Prairie Star

| November 2004

During the annual threshing jamboree, the grounds at Prairie Village, a permanent show grounds just west of Madison, S.D., bustles with activity. A coal-fired locomotive hauls a stream of passenger cars around the site. A village of 40 authentic historic buildings pops at the seams with exhibits, artifacts and antiquities. Hundreds of tractors from every corner of the country are on display. Three parades are held each day, and each opens with 'The Star Spangled Banner.' But to at least one onlooker, it's not hard to remember when the site's pace was dictated by dairy cows.

'From 1948 to 1953,' recalls Myron Downs, Madison, 'my folks lived on this ground. They farmed it, and milked cows. I learned to plow on an old C Allis where the parking lot is now.'

Myron, a board member and former president of the Prairie Village group, says the original show was held 13 miles north of its current site. 'It's been here for 40 years. We have plenty of room at this site; you're not crowded in.'

Prairie Village truly is a village, complete with historic buildings. 'These are buildings actually brought in from neighboring towns,' says Tammy Fods, Prairie Village manager. 'They've been restored; they're not replicas.' Visitors wander through a fully representative town made up of schools, churches, train depots, telephone office, stores and businesses, a hotel, jail, library, museums, sod house, claim shanty, livery barn, and a fully restored and operating vintage carousel. Housed inside the buildings: every collection you can conceive of, and some you might not have ... antique mousetraps, early household appliances, clothes hangers, wedding gowns and early dentist's and undertaker's equipment. The crown jewel, as in any community a century ago, is the opera house.

Built by the Socialist Party in 1912 in Oldham, S.D., the opera house boasts a full stage, balcony seating and plenty of history. Band leader Lawrence Welk, for instance, made his stage debut in the opera house in 1924. When Prairie Village acquired the structure in 1970 (hiring a professional house mover to haul it 22 miles), the marquee read 'Socialist Hall.' Club members uncomfortable with that nomenclature edited it to read 'Social Hall.' In 1991, the building went through yet another evolution, being formally renamed the 'Lawrence Welk Opera House.'

Also setting Prairie Village apart: It's open all summer, from early May to early September. During that period, the grounds are humming with a consignment auction and swap meet, Railroad Days, Car Show, Miss Prairie Princess and Miss Prairie Village Pageant, and finally, the annual Steam Threshing Jamboree in late August. In May, school tours bring as many as 5,000 students. Visitors are welcome all summer, even when there are no scheduled events.