Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Freeman,S. D. - The little town that could

Freeman, S. D. © Judy Wells
They may not look like much driving through but small towns in the Sioux Falls, SD, area have surprises and charm galore. The best part for Levelers is that steep hills are few and stairs are limited to a few steps. Freeman was my favorite.

Freeman is a community of German Mennonites, Hutterites and a Scandinavian or three amid gently rolling prairies. Lots of farming here but that's not what impresses.

A happy Schmeckfest consumer. From the Schmeckfest website.
First, for 53 years, this town of 1,200 or so has been feeding 1,000 visitors a night for four nights at its annual spring Schmeckfest, a tasting of Russian German foods and demonstrations of how they are made. From the first year, interest and demand for tickets have stunned residents until the point they limited tickets and extended the number of nights. A ticket to a Freeman Schmeckfest is as hard to find as one to a Green Bay Packers home game.

As if that weren't enough, it is accompanied by a full-scale musical. Past efforts have ranged from the Mikado to The Sound of Music

In 2013, Schmeckfest is scheduled for March 15, 16, 22 and 23 with tickets going on sale this month (November). Fiddler on the Roof is the musical production.

Entering the Prairie Arboretum. © by Judy Wells.
Then a few visionaries decided what their town needed was an arboretum and outdoor amphitheater for concerts. So they built one.

Gazebo. © by Judy Wells
The Prairie Arboretum is an idyllic 40-acre spot with original sculpture and gazebo, surrounded by a stream that connects a pair of stocked lakes.

First look inside Heritage Hall. © by Judy Wells
That blended nicely with the Heritage Hall Museum and Archives, a cavernous - 24,000-square-foot facility filled with more than 20,000 examples of pioneer life from tools and farm equipment to native wildlife displays and household items.
A few of the cars inside. © by Judy Wells

A few farm vehicles. © by Judy Wells

Diamond Valley School. © by Judy Wells
Surrounding it are restored buildings - pioneer homes, a schoolhouse and churches.

Looking over the Archives room. © by Judy Wells
The Archives is a researcher's dream with more than 10,000 books, periodicals, documents and photos on and of the area's immigrant families. Also on hand, two 17th century Luther translations of the Bible.

Sioux saddle used in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. © by Judy Wells
The gems of the museum are the 450-plus rare items on display in the Plains Indian Artifacts Exhibit. During the two-week Good Girls in the Badlands road trip fellow travel writer/photographer Debi Lander and I took through the Dakotas this summer, we saw just about every Plains Indian collection on display, and this was the best, easily beating out those in universities and state museums. That a town the size of Freeman has this is remarkable.
Ghost Dance shirt. © by Judy Wells

We could have spent hours here. You may want to do the same, so save time for a bit of whimsy.
Picture yourself as Grant Wood might have. © by Judy Wells

What else is in Freeman? A golf course with a popular restaurant, Dave's Grille, and the annual QuiltFest, a two-day show with demonstrations and food on the Freeman Academy Campus.

Hutterite communal kitchen and dining room. © by Judy Wells
There are several Hutterite communities in the Freeman area and tours can be arranged in advance by calling 888-595-9755 or 605-925-4444. The Hutterites, who believe in communal living - "having all things in common," as the passage in Acts goes - are an offshoot like the Mennonites and Amish of the Anabaptist movement of 16th century Radical Reformation.
The residential area of a Hutterite community. © by Judy Wells


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