This last Saturday I was up for a good wander.
It didn’t take much convincing to get Nancy to accompany me on a journey northwest from Dakota Dunes – to SD 50 and west through Vermillion. Then by Mechling’s six exits to Gayville where the Gayville Hall (home to the Hay Country Jamboree) is. From Gayville, which claims to be the Hay Capital of the World, we motored five minutes north on a county blacktop to the Yankton County burg of Volin (pronounced VAH’-lin).
Volin is one of those little towns in Siouxland that I haven’t visited much. And I’m betting that most readers of this post haven’t been there at all. During college, I went through there a couple of times with friends on our way to Wakonda or Marindahl Lake and as the first part of a backroads journey home to the Black Hills. Since those somewhat hazy times in the early 1970s, I think I’ve been through Volin maybe twice.
And just so you know, the town is not named after a stringed musical instrument.
Volin is named after Dakota Territory landowner Henry P. Volin. Henry was born in Quebec, Canada in 1846. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1848 with his family who settled in Dubuque, IA. When Henry turned 17 in the 1860s, he and his brother Joseph moved to Dakota Territory. For several years they hauled freight from Sioux City, IA to several of the forts along the Missouri River and then to the Black Hills. Two other brothers, E.S. and Louis, also moved to Dakota Territory in the 1860s where they too engaged in freighting.
Henry, his two brothers E.S. and Louis, and another freighter were headed to Fort Thompson during the winter of 1866. Near the Bijou Hills, they were halted by a blizzard which raged for several days. Since there were few settlements during those years, the four freighters had to camp and try to ride out the storm. The three brothers escaped death but the other fellow died from exposure. Henry suffered a bad case of frostbite which resulted in him losing all his toes.
The three brothers homesteaded around the area of Volin. Henry’s homestead was east of the village. He later sold that homestead and purchased more land. I’m not sure Henry purchased the land before or after he heard about the Chicago and North Western Railroad building a line from Centerville to Yankton late in 1885. (But Holy Coincidence, Batman!) Henry plotted out the town of Volin right along the C&NW track. In 1887, the town had enough people in it to warrant a post office. Volin was finally incorporated on June 8, 1901.
The little village has seen both good times and bad. In 1887 a raging prairie fire destroyed most of the town of Volin. Other fires, a triple homicide of a farm family, various burglaries, laying chicken thefts, a dwindling business district, and an overall declining population since 1900 have characterized this town. I’m sure there were things like diphtheria, influenza, and other diseases that victimized residents of the Great Plains in the late 1800s and early 1900s also made their way to this Yankton County town.
Historically speaking, the combination Town Hall and Opera House remains a bright spot. It was built in 1905. The Town Hall and Opera House is a two-story building with a pressed tin exterior and a bell tower. This building has served the community of Volin in various ways since its dedication in May of 1905: It has been the City Hall where the town’s governmental and business meetings are held – a role it still plays today. In the earlier days of its existence, the building was an opera house where stage plays, touring Vaudeville acts, lectures, silent movies, and other public activities were held. At one point in the past, the east end of the building was even used as a one-room city jail.
The Volin Public School also used the building for school plays, graduation services, school dances, and the Volin Blue Jays’ basketball games. The town no longer has its own school. Gayville-Volin has been a consolidated school district since 1969. A new school building was constructed in 1998 and is housed in Gayville, five miles south of Volin.
The grand building eventually fell into disrepair. But a number of years ago, the building was remodeled, refurbished, and restored to its former glory. A siren was installed which sounds the alarm for fire emergencies and also signals noontime and six o’clock in the evening.
But the little Yankton County town isn’t dead. The Saturday afternoon we visited there appeared to be quite a number of cars, pickups, and motorcycles parked in front of Volin’s only bar: Kavern’s Pub, on the corner of Main St. and Lincoln Ave. Across the street to the north of Kavern’s, classic rock music blared from a garage. Kitty-corner from the pub was the old Volin Bank building, which looked like it has been remodeled into a residence.
Along Main Street north of the corner was the Community Café. I’m not sure if it’s still open, but from what I’ve read in some old Tri-County News stories, the Community Café is really a work of love . . . by the community of Volin. The eatery opened January 15, 1987 serving moderately priced food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The building was constructed with volunteer labor on donated land. The building is owned by the Volin Community Club and the café was leased and operated by a private party.
Further down the block is a store selling wood crafts. Across the street are the newish post office and a kiosk displaying notices for town events and advertising for regional ones. It was getting late – close to suppertime – a bit before we made our way back to North Sioux City, our attention was caught by an unusual display. There were various items – mostly made of wood – depicting Halloween, Christmas and religious themes, and gardening. Most of it was sort of ghoulish and the combination of the Nativity scene with the Pit and The Pendulum scene seemed to me . . . kinda weird.
But hey, what do I know. This is Siouxland. Those of us living here seem to embrace the odd, quirky, and eccentric. If for nothing else, it makes us interesting and amusing to ourselves.