The Story of Lake Herman’s Luce Cabin
A weekend camping trip with my daughter in 2021 to Lake Herman in South Dakota uncovered a very interesting cabin in the heart of Lake Herman State Park. It's not a cabin you can rent, but an original cabin built in 1870-71.
The history of Luce's cabin is both rich and rife with tragedy. A young man named William Luce was stranded 2 miles west of Madison, SD by a raging blizzard in 1855. He was serving in the Minnesota Cavalry and was on a scouting mission. After the blizzard broke, he was so impressed by the wildlife and lakes that he sent word to his father in Minnesota and urged him to settle there. His father, Herman Luce, thought he'd a give it a go so he and some friends traveled to this new land of opportunity.
Herman was equally impressed and decided to homestead here. He returned to Minnesota to get his family and the Luce family became the first white settlers in Lake County. On the site, located what is now known as Lake Herman State Park, Herman built a sturdy cabin of oak along with a small post office and hotel.
This seemingly perfect life was also filled with danger. Herman's wife Mary was cleaning the cabin and washing clothes one day when a fire broke out. It is believed that kerosene, a common method of cleaning clothes, ignited and took Mary's life.
She is buried behind the cabin in a small cemetery along with three other family members. Mary's brother, John Abbott, who died in a blizzard. John's mother, who died a short time after her son, was laid to rest next to him. Also buried there is an 8-year old girl named Mary, the daughter of Herman and Mary Luce. She died of chickenpox.
Herman Luce himself is buried in his home state of Minnesota.
Years later, in the 1920s, developers saw an opportunity with the land and built a dance pavilion, cabins for travelers to rent, and a Ferris wheel and turned it into a popular resort. Lawrence Welk performed a few times in the pavilion and Susan B. Anthony gave one of her famous women's rights speeches there.
These structures no longer stand but the cabin remains in the exact spot. In 1945, the land was deeded to the State of South Dakota and is now Lake Herman State Park.
While camping, hiking, and fishing just west of Madison, make sure to stop in the park and see the cabin. It's an amazing part of the area's history.
13 Famous Iowans:
13 Famous Iowans