The townsite of Gayville was located on the east bank of “The Lakes”, so called because the winding waterways across the flat land to the Missouri at that time was usually filled with water. The 100 acre townsite was a part of the homestead of Halvor Brynelson which he had been persuaded to sell for $1 to Mr. Wicker and Mr. Elkanah Gay of the Dakota Southern railroad, on December 24 of 1872. The town of Gayville was named for Mr. Gay, a railroad contractor. There had been one store operated by A. B. Willey about where the Glenn Bye Residence is now, started the fall of 1872.
The townsite was surveyed in March, 1873 and in a short time 10 buildings were contracted and several built. By the 23rd of April, there were three general mercantile establishments—the Willey store: one started by Iver Bagstad which handled groceries, liquor and cigars: and one moved in from the former stage stop to where the Senior Citizens are now and run by James M. Hatcher. Mr. Hatcher continued to handle the mail and is considered to be Gayville’s first postmaster, with the Gayville post office starting on March 18th. There was also a drug store, run by E.C. Walton who was the town justice of the peace and was nicknamed “Marryin’ Sam”. Gayville had a blacksmith shop run by a Mr. Johnson and some grain ware houses. On April 23rd, Gayville’s first blessed event occurred—the birth of Gay Keith, 9 ¼ pounds, born to Mr. and Mrs. William Keith.
On June 1st, Gayville’s charter was filed at the county court house. The first house, built by Mr. Hatcher, in 1873 is still in Gayville, although in a different location, and is occupied by the W.S. Fosters. In July, a permanent depot was built by Colonel Meckling and several homes were built during the fall of 1873 and the spring of 1874.
A Mr. Collamer who had been mayor of Yankton erected a building in Gayville in October of 873 intending to go into the tin and hardware business. In December he opened a real estate office in partnership with a man named Truesdell. In the November 23rd issue of a Yankton paper, “The Gayville House” a large and first class hotel run by Iver Bagstad on the Temperance plan, was mentioned. The present building, which was a hotel until the 1950’s, was built by Iver Bagstad in 1879, so “The Gayville House” must have preceded it. Edward Anderson, a blacksmith, is also mentioned in this newspaper story so there were probably two blacksmiths. George Winters was one of the carpenters who hammered this little town into existence.
In the summer of 1874, two young men in silk hats arrived at the depot—F.B. Hardin and his cousin. Hardin took a job as Gayville’s first school teacher but his Cousin said that this country was good for nothing but Indians and grasshoppers and he returned on the next train to Ohio. Another Hardin, who had come and stayed, James E. Hardin, was the first depot agent and was also the town marshal. The family still has the official paper giving Marshal Hardin the authority to go to Minnesota to arrest someone for grand larceny.
In August of 1874, the store of James M. Hatcher burned to the ground. It was believed to be the work of an incendiary. Mr. Hatcher’s loss was $2200 or $2500 but his property was insured for $1700. Mr. Hatcher stated that he intended to rebuild but he did not and J.L. Foskett, who had started a store on the other side of the street dealing in clothing, boots, shoes and groceries, became the next postmaster.
Mr. Hatcher sold his house to Louis Sampson, who had come with his mother and brother with the very early settlers of 1860. Mr. Sampson was married in his new house and started an agricultural store and grain business. This house is still in Gayville on the corner of Iverson and Washington and is occupied by the Fosters. Mr. H.C. Young was a grain buyer, also, and in addition ran a lumber and coal yard. A claim shanty about 14 x 18 was moved in. Mr. Hardin opened school on November 26th, after building benches for the children himself. A 22 x 30 foot building was put up before the next school year.
A Methodist Minister, Rev. James W. Spangler, alternated preaching every other Sunday at Gayville and Meckling and there was talk of building a Union Church building.
By 1880, Gayville had a population of 130. The great flood of 1881 was an historical event for Gayville, as well as the areas around. It was on relatively high ground so that the water did not rise so high in the buildings but the whole town was flooded and people scrambled to every available place of safety. The hotel and homes which had a second floor were havens to those who came. Mr. Julius Berkeley lived in the hotel and was chief cook for the many who were housed there. Regina Mortenson’s father, Mr. Olson, kept busy building a boat in Mr. Willey’s store. Rescue boats came from Yankton and rowed right into the homes and took the occupants to the bluffs to stay with friends.
Iver Bagstad took in his brother-in-law, John O. Aaseth, as a partner and enlarged his business to sell everything from dry goods to livestock.
The post office, after being run by Mr. Hatcher, Mr. Foskett and Mr. Gray was moved into the Bagstad-Aaseth store. Mr Aaseth served as postmaster for a time and then the job turned over to John Magorian and later to Mrs. Hanifan, who had lost her husband and had a family to support. Later Mr Aaseth was postmaster again.
