Located just off of Main Street in Vermillion is the Austin-Whittemore House. Built in 1882 for Horace Austin, this multistory home stands as an accurate representation of rural towns in the 1880s. The 605 team met with executive director Wess Pravecek to learn more about the history that keeps this house alive.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
Horace Austin came to South Dakota as a land surveyor, and after meeting his wife, Rachel Ross, was in need of a house to match his philanthropic lifestyle. He enrolled the help of Andrew Pickett who was known around town as the builder of beautiful things.
“Mr. Pickett’s wife, Helen, was pregnant at the time of the build,” said Pravecek. “Mrs. Pickett died shortly after childbirth, and since the Austins couldn’t have children, they took “Little Helen” in as their own.”
Pravecek went on to explain that when Little Helen’s father passed away, Rachel Pickett felt the house was too big for just two people, setting in motion her love for entertaining.
Pansy went on to marry Arthur Whittemore, one of the first football coaches at the University of South Dakota, and raise five kids in the very home in which she grew up.
HOURS OF OPERATION
Monday, Wednesday & Friday // 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. // Or By Appointment
IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS
“They had to really follow the ins and outs of the South Dakota State Historical Society and the State Historic Preservation Office,” said Pravecek.
“The kitchen could only be white or cream and all the wallpaper in the house had to be some kind of small print.”
“The piano is from Wakonda and some of the bedroom furniture is native to the family,” explained Pravecek. “Some pieces are more unique than others, like this framed art I found in the attic, which is made entirely from human hair.”
PRESERVING THE PAST
The furniture isn’t the only thing that makes patrons feel at one with the past. Pravecek mentioned a few other kinds of patrons during our tour of the “maid’s quarters” turned nursery.
With history on her side, Pravecek uses the house’s original architecture to create her own spooky scenarios during the Halloween season.
“There is a second staircase that leads to the cupola. It was called the widow’s walk because wives would wait for their husbands to come back from the sea, and if they didn’t come back, they became a widow,” said Pravecek. “I like to put a ghost up there in October and use a backlight as a fun way to celebrate the history of the home.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT CCHSSD.ORG.