History of Britton, South Dakota
Our history goes back to the 1800’s when many pioneers came to this portion of the Dakota Territory to settle. Many were of German and Scandinavian ancestry but most were native-born Americans from Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and other northern states.
The first settlers here often arrived by immigrant trains with their stock and household goods. They went to the nearest railroad station of where they intended to locate and then they would travel by horseback, wagon or on foot to the site where they wished to live and built their homes according to their means. Some were built of sod, others were just dugouts. In 1882, the broad expanse of land which is now the town of Britton was just that - many acres of wilderness prairie land without a home in sight. During the spring of 1883, a few “claim shacks” were built on the future town site.
J. B. Squier and F. B. Squier of Fargo came here and squatted on claims and that summer of 1883 they were visited by Col. Isaac Britton who thought the area would be a splendid location for a town site. The scripting of the town began in 1883 and was completed and filed in 1884. The historical naming of Britton is derived from Col. Isaac Britton who was actually born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1826. He worked with the railroad for many years and while visiting the Squier’s he charted the Dakota & Great Southern Railroad to extend through this area. He built a beautiful home in Britton and lived there for about three years and then sold his property and moved out of the area.
Shortly after, the town of Britton began to grow rather quickly. One of the first building projects was a very impressive two-story school building and by 1885, Britton had twenty-five businesses consisting of grocery and dry-goods stores, hardware stores, lumber yards, hotels, barber shops, a bank, blacksmith shops, an office for a doctor and lawyer, and a newspaper office.
Britton was chosen as a temporary county seat because city promoters agreed to furnish free room for county officials for two years. The first county election was held on July 23, 1885, and after meeting in several different locations, the Marshall County courthouse was built in 1907 where it still stands today.
Religious services were held in homes until churches were built. Three churches were built in 1887.
The town people depended on the farmland for its prosperity too. During the late 1890’s the town had known a recession, then a disordered economy in 1919 and a depression in the 1930’s.
Britton weathered those drastic times and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1934 in spite of hard times. Britton lost several young men in two World Wars, the Korean War and in the Vietnam conflict.
In 1959, the town celebrated the Diamond Jubilee with a gala event and in 1976 joined the nation in celebrating the Bicentennial.
In 1984, another celebration was held honoring Britton’s Centennial. Britton continues to prosper today with a population of approximately 1,300. It has manufacturing, several retail and service businesses along with a top notch school system and medical facility. It has been labeled “The View is Great From Here” because of its prime location and generous people. Britton is near a number of lakes which provide fishing, boating, camping and swimming. The city and its progressive residents built a swimming pool, library and baseball/softball complex and sports a nine-hole golf course, a bowling alley and lighted tennis courts. Add a movie theater, museum, and three city parks and residents and visitors alike have many things from which to choose in spending leisure time. In addition, the town boasts an airport with a hard-surface runway, an instrument landing system and the capability of handling small jet air traffic.
Many changes have taken place since the first claim shanty was built in 1884. However, one thing that has not changed is the people’s spirit, determination and their positive view to build and maintain a community of which they can be proud, and to preserve this community for future generations.