at 625 Fifth Street. In an effort to accommodate its growing number of patrons and provide modern services, the Methodist congregation funded three significant building programs. In 1914, a nine room addition, which included a gymnasium, was constructed. By 1927, the basement was finished to accommodate a growing congregation and a steam heating system was purchased and installed. The Methodists constructed a large education wing at a cost of $150,352 to the west side of the church in 1964-1965.

The Presbyterians constructed a brick church in 1900 at a cost of $18,300 at 405 Seventh Avenue. In 1934, the basement was dug, adding space for a kitchen, a dining room, and several meeting rooms. Over thirty years later, in 1968-1969, an education unit was added to the church. Crenellation that runs along the roof and Gothic headed windows make the addition complimentary to the original church. A two-story frame American Foursquare style manse was built at 704 Fifth Street in 1914 to house the ministers of the church.

The third building phase, prompted by the onset of World War I, resulted from the fact that many congregations no longer consisted of first generation immigrants. Church patrons often felt a need to break their strong ethnic ties. Brick served as the most prominent material utilized in the construction of third phase churches. Not only was it visually impressive, it also decreased the chance of destruction from fire.

Two churches, located in the Brookings Historic Central Residential District, were erected during this last phase. St. Paul's Episcopal Church, originally known as the Calvary Cathedral Church, constructed its present church in 1917 at 726 Sixth Street. This simple brick church, which is less ornate than most of the other churches located in the district, is noted for its English Gothic architecture, as well as its famous designer Ralph Cram. The parish house, located to the south at 519 Eighth Avenue, was purchased in 1960.

The Baptist congregation constructed a church in 1918 at 527 Fifth Street. The church, designed by Harry Jones, cost the congregation $30,000. One year later, the church bought a parsonage at 908 Fifth Street for $6,650. In 1993 the church retains its original configuration, however the roof was replaced in 1958 and the interior was redecorated in 1974.

† Barabara Kooiman and Elizabeth A. Butterfiel, U.S.WestResearch.Inc., Brookings Central Residential Historic District, nomination document, 1994,National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C., accessed August, 2022.

Street Names
3rd Street • 4th Street • 5th Street • 6th Street • 7th Avenue • 8th Avenue • 9th Avenue • Medary Avenue