Buffalo Ridge Resort and Business Center was once the first South Dakota, School for the Blind which was a collection of nine buildings on 37 acres in Gary, SD. For more than 60 years it served as the state’s educational facility for blind children. In 1895, the citizens of Gary, SD lost their status as county seat and offered the Deuel County Courthouse Building to the state to be used as a school for the blind. Because the original building was unsuitable for a school, the citizens of Gary raised to money to build a two-story brick structure (1899-1900).
The school opened in 1900 making it the 42nd school for the blind in the nation. The average enrollment at the school was 55 to 60 students per year. From the beginning, the course of instruction offered at the school followed closely what was taught in the common schools of the state. In addition to the regular curriculum, braille was taught, as was gymnasium, industrial work, piano tuning, broom making, chair caning, and upholstery, as well as domestic science.
The school was self-supporting with its own dairy, hogs, beef, chickens, and gardens. The garden produce was stored in the root cellar, which is now the wine cellar for the Rock Room Bar and Grill. The students were a big part of the community as people in town would often give the students rides to church, or other places, if they needed one.
In 1957-58, the idea of relocating the school was surfaced. The major contentions were the need for additional facilities at Gary, the lack of travel experiences for the students, and the proximity to a college. In 1961, the school was moved to Aberdeen and the main buildings were then used as a supervised living home for the elderly. Since the early 1980s, the buildings had been vacant. Although vandals, weather, and vermin had taken a toll on the structures, none of the buildings have been altered and most are considered structurally sound and in good condition.
The beautiful neoclassical – and classical-revival designed complex includes classrooms, administration offices, dormitories, barns, a boiler building, a playground, a unique water fountain in an old flower garden, and a gym/auditorium with a stage.
In December of 2008, Joe Kolbach, a local entrepreneur, purchased the campus from an estate. On December 12, 2008, the residents of Gary, SD and the surrounding areas gathered in the south dormitory auditorium for a community meeting to ask for their input into future activates that could tie into the facility.
Restoration of the buildings and the reestablishment of Lake Elsie began in December of 2008 with a completion goal of Gary’s annual 4th of July celebration in 2009. The project started in phases which began with the first two dormitory buildings which were built in 1910 and 1924. The boiler and administration buildings were able to be renovated at a later date.
On July 3, 2009, the Herrick Hotel, Woodbury Hall, and the Talking Waters Campground were opened. In July of 2010, the Rock Room Bar and Grill was established on the bottom floor of the Administration Building.
The Herrick Hotel was named after the first hotel in Gary, SD. Today, there are 19 hotel rooms in addition to the Bunk House loft which sleeps 8-10. The Bunk House is located above the Shower House in the campground. The Herrick Hotel building was once the boy’s dormitory for the School for the Blind. The lobby was where there were once workshops in which they learned to make brooms, weave rugs, and tune pianos. Down the hall on the north end is where the woodworking shop was localized. The indentations in the walls throughout the first and second floor of the Herrick Hotel indicate where either doors or water fountains once stood. Upstairs, in room 216, was an apartment where one of the teachers once lived.
The fieldstone pillars, termed, “the Judges” that light up the campus, were the boundaries for the students. Passing beyond “the Judges” required notification and/or accompaniment of a chaperone.
The underground tunnels were put in place after all three buildings were well established. Students used the tunnels to avoid inclement and cold weather. The root cellar used to store garden produce and is now part of the tunnel and is currently being used as the wine cellar for the Rock Room Bar and Grill.
This building is now used as the hotel laundry room, retaining its purpose it served for the school. The ground level also has a coin-operated laundry area which is accessible to both campers and the general public. The lower level of this building has a fitness center, racquet ball court, and locker room. Separated by the tall chimney, the west half of the structure is original while the east half is new construction. The old building housed a large water pump and boiler system along with three wells and the laundromat.
In the year 1962 Lake Elsie was filled in. It wasn’t until 2009 that the lake and its dam were restored. The creek that feeds Lake Elsie is the only creek in Eastern South Dakota that is capable of sustaining trout. The creek is spring-fed and runs year-round. Lake Elsie has been stocked with both rainbow and brown trout by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks.
The Sundance Ballroom – 1910, the former girl’s dormitory.
The lower level was an auditorium with a stage located at the north end. This stage was removed during restoration. The upstairs floor served as the dormitory for the girls. The Kitchen once served as the Band Room for the students. While the Men’s Restroom once served as the Choir Room, and the Women’s Restroom served as the Instrument Room. Woodbury Hall has all of the original woodwork with the exception of the ballroom floor and windows. The ground level is currently used for banquets, receptions, business meetings, and conferences. The top floor has six business offices and a conference room.
The south section was built in 1899 and classes started in 1900. The north section was built in 1901 and the middle section in 1903. The lower level was a braille library, teacher’s lounge, cafeteria, and kitchen. While the upper level was classrooms and staff sleeping quarters. The original Deuel County Court House stood where the center section currently stands. The Barn is built out of the lumber that once made up the Court House building.
The fish ponds by the Administration Building are original. The fountain and pond have been restored and are an original of the school. The hotel playground equipment sits on the original site and was restored by Don Grabow and Dennis Fairchild. A pair of eagles and a raccoon were carved into one of the trees by Kevin Deboer. Teepees are historically authentic Cheyenne teepees measuring 18’ in diameter. A sand volleyball court and 9 hole disc golf course was added in the summer of 2015, adding more recreational opportunities to our facility.
Forty four recreation and camping sites. All sites have electricity, water hook-ups, and wireless internet available, and locations #1 – #16 also have sewer hook-ups available. There are several primitive sites for tenting and three authentic 18’ teepees.
Because the school was self-supporting, milking cows, hogs, chickens, and a large garden were located here and were cared for by both teachers and students. Upstairs floor in the barn once held bleachers that were set up for wrestling and boxing matches.
Established in July, 2010.Open Wednesday – Friday 5-close and Saturday 11:00 am – close, with the Kitchen only serving until 10:00 pm. This space can seat up to 153.