A History of Pipestone National Monument Minnesota
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Congressional action to establish the Monument moved in a routine manner, but the path to development was by no means smooth. Funds were not available for use on the site for some time, consequently all Service activity was confined to investigation and planning.

An acting custodian was appointed, without compensation, in January 1939. Visitation reached a point during that summer demonstrating the need for a least seasonal staffing and for improved visitor facilities.

The preliminary historical development report for the area was completed in 1940, and formed a coordinating framework and a point of departure for later development of the area. Its basic soundness was demonstrated by the degree to which later studies for eachphase of development adhered to the spirit of the suggestions made in the report.

interpretive sign
Two National Park Service employees look at one of the interpretive signs installed after the area was established.

Statistics on visitation were first recorded in 1941. The register shows 1,500 out-of-State visitors. Then came World War II and a drop in visitation for several years.

Most of the time was devoted during the war years to basic maintenance and protection activities. After the end of the war, some interpretive services were provided to the large number of visitors. Early in 1946, Federal regulations governing quarrying operations by the Indians were adopted.

Local interest in the development of the Monument increased in 1946. A number of National Park Service officials visited Pipestone and conferred with local residents, particularly with members of the Pipestone Civic and Commerce Association. Representative H. Carl Andersen joined in promoting increased operating funds, which were assured by late 1947.

entrance road
An early entrance road.

The Monument was placed on a year-round operational basis early in 1948. Maintenance and development activity was accelerated, with the cooperation of State and county officials. Roads and parking lots were graveled, trails and other visitor-use facilities improved. A trail guide folder for the area was introduced, and an exhibit pit opened where visitors might see the catlinite layer in place. Interpretive signs were also erected along the trails.

Since the area had no buildings suitable for winter occupancy, a headquarters office was established in the Calumet Hotel in Pipestone. In 1949 a research program was started for the area, and a surface survey of portions of the Monument and adjacent lands made.

In the summer of 1949, the local chapter of the Exchange Club presented a pageant based on Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha." This production was inspired by a similar pageant held by Indian school students in the early 1930's. It proved to be popular, became an annual event, and led to the organization of the Hiawatha Club, now a sizable, influential local group. In 1949, too, a nature trail was developed, along with a plant-labeling program.

In July 1950 the Circle Trail was opened, channeling visitors past the more important natural and historic features and proving to be a valuable aid in preventing congestion of the ever-increasing visitor load.

By the spring of 1951 the eventual closing of the Indian school was under consideration. The 1949 archeological studies had pointed out the need to acquire additional land for the Monument in order to preserve a major portion of the quarry line.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs supported the National Park Service aims and, pending enactment of legislation, turned over administrative control of 164 acres to the Service. As closing of the school neared, legislation was introduced to transfer this land to the Service. Various bills were considered, but the final version (P.L. 593) passed and was signed in June 1956.

The Circle Trail gives today's Monument visitor a pleasant 3/4-mile walk among interesting historical, geological and biological features.

The actual transfer came as a result of an order of the Secretary of the Interior on February 16, 1957, which increased the size of the Monument from 115 to 283 acres. As disposition was made of other reservation lands, the State of Minnesota developed a game management area downstream from the Monument. The city of Pipestone received the balance of the lands and buildings.

While this complex transfer was taking place, many other important developments were occurring. A series of discussions began which led to the revival and reorganization of the Pipestone Indian Shrine Association. By early 1955 it was approved and functioning as a cooperating association.

Later in 1955 it was proposed that the Pipestone Indian Shrine Association stock and sell pipes and other pipestone craft items made by the local Indians. They had supplied items for the souvenir trade for many years, but the market was sharply seasonal and cash returns meager. There was much concern lest this craft might die out from the simple lack of markets. Sales at the Monument began on a small scale in 1956.

visitor center dedication ceremony
Formally opening the visitor center immediately following the July 26, 1958, dedication ceremonies is Director of the National Park Service Conrad L. Wirth. Looking on are (left to right) Dr. W. G. Benjamin, president of the Pipestone Indian Shrine Association; Representative H. Carl Andersen of Minnesota's Seventh Congressional District; United States Senator Edward J. Thye; Lieutenant Governor Karl Rolvaag of Minnesota; and Superintendent Paul L. Webb.

During 1955 the picnic shelter house was converted into a small, temporary museum. The St. Paul Science Museum prepared and installed exhibits on loan to the National Park Service.

Intensive construction activity was started in the area in 1957 and continued into 1958, with the completion and dedication of a visitor center.

Sioux calumets
Two Sioux calumets with decorated stems. (Courtesy, National Archives.)

In the center — a rambling, one-story, red-brick building — a museum contains a diorama depicting mid-l7th century Indians quarrying the pipestone, and a series of exhibits portraying the geology and history of the area. Here visitors may learn how the Indians fashioned and used the peace pipes and other early pipestone products, and of the culture and customs that prevailed among the Indians long before Europeans came to America.

The center, located near the principal in-place quarry exhibit where pipestone layers are exposed in their natural position, includes an audiovisual room in which are presented illustrated programs. The building also houses staff offices, restrooms, workshop, and storage facilities.

teepee with park rangers and park visitors

The visitor center and other Monument improvements — a road, two convenient parking sites, utility systems, trails, and wayside interpretive exhibits — were constructed as part of the National Park Service's continuing program to conserve and develop areas of the National Park System to meet the upsurge of visitors to the parks.

The growing interest in historic Pipestone is a pertinent example of the increased use and enjoyment of the areas of the National Park System by the public. Visitation at Pipestone has increased from 3,100 in 1946 to 111,271 in 1964. In all areas of the System the visitor count spiralled from 21 million in 1946 to over 102 million in 1964. By 1966 — the National Park Service's 50th anniversary year — a total of approximately 108 million is anticipated. At Pipestone, the annual visitation is expected to reach 200,000 in a few years.

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Last Updated: 04-Feb-2005

Copyright © 1965 by the Pipestone Indian Shrine Association and may not be reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the Pipestone Indian Shrine Association.