Hutchinson is quite a town. It’s a big town — some might even call it a city. There’s just something about it that makes it feel like a tight-knit, Midwest small town, yet there is no denying that it shares some qualities of a city.
A drive down Main Street, into downtown, and you get the feeling of the old “ma-and-pop” downtown, yet a drive further south and the “big box” chain stores make it feel like a bonafide city. I guess the best way to describe the community is a big, small town.
Perhaps the reason the town feels as it does is for the simple fact that it was once a small town. I know you’re probably thinking that all towns and cities begin as small communities, but some blossom faster while others remain “small” for a time, and thus develop with an infrastructure and downtown that resemble the old-fashioned, small-town feel such as Hutchinson.
At any rate, Hutchinson is like any other community, as it also began as a small congregation of settlers looking to make a life for themselves on the northern frontier.
Today, as we drive the busy Main Street and take the side streets downtown, it can be hard to imagine what the area looked like in the late 1850s: the cars, the streetlights and the concrete sidewalks blur the image of a frontier settlement.
Standing at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Hassan Street and looking northeast toward Ace Hardware, it’s even harder to imagine that at one time the view would have been of an American Indian camp.
An old article written by Well Clay suggests that Mdewakanton Dakota natives, while traveling along the Crow River, used the spot as a campsite. With that being said, this could likely be the spot that W.W. Pendergast and a group of Hutchinson men traveled to when they first met Little Crow.
In addition, it was the spot that Little Crow’s remains were first laid to rest after he was killed outside of Hutchinson in 1863. The remains were soon after exhumed and brought to another location. According to the one source I could find on the subject, the burial site is under the road.
Aside from being an encampment for the Dakota and initial burial site of the famous Mdewakanton leader, the site was also used as a dumping place by the settlers until Professor William Wirt Pendergast decided to build a home nearby. Mr. Pendergast protested having to live next to a dump, so it was cleaned up and moved to a different location.
Today, the spot where Little Crow camped and was initially buried looks nothing like it did 157 years ago. Now, businesses such as Ace Hardware and Town & Country Tire occupy the spot.
It’s sometimes hard to envision what the world looked like so many years ago. So much has changed that the land today would be unrecognizable to our ancestors. Luckily, however, people have recorded these historic events and memories, and thanks to their foresight we can, at a minimum, picture what the world was once like.
One place where you can compare the past and the present is at the Hutchinson Center for the Arts, 15 Franklin St. S.W. Through July 19, the new exhibit “Then and Now” is on display. It features historic photographs of each McLeod County town, recreated with modern photography.
The photos are accompanied by a booklet that tells the story behind the pictures and communities. A public reception is 5-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 17, at the art center. Admission is free and the public is welcome. Viewing hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, and noon-4 p.m. Friday. To learn more about the exhibit, see the story on B1.
I also wanted to make a quick note that at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 23, at the museum, 380 School Road S.W., Hutchinson, Ralph Johnson is the speaker and he’ll be talking about old-time baseball and show off some pieces from his collection of memorabilia. The event is open to members, so if you’re not a member stop in and fill out the membership form.
Also, registration for the McLeod County Historical Society/Hutchinson Senior Center Bus Tour to the Oliver Kelley Farm runs through Sept. 1. For more information, call the museum at 320-587-2109 or the Senior Center at 320-234-5656.