It started out with the name "Sana", and like many other small towns, was impacted by the westward-sprawling railroad tracks. The town was moved 1/4 of a mile to be nearer to the railway, and renamed "Esmond" in the early 1880s.
My connection to this area is through my great-great-grandparents. Thomas Lafayette Graves, his wife Nettie Bell (Lair), and their four children pulled up their roots from Stark County, Illinois, bid adieu to their parents, siblings, cousins, and lifelong friends, and headed northeasterly to the small hamlet in March of 1906. Tom was both a farmer and carpenter by trade, really a Jack of All Trades, working with his only son, Delbert. They lived on a farm just a stone's throw north of town.
During their years there, Tom and Delbert built many homes and barns, and most notably, a large double-wide, two story building in Esmond. This building, known as the Big Store, housed a store on the main floor level, and an opera house/dance hall on the upper level (note the "T. L. Graves, 1911" at the top of the building). We do not believe that Tom ever operated the store portion of the building, but he was responsible for many dances, and no doubt good times, in the upper level.
When I first started researching this part of the Graves family's lives, I assumed I'd be disappointed with what little information I'd find, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Several books have been written, with an extensive collection of photos published, and an annual Esmond Homecoming held during the summer.
On a trip back to South Dakota a few years ago, my mother and I made a detour through Esmond. Despite both of us having been born and raised nearby, neither of us had ever been there. Having seen the pictures of Esmond in its Glory Days, we hoped we might be able to see approximately where the Big Store might have been located. As we drove down the ice-packed dirt road to toward what was left of the town, the spirit of residents long gone seemed to give us a warm welcome, despite the brutally cold temperatures of a South Dakota winter. The gravel roads through the small town were packed with snow and ice, but, not about to be stopped after coming such a long way, we persevered, and were rewarded with signs on each lot, telling what business or home had been located there in days past. Gazing down the street a couple of blocks stood what was left of the elevators by the railroad tracks, and suddenly, my mind flashed to a postcard I had showing the same scene, with busy townspeople all going about their business. And just as suddenly, reality was back, and the elevators were delapidated, and the street empty.
Every other summer, those wonderful souls who have taken responsibilty for keeping Esmond alive, hold an Esmond Homecoming, and one of these years, I'm going to make it back there to attend. I want to go where my great grandmother went to school, where Nettie purchased her family's supplies, where Tom and Delbert laid brick after brick to construct the largest store in town. I want to see the town streets full of people, and hear the bustle of activity, and for just a moment, experience the thriving little community of Esmond, South Dakota.
"Home - Esmond, South Dakota"
"Remembering Esmond, South Dakota", 1996