Gayville started a municipal band in 1890 conducted by the Milwaukee depot agent until 1894. Band members were Charles and Sam Anderson, Arthur and Ed Cowman, Mose and George McElwain, Andrew Burtness, Loyal Hills and Anton Dahl. The band was still going in 1900 with a Mr. Woodside as conductor. New members were John and B.V. Loosemore, Harry and Mark Shepherdson, Connie Hannefin, Tommy Inch and W. Stevens.
In 1891, Gayville purchased a hand drawn hose cart from the Yankton Fire Department, when Yankton progressed to a fire wagon with horses. It carried 600 ft. of hose, brass bowled flares which burned kerosene, some small tin bells and an attached wooden tool box. Both the Lutheran and Methodist Churches were built in 1891, also.
Ed Cowman started a harness shop and later a bicycle shop, next to the furniture store which stood where the café no stands. The harness shop was later run by Matt Larson. The furniture store was run by S.C. Hoopes, who was also the town’s undertaker. In 1898, Mr. Cowman and Tillie Welby were married. They moved a building from where the Legion Hall stands to main street, across the street from the furniture store and started a general store in 1900.
The Farmer’s Elevator was established in 1899 with Charles Shepherdson as president; E.E. Warfield as secretary, John O. Aaseth, treasurer and H.F. Shepherdson as manager.
A contract was let for a woodman lodge building in January of 1900 and by February 1st, the 28’ x 70’ building was going up rapidly. There were 48 members of the lodge.
The Gayville saloon, run by Bert Ely and Louis Langfeld and located where the bank now stands had installed a set of fixtures worth about $500.
Mr. Wm. McMaster had come to Gayville from near Sioux City, Iowa, to start a bank. It started in 1901 in a small frame building west of the saloon. That same year, Gayville was incorporated and elected its first trustees: Jim Harden, Hans Myron and Jack McKay. Mark Shepherdson was clerk, M.S. Shepherdson, Justice of the peace, J. O. Aaseth, treasurer, Sturk Lee, Marshal, Sam Anderson, street commissioner, and Ole Odland, assessor. The meetings were held in the Farmers Elevator.
In 1904, Gayville had its first newspaper with a Mr. Granger as the first editor. Later editors included a Mr Cooley, J.F. Gorkim, (1919), E.S. Dietrick and J.H. Hutchinson, 1927-30. The style of writing varied with the various editors but was more personalized than is usually seen now. An example is this news item about an accident case: “Undertaker S C. Hoopes is getting many deserved compliments on his services inpreparing the remains of the victim for burial. Those who saw the remains in a frightfully mangled form and afterwards saw them as prepared for burial, could hardly believe their own eyes. They never thought such a piece of work could be performed by any undertaker. Mr Hoopes deserves both praise and appreciation for the splendid services rendered in this case.”
In 1905, a Mr. Cooley edited a booklet describing the business of Gayville.
The Lloyd Hotel was being run by a Mrs. Castle and her son, Lloyd; Struck and Pete Lee operated a livery barn with dray service and real estate business; George Mortensen operated the Gayville Drug Store with Albert Bengston in charge of prescriptions, and with an up-to-date soda fountain: L. J. Revheim was the proprietor of the city meat market; Wm. McMaster, cashier of the Security State Bank; Mr. Granger, editor of The Gayville Observer; O.P. Olson, proprietor of the harness shop: Ole Odland, the Implement shop; Sam Anderson, the village blacksmith; Tony Ryken, barber; Bert Wright, depot agent and two doctors, Dr. Byllenhammer and Dr. Burke; and a new elevator, the McCaul-Webster, part of a chain with headquarters in Minneapolis and under the management of N.J. Lund, a native of Clay County. The Bagstad and Aaseth Company had divided their store into several different departments: drugs and medicines; dry goods and clothing; groceries, provisions and crockeries; and hardware, stoves and cutlery. The entire enterprise was carried on under the management of Iver Bagstad, president; and H.L. Hanson, secretary. In addition to their general merchandise business, they handled lumber, other building material, coal, wood and ivestock.
In 1908, The Gayville Observer reported that about a mile of cement walks had been put down through the summer. In 1915, Ed Cowman was appointed postmaster. In 1916, Ed died and his wife, Tillie, was appointed in his place. Mrs. Cowman often took chickens which had come by parcel post to her home to keep them warm until they could be delivered. The post office was robbed several times during the years that she was post mistress.
