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If These Walls Could Talk: Dakota Country Store

Anderson, Grenz & Straub. "If These Walls Could Talk: Dakota Country Store." Northwest Blade, 26 January 2012, 5.


By 1886, the word was out. The railroad was extending north from its terminus near Hillsview. Investors, farmers, and businessmen wanted part of the town at the end of the tracks. “Seeing the need and financial potential for a hotel in Eureka, George Knickerbocker started his first hotel from a remodeled section house, on the right-of-way of the Milwaukee Railroad Co., directly east of the [current] Dierenfeldt Meat Market.” (1937 Book) Knickerbocker soon built on another location. The Daniel Smith family is recorded as living in a section house built for railroad employees on the current site of the Dakota Country Store and gas pumps.

The 1937 Eureka Jubilee Book plat map, dated approximately 1900, shows three businesses in the area of Block 4, Lots 1-3, east of the Boettcher German Bank: Chas. Mitschrich, Attorney, (Mitschrich & Marcks Collection Agency); Billie Gray & E.W. ‘Shorty’ Hinsdale Saloon; and Charles Herreid & G.N. Williamson, Lawyers. (The Hinsdale Saloon is listed in the 1909 Eureka Business Directory, but was at another location.) To the east was the railroad.

Eureka, known as the wheat capital of the world in the early 1890’s, needed places to sell, store and buy grain. In 1892, there were 35 elevators, grain houses and flat houses meeting these requirements. In 1895, Emil Schamber built a grain house next to the Milwaukee Railroad, later selling it to Jacob Strobel.

This brings us to the business known as the Wolff Company. Christian G. Wolff, wife Katherina, and sons Henry and John, came to McPherson County in 1889. Christian Wolff taught rural school for $35 a year to increase his monetary holdings so he could own farm land. Drought, losing livestock to lightning and disease, and being temporarily blinded made the years difficult. Circumstances improved with the restoration of his eyesight, resulting in Christian being called “Bruelle,” a regional variation of the German word for spectacles. The Wolff Company, started by Christian’s son John, existed as a Eureka family business for over 85 years.

John Wolff began buying cream in 1921 (conflicting date, 1919, also found) in an ice house behind the Dierenfeldt Market. The cream was sold to the Eureka Creamery. In 1923, Wolff purchased the building. (This building was also the site of the Fred Haag Shoe Store from 1923-1931.)

In 1925, Wolff and Frank Vetter became partners. They bought the Jacob Strobel elevator, with Vetter as manager. A year later, the elevator was demolished and replaced with one covered with sheet metal siding. In time, this elevator listed precariously and became known as the “leaning tower of Eureka.” Decades later, an EHS math class determined the tilt matched the leaning tower of Pisa! The elevator, straight when Wolff purchased it, had its footings undermined by an underground spring. Wolff knew, because of the cribbing used in the construction, the elevator would never fall. A Eureka legend inferred the elevator leaned because of John Wolff’s (elder) buried money; but after unearthing the underground tanks, nothing was found! A controlled burn in 2007 destroyed the elevator.

Along with selling and buying grain, Wolff also bought cream. From 1923-1931, he bought cream for the Aberdeen Beatrice Creamery Co. A 1937 Eureka Jubilee Book ad states “never have you tasted ice cream so smooth and rich in texture—so delicious. It’s made from sweet farm cream. We smooth freeze it into a blend of rich creamy deliciousness. The carry-home packages filled at the freezer with ice cream never touched by human hands. The package opens enabling you to slice the ice cream as you would a brick!” Wolff became an independent cream buyer in 1931.

The Wolff and Vetter partnership dissolved in 1937. Later that year, Wolff bought the Solomon Isaak and John Keim Sr. elevator, NE of City Hall. The business was known as Wolff and Sons, father John, and sons Albert, Walter and Rueben (Pete). The 1937 Eureka Jubilee Book lists John Wolff and Sons as sellers of feed, seed, sugar, salt; and buyers of cream, eggs, poultry, hides, furs, wool, scrap iron and dry bones.

In 1957, John Wolff retired in California. His sons renamed the business Wolff Brothers Inc. and built the current store, continuing to buy cream and eggs and selling groceries. In 1962, Albert bought the cream station and elevators from his brothers. After his son, John, returned to Eureka in 1963, Albert renamed the business Wolff Company Inc. Son, Robert, joined the firm in 1975.

John Wolff married Californian Ann Marsh in 1964. Ann, as the company bookkeeper, sometimes complained about her duties. Finally, John took Ann on a trip showing her what happened to their Eureka products. They started in Sisseton, SD, where women were cleaning geese. The upside-down birds came on a conveyer belt while the women extracted the entrails. Next stop was the egg-breaking plant where the Eureka eggs were made into mayonnaise or dried for cake mixes. The women inspected miles of cups, each containing a cracked egg, dumping all cups that held unsuitable eggs. In Bowdle, SD, Ann saw where the hides and furs were sent. Watching several men eating their lunch after skinning skunks, Ann decided her job was quite desirable!

Most people change jobs several times during their lifetime. Morris Krein, who worked for Wolff Co. through three name changes, spanning over fifty years, broke that stereotype. In 1946, as a teenager, Morris started as coal shoveler. Trucks hauled 6-7 tons of coal twice weekly to the local farmers, emptied, filled with grain, and returned to Eureka. Each week, 425 ten-gallon cans of cream were hauled to Mitchell and made into butter. Over 756,000 eggs weekly were hauled to various states. Trucking for Wolff Co. involved a large variety of cargoes: coal from Montana; apples from Washington; grain to Minneapolis with a return load of feed, salt or other freight; and oats to Louisiana and Texas, taking 6-7 days. Sometimes, a load of old hens would be trucked to Chicago and transferred to the Campbell Soup Co. Krein estimates he logged over 100,000 miles/year while working for Wolff Co.

Wolff Co. Inc. served Eureka until 2007 when Barbara and Robert Billotto bought the business, changing the name to Dakota Country Store where top of the line products and services are still offered to the community.

Dakota Co. Store 2011.
Wolff Elevator controlled burn in 2007.
Wolff Co. Elevator & Cream Station, looking down Main Street to west.
Wolff Family (top-John, founder, & Albert; front-Vivian, Esther, John).
Mitschrish & Marcks Eureka Collection Agency.
Grain Buyers in front of Mitschrish & Marcks Collection Agency.
Main & Market Corner-Herreid Law, Mitschrich Marcks - German Bank built 1891.

 

Reprinted with permission from The Northwest Blade.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
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