Saturday, November 12, 2011


Photo of Map  in Wall Drug Store Brochure
[I hope you can enlarge it.
It is like touring a maze.]
 NO! not the classic by Charles Dickens [A Tale of Two Cities] about London and Paris during the French Revolution!

This 2-part post is  two small cities with different stories to tell of their existence in South Dakota: Deadwood and Wall, SD. (Which reminds me, I added the Dickens'  book and his complete works to my Kindle (99 cents) as some of the classics's precepts remind me of the current uprisings of today in US and around the world.)

(I made photo of picture in brochure)
Both S.D. cities show the very different aspects of settling (or maybe a tad unsettling), evolution and determination of participants in  U.S. frontier.

One city is Wall, South Dakota. Wall, SD,only a speck on the map, became famous by the idea of a pharmacist's wife, Dorothy Hustead, who simply tried to help her husband keep the doors open of a very small pharmacy, Wall Drug Store, population 326 'poor people' in a very small town in 1931 during the Great Depression. Its citizens and surrounding area were near destitute from drought or the Great Depression.
The setting: In or near winter, 1931, a pharmacist, Ted Hustead (with wife, Dorothy), bought a small pharmacy in Wall. He had worked for other employers for two years, and lived in Canova, SD. Then his father died leaving him an inheritance of $3000, which was a lot of money in 1931.

When he embarked on hunting a place to make a living, Dorothy had one criteria--there must be a Catholic church nearby for daily attendance, Ted preferred a small town. They toured Nebraska and South Dakota in a Model T. Personally, I might add, almost every pharmacist, more commonly called druggists in those times, dreamed of owning their own store. [I am glad my dream was unrealized. My life has led me in so many diverse directions I would not trade it, for being chained to a demanding regimen required to operate any successful entrepreneur endeavor, chained to ever increasing federal and state regulations.]
Wall Drug Store Scene Backyard of Horse-Drawn
Western Wagon Railroad Station
Wall met the Hustead's two requirements, but their families were skeptical with discouraging analyses, as 'God forsaken,' 'middle of nowhere,' and people were 'flat broke busted.'

After devout prayer by all their families, they forged ahead with their plans to set their fate in Wall. Dorothy chose to forfeit her talents as a teacher in literature, to work in the drugstore that seem doomed to failure. Ted taught himself veterinary medicine, increasing his area of expertise to fit the area's unique needs. They lived in a make-shift apartment created in the back of the store.
Wall Drug Store Backyard -White Object
in Background is Huge Jack Rabbit with Saddle.
A One-Ton Petrified Log Is Visible at Left.
*See footnote at end of post.
A five year time-frame was set to determine their success or failure. In 1936, nearing the end of their self-imposed time-frame, plus two children, business had grown only slightly.

On a hot July day, Dorothy was unable to nap with the children because of traffic noise outside. She returned to the store front and with a single sentence that changed their world said: "I think I finally saw how we can get all those travelers to come to our store."
One Ton Petrified Log
There Was a Petrified Area of Wood Somewhere
But Was Not On Our Tour Agenda
(Photo by Husband)
The idea involved a near free item, but scarce to find for the dusty, weary travelers and/or tourists on the road by their small store - a  free glass of ice water.

With some skepticism it is said, Ted and a high school boy made and posted homemade signs. Before all the signs were posted, thirsty, dust-covered people began to stop for the free ice water.

Before the day was over Ted was chipping more ice off the ice blocks, and travelers were even buying other items like ice cream cones.
Train Schedule
(Photo by Husband)
When the day was over, the couple on the verge of failure were reflecting on the astoundingly successful day and, no doubt, gave thanks their prayers were answered.

As any spunky wife would do, whose idea had been somewhat dismissed, said, " I guess the ice water signs worked."
Quite an understatement! especially during the Great Depression in a 'God-forsaken, 'middle of nowhere' little town named Wall with 'flat broke busted' citizenry.

The next summer eight girls were hired to handle the summer touring season.

Today, Wall Drug is a complex, similar to a mall, with many shops, some catering to souvenirs for tourists, various food shops, and a Back Yard Mall addition. It is a medley of tourist knick-knacks, several eateries, artisans, history, artist and various craftsmen galleries, historical relics and quite a lot of humor and a small pharmacy that really filled prescriptions. There was supposedly a pharmacy museum, but like so many of our stops we did not really get to see all we wanted to see.
Wall Drug Store Totem Pole
(Huge *Jack Rabbit on the
Back of Pole -I don't know
significance. See footnote at
end of post)
The complex is still in the family. It is located off the service road of Interstate 90, still in town of Wall, SD. You will not miss it as the signs are so numerous, you would be blind to miss them!