From the 1919 Gayjuan, we learn that Fred Williams was now running the Lloyd Hotel, L.Z. Reed was managing a Co-op grocery store, Albert Melville was manager of the Gayville Elevator Co., Lars Olson was running the lumber yard and E.M. Christensen, the city Meat Market. Ole J. Oleson was selling Chalmers, Oldsmobile and Maxwell automobiles, as well as Emerson and Waterloo tractors and other farm implements.
By 1922, Ole J. Oleson was out of the implement business and operating the Gayville Opera house, showing only the best and most entertaining in educational pictures. A.J. Ryken was operator of a billiard parlor and J.O. Cowman was selling Chandler and Chevrolet cars, L.N. Aaseth was then cashier of the bank and T.B. Wetteland, Assistant cashier. There was a millinery shop in the old building back of the café. In 1924, Sherman Collett started the first truck line with one Ford truck. He Later added 2 additional trucks to take care of the dray lone and the ice business, putting up ice from the Missouri and James Rivers. He also hauled coal, livestock and other commodities. Assistant drivers were Raymond Lee and William Remington.
A story in the Observer tells about Gayville’s Experience with bandits: The Bagstad and Aaseth store had been broken into several times, so Loyal and Paul Hanson, proprietors of the store at that time decided to sleep in the store and guard it. They were awakened by noise at the rear basement entrance and found someone cutting into the door. Loyal fired his shotgun toward the door. They heard nothing more that night but in the morning, when they were going home to breakfast, they found a man’s body, face downin the road. Sioux City police identified the slain bandit as Le DeLear, a notorious police character who had severed two prison terms.
After the last incident the citizens of Gayville became so alarmed at the repeated robbery attempts that they formed a vigilante group provided with arms and ammunition. They also installed a system of burglar alarms.
Gayville suffered the same problems as other small towns during the depression, drought and dust storms and grasshoppers of the thirties. The small town businesses were so directly dependent on the farmer, that when farm income was cut, many of them folded and the towns grew smaller.
The fact that Gayville’s bank was able to re-open its doors probably kept it from becoming a ghost town in the 30’s. the 1940’s and World War II brought prosperity for a time, but the automobile and good roads drew people to larger towns for their shopping and recreation.
Gayville in the last two decades has become a residential town with many driving to nearby larger towns to work and others living in retirement on their savings and social security.
The United National Bank, Gayville Branch-Marvin Schoon, Executive Vice-president: the general store, recelty sold by Jim Orton to Walt Huber; a newly decorated café operated by the Schelskis; a bar and liquor store and a welding shop operated by the Don Kaufmans; Olson’s Body Shop, operated by John and Keith Olson; Jerry’s Auto Repair Shop, operated by Jerry Wuebben; a service station run by the Lavern Jepsens; a gasoline delivery service operated by Eugene Olson and the Gayville Grain and milling elevator managed by Merle Ludwig and the town barber Mr. Lukes. Mr. Craig has a show repair shop. R. Gene Garvey is the postmaster. He was appointed to fill the position when Mrs. Tillie Cowman retired in 1946.
In 1965, 1000 feet of new sidewalk was poured on the main street of Gayville with volunteers from both the town and rural area. Also the town of Gayville started a clean-up, fix-up program with former banker “Red” Korteum as spark plug, and decided they badly needed new downtown sidewalks. To save money, they decided to do the work themselves. Local farmers were right in the middle of the work force. When the work was completed, they decided to have a day of celebration and since alfalfa hay has been a growing crop in the community, they named the celebration “Hay Days” and used hay as the theme of their decorations and parade. Hay is donated by the farmers for seats, parade barriers, etc. then it is auctioned off after the celebration and the money goes to the Hay Association for the promotion of their crop. (pg.43)
In 1966, construction work started on the water and sewer project for the town of Gayville. The total cost was to be $151,00 with $88,000 repaid to the government by residents of Gayville and the remaining funds provided by grants from the U.S. Farmer’s Home Administration and the Water Pollution Control Board. Senator McGovern came to the ground breaking ceremony and his speech concluded with “I congratulate you, Mayor Jensen, and all the people of Gayville and thank you for this opportunity to see how programs for rural progress can be brought to life—how a community such as Gayville can move up in the ranks of new ‘Communities of Tomorrow’ in rural America.” This has been a big Factor in Encouraging home building in Gayville.
In 1971, a drive was carried out by the Vern Hedelson’s, relative new comers to Gayville, for street signs. Mr. Hedelson installed the neat signs on the REA post with REA approval, at each intersection. They also helped get house numbers for those who wished them. Both street names and house numbers dress up the town and help in locating homes.
Hay Country History pages 54-56