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DSU Archives: Girton House

History of the Girton House

The Girton House was built in 1896 by Professor and Mrs. W.W. Girton and family. 

Girton House
The Girton House, 1916

In 1919, it was used as an Emergency Hospital. There were over ninety cases of influenza treated in the house. In 1921, it was purchased by the State of South Dakota for $8,417.80 to accommodate the overflow from East Hall. When Dakota State University, known as Dakota Normal School at the time, purchased the house it became a dormitory for women enrolled in the school Elementary course. After the Elementary course was discontinued in 1924, students training at the Madison Hospital moved in. In 1931, the Girton House had its first and only all-male occupants. According to an open house pamphlet from 1987, the house was discontinued for use as a dormitory in 1933. Oddly, an article in the student newspaper published on December 17, 1934 gave the Girton House Rules for visitors.

Girton House
Sideview of the Girton House, 1916

With the drought and the depression in full force, the Regents tried to sell the house, but with only one offer for a mere $1,750 the Regents felt it would be a give-away and chose to keep it. According to an article published about old houses in Lake County, the Girton House sat empty until 1935 and was in dire need of a resident. President V.A. Lowry agreed to move in with his family and make it the President’s Home. It has remained the Presidents House ever since then. The only time between 1935 to now that the Girton House was not occupied by the president, the institution was sharing a president with the University of South Dakota. During that time the Girton House was used for music recitals, art shows, and various meetings the college deemed fit.

Professor William W. Girton

William W. Girton was born in Lincolnshire, England in 1850. His father farmed until 1850 when he came to America, locating in Florence, Michigan, where he continued to farm until his death in 1851. His wife moved with their two boys to Wisconsin. Mary died at the home of her eldest son in Winchester, Tennessee November 3, 1893.

Girton received his education in public schools of Sauk County, Wisconsin . In 1868, he entered an academy at Spring Green for two years and then 1869 at Sextonville, Wisconsin. In 1870 he started teaching career at a school district near Reedsburg, Sauk County. In April 1871, he entered State Normal School at Platteville, Wisconsin graduating in 1874. From 1875 to '76 he was principal of the graded schools at Muscoda, Wisconsin, and from there he went to Vinton, Iowa, where he held the office of assistant superintendent of State School for the Blind for one year.

On August 1, 1877, Girton married Miss Frances Richmond, and they had six children: Lee Richmond, Daisy M., Susan M., Edith A., William T., and John F.

From there he was principal in schools at Harlan until November 1880. He was superintendent of schools of Shelby County, Iowa in 1883.  He founded Shelby County Republican at Harlan, Iowa and continued as editor and publisher until 1886 when he sold his newspaper property.

William W. Girton, 1902

In 1886, Girton came to Dakota Territory. He organized the Vilas Banking Company, at Vilas in Miner County, South Dakota and was President of it for 3 years. He established the Miner County Farmer. In 1889, he was appointed Deputy Territorial Auditor of the last Territorial Legislature. He served also as the Chief Enrollment Clerk of the joint commission which was in charge of the settlement of accounts between North Dakota and South Dakota. In 1892, he was elected county Superintendent of schools for Miner County.

In 1896, Girton became a member of the faculty of State Normal School in Madison, SD. He was the first secretary of the Normal and also served as Registrar. Between 1901 and 1902, in the absence of President Beadle, he was appointed acting president of the State Normal School. The Girton House which was first an emergency hospital then overflow dormitory and later made into a home for the President of the college was named after him.

Girton House Rules

Visitor Rules:

1. Please do not enter a student’s room while the owner is absent or without special permission. The men need a chance to study occasionally and like to have the privacy of their rooms respected.
2. If a man is not present, wait for him in the parlor or see him some other time.
3. Do not bring any intoxicating liquor into the building or come here under the influence of it.
4. Roomers must get permission each time they have an over-night guest. If Mrs. Peterson is not present, report to her the next morning.

Residents Rules:

1. The Girton House is a private house and not a public hangout.
2. Visiting room is downstairs, not in private rooms.
3. Please refrain from sitting on any beds other than your own.
4. Put your cigarette stubs and ashes in tray, not on the floor.
5. Study hours are from 7:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. on all nights proceeding school nights.
6. Please respect another’s desire to study.

Girton House Timeline

1921 to 1924 Women Elementary Course Students
1924 to 1931 Women Madison Hospital Students
1931 to 1933 Male Students
1933 to 1935 Abandoned
1935 to 1962 President V.A. Lowry
1962 to 1967 President Lawrence M. Flaum
1967 to 1971 President Harry P. Bowes
1971 to 1972 Acting President Allen R. Millar
1972 to 1974 President Gordon Foster
1974 to 1978 Housed art shows, recitals, and school meetings
1978 to 1983 President Carleton M. Opgaard
1983 to 1984 President Charles L. Luke
1984 to 1987 President Richard J. Gowen
1987 to 2004 President Jerald A. Tunheim
2004 to 2012 President Douglas Knowlton