A town built to order
In order to build the dam and the 150 mile long reservoir it would impound, the Corps built rail and highway access to the site for men, machines, and materials from nearby Lake Andes.
During the six years the Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul, and Pacific spur was used, it carried 38,425 rail cars to the dam.
The Corps also built an access road to the site and invested more than 1.4 million in the rail spur and access road alone. Like Fort Peck and Garrison Dams, Fort Randall required a new town to house the people who would build and maintain it.
During the years from 1946 to 1950, the Omaha District built Pickstown on a bluff east of the river at a cost of 9.5 million.
It constructed 25 utility buildings to support the town occupants.
The Town Center
Fire and Police Station
The Community Chapel was built with a unique revolving alter to serve Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish congregations.
In early 2020, the Fire and Police Station was placed on the National Historic register.
The Recreation Center opened in May of 1949. It featured an eight lane bowling alley, pool tables, lunch counter and social room. It closed in January of 1956.
The drugstore opened in September of 1948. It was an important social center for adults and in particular the town's kids. In it's heyday, the vibrant shopping center provided the goods and services desired by Pickstown's ever mobile residents.
Admission to the Saturday matinee and a bag of popcorn all for a quarter.
General Pick Hotel
A new school was home to both grade and high school
A new, modern hospital served the town residents and dam workers.
The hotel featured 125 rooms, two lounges and a coffee shop.
Electric Generator Building
Bill Naas Service Station
Randall Motor Car Company, Chevorlet Dealership, and Garage.
Pickstown at its peak
Pickstown was a terrific place to live in the early days. An article in the July 20th Sunday World Herald Magazine got it exactly right when it stated … “there were no slums, no ugly spots, not a single tumbledown shack, no traffic problems and no congestion. The streets in the carefully planned community were all hard surfaced, clean and often curved. Private lawns and public ground were neatly trimmed. Business establishments consisting of a hospital, recreational center with a bowling alley, movie theater, inter denominational church, hotel, school, post office, gas station, car dealership, shopping center with a drugstore, grocery store, general merchandise store, post office, credit union, laundry, restaurant and government facilities along with many other structures were in sites calculated to best serve the residents and aesthetically enhance the community”. The drugstore with a large soda fountain was the major hangout for everyone. In the evenings and during the weekends school kids would constantly be coming and going from the drugstore. There was a freshness to the town, the mood was quiet, business like, homey and sedate. Transportation around the town was no issue and if you did not have a car and needed to go to Lake Andes, there was a private taxi service costing $1.50. The town surged to over 3,500 and at one time became South Dakota’s 10th largest city.
All residents had come from somewhere else, had a common sense of purpose and formed a united bond. They had grown up with deprivations of the Great Depression, uncertainties and sacrifices of WWII, many were veterans and all were a great representation of the country’s working-class population … what Tom Brokaw writes about in the Greatest Generation. An important aspect of the population was the large number of veterans who had just come out of World War II, had a very strong work ethic and a “can do” attitude with a high sense of pride … all the right stuff to complete the massive Fort Randall Dam project in 10 short years. The American Legion was very active in all types of community activities … helping wherever needed. The people who were construction workers had lived in many different areas of the county and were glad to have landed in such a nice place with a good job. Pickstown was special, unique, and a great place in which to grow up. While there were various levels of housing and job status, there were never any signs of social differences … everyone was treated as equal. Suddenly there was good housing, schools, recreational facilities and good wages on a project that took several years to complete. Not all of the early residents were construction workers. Some were local people seeking work from nearby towns and farms. While the town was filled with many non-Corps of Engineers workers from several companies and most all of those with the Corps were civilian employees, the town had a strong military bearing. The high percent of talented residents with engineering or specialized construction skills overlaid with military experience having just come out of WWII made the town setting much different than a normal town situation.
The fact that these people had lived in different areas of the country and still found Pickstown to be such a special place tells the story of just how much they enjoyed living in this town.