Ted and Dorothy died in 1999 and 1996, respectively. Their son Bill assumed management along with his wife Marjorie. Bill died of Lou Gehrig's disease. Marjorie and their sons, Rick and Ted plus their wives are still active in operations. The sons, (grandsons of Ted and Dorothy) are Chairman and President of the Board.

Ted and Dorothy would be both humbled and proud!!

The sign idea grew, much like the Burma Shave signs; Wall Drug Store signs, a la Burma Shave signs, with mileage to the store have been seen in other countries including Germany. The original jingle read: 'Get a soda...Get root beer....Turn next corner...Just as near...To Highway 16 & 14.. Free Ice Water...Wall Drug.' [Links provided are Wall Drug's own web site and Wikipedia, both well worth checking out!]

Free coffee and donuts are offered even today to veterans, military personnel en route to their assignments, honeymooners, and other special groups. One cafe alone seats 530. On a very good summer day 20,000 people pass through Wall Drug Store's door.

I visited the pharmacy which is only a very small portion of the complex . I chatted with a FEMALE pharmacist, which fits in the not too subtle theme of this post: the POWER and INFLUENCE OF WOMEN.
All pharmacists who stopped by the pharmacy sign a register and the school or university of their training, as did I. (My graduating class at UT-Austin in 1960 contained only 5 women; someday I may write a post on the discrimination and sometimes humiliation women pharmacists suffered in the workplace.)
Wall Drug Store Statue
Tribute to the
Ranch Cowboy
Today, Wall, SD has a population of less than 1000, and the number of households hover around 400. Yet the family owned pharmacy still exists, albeit not the crux of their highly successful tourism business. The pharmacy seized the success and tradition of free ice water, added items that attracted tourists and became a unique, enjoyable tourism stop in and of itself. 

And the signs multiplied faster than rabbits or possums reproduce, or flies and ants invade an outdoor picnic!

Wall is one of several gateways to the Badlands and within driving distance of Rapid City, and several cities with appeal to travelers/tourists. Fortuitously, it is just an exit off the heavily traveled I-90, the first East-West completed Interstate.

Wall derives it name from the fact it is build on the edge of the northern extension of the "Badlands wall."

NOTE: This history post is based on Internet reading and the brochure handed to our tour. A part of the brochure history contained excerpts from Guideposts Associates, Inc. Carmel, NY.

All Photos by NitWit1 unless otherwise identified.

Hint to PART 2: The other city is Deadwood, South Dakota; its woman of note is commonly known as Calamity Jane. While Dorothy Hustead might be universally viewed as an inspirational, devoted wife with a common sense idea that grew wings, Calamity Jane defies defining with positive adjectives, yet in some moments of her larger than life biography, she too inspired some groups of people.
Rabbit Spotted on grounds of Chapel in the Hills
(SOOC-Straight Out OF Camera)
*We were bombarded with so many facets of South Dakota in a compressed 4 day tour, that I must have missed the significance of the huge jack rabbits at the Wall Drug Store complex. The map included with the link provided does include South Dakota as the range of the jack rabbit in US.

Texas has jack rabbits, a very large wild rabbit with seemingly out of proportion huge ears, but despite all Texan bragging, the state does not have a monopoly on the species which is a desert animal.

I saw no jack rabbits in our short drive through the Badlands, Custer State Park, or other tours where wildlife was present. I saw a small wild rabbit at the Chapel in the Hills, cute but not a jack rabbit.


Ginny said...

Wall Drugs, even today, is a most remarkable place. The Dakotas are so underappreciated - even with Chenyney in their legacy - SD is my most favorite state. Thanks for sharing this bit of history. Ginny

Arkansas Patti said...

What an interesting post. To think success from disaster was bridged with a glass of water.
Also interesting that such a large tourist attractions resides in a town of 1000.

Sweet Virginia Breeze said...

Thanks so much for this interesting story! I'm awaiting the story of Deadwood.

Dimple said...

Thanks for the tour! We stopped in Wall on one trip east, just as the motorcycle rally in Sturgis was ending. The town was crawling with people, which must have made the businesses very happy! However, I am not comfortable in crowds, and our traveling companions were in something of a hurry, so we didn't stay long. Maybe another time!

Do come back to see my circles from farther away!
Meditations of My Heart

Anonymous said...

My kids and Pat and I had a good time at Wall, SD and the Wall Drug Store was one of the hot spots we visited.

Nezzy said...

I love the Dakotas. When we had the truckin' company we delivered up there often. I'd go every once in a blue moon.

I don't sit still well!!! Heeehehhe!

What a wonderfully written informative post sweetie. I sooo enjoyed the read.

God bless and have a marvelous day!!! :o)

Sandi McBride said...

WHAT A HISTORY LESSON! Thanks so much for this very descriptive and informative tale! I loved it