Life in this unique town was nothing like any other town in South Dakota. What made Pickstown so great has many answers …but, they all had one thing in common and that was the people. It was an opportunity to see life far beyond the borders of a normal small South Dakota town and it was a Tom Sawyer type adventure for young residents … exploring for old bullets, arrowheads and other memorabilia at the ruins of old Fort Randall along with many places to swim, hunt, fish while dodging an abundance of rattlesnakes. Also, the dam construction provided unusual summer job opportunities with great pay for high school students who were old enough.
As the town was winding down, the Air Force came along to operate an aircraft and warning station near where the Yankton Sioux Indian Casino is now located. Enlisted personnel with an Air Force radar squadron rotated through Pickstown starting in 1961 until the operation closed in 1968. As the Corps considered what to do with the town, many ideas surfaced. A Chicago group considered the area for light industry … another group suggested it be a center for vocational training and possible industry for the Indian population … another suggestion was a settlement for European refugees … and still another group proposed an atomic energy plant. However, none of these ideas jelled and the town continued to shrink. Some of the buildings were eventually sold to South Dakota schools and colleges, some were moved to Gavin’s Point Dam downstream at Yankton, the hospital building was purchased by the Sunshine Bible Academy and moved to Springfield, SD, the administration building and theater were sold off piece by piece and some duplexes were converted to a motel in Lake Andes. All twenty-five of the permanent houses and some of the duplexes were reserved for dam employees. The fire and police station, maintenance garage, one wing of the shopping center and church remain today. In 1985, Pickstown was put up for sale, a federal government bill to transfer Pickstown to local control was proposed and the bill was signed into law by President Reagan later in 1985.
Early Pickstown Residents
From 1946 to 1949, the Corps Omaha District built Pickstown on a bluff northeast of the river at a cost of $9.5 million which was designed as a fully self-contained community to house the many construction workers arriving to build the dam. It consisted of 18 dormitories, 312 family dwellings, 25 utility servicing areas servicing 625 trailer spaces, a shopping center, three cafeterias, a school building, movie theater, recreational center with a bowling alley, hospital, hotel, interdenominational church, fire/police station, gas station, railroad operations and several other buildings for Corps operations. The town was designed to hold 3,500 - 4,000 workers in conditions suitable for a normal family life. Construction personnel lived in barracks at the start of the project with no families present. The first family (Bob and Pearl Fero and 4 sons Jim, Dick, John and Tom) moved into a duplex house on James Avenue in January of 1947 and later transferred to one of the permanent houses on Missouri Drive. Business concessions and other structures were in sites calculated to best serve the residents and aesthetically enhance the community. It was a boom town with no ugly spots and not a single tumble-down shack. The streets in the carefully planned community were all hard surface and clean with private lawns and public grounds all neatly trimmed and cared for by the Corps of Engineers. You could walk everywhere. The school opened in 1948 and closed in 1968 and was one of the best equipped in the state. During the summer of 1947, prior to the opening of the complete school, the Corps converted the southern-most duplex on James Avenue to a grade school and it opened for the 1947/1948 school year with 20 students … by the Spring of 1948 there were 60+ students. High school students continued to go to Lake Andes for the 1947/1948 school year. In the fall of 1948, the new Pickstown school building was ready and school started September 13th.
Maple Ct, Elm Ct, Cottonwood Ct, Cedar Ct, Cedar St, Birch Ct, Crow Creek Ave, Rosebud Dr and Brule Ave no longer exist. South Clark Drive was renamed Abdnor Drive after SD Senator James Abdnor who intervened for town residents and sponsored a bill to transfer the town to local control which President Ronald Regan signed into law August 16,1985. The town was officially incorporated by Governor Jankow’s proclamation on August 10, 1986. The Yankton Sioux Tribe wanted the town … however were unsuccessful due to Senator Abdnor’s intervention.