William & Inez Van Eps

1842 - 1906 | 1846 - 1927

"There never was a movement for the betterment of civic or government conditions in Sioux Falls with which William Van Eps was not identified throughout the entire period of his residence here. Becoming one of the early citizens, he was actively associated with the commercial development of his part of the state and in fact ranked with the most valued residents of South Dakota. His well spent life, his integrity and his reliability won him the respect and honor of all with whom he came in contact.

Mr. Van Eps was born at Fox Lake, Dodge county, Wisconsin, July 20, 1842, and the district schools of that locality afforded him his educational opportunities. All through life he learned valuable lessons in the school of experience, lessons that proved of worth to him in the course of a career that was characterized by broadening opportunities and heavy responsibilities. In 1858, when a youth of sixteen years, he left his native state and went to Minnesota, where he secured employment at farm labor. He worked in that way until the summer of 1859 for twelve dollars a month. He afterward walked three hundred and fifty miles to Brighton, Iowa, carrying all his earthly possessions with him. There he engaged in the grocery business, having a small stock of goods. He remained at Brighton through the winter and then went to Richland, Iowa, where he formed the acquaintance of W. A. Jordan, who proved a valuable friend. He gave Mr. Van Eps such indorsement as enabled him to buy goods in larger quantities and thus embark in general merchandising. He conducted his store for three years, after which he disposed of his stock and in the spring of 1863 went to Denver, Colorado, where he engaged in various enterprises and speculations. From there he went to Mexico and afterward returned to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, where his parents were living. He spent a few weeks in visiting them, afterward which he made his way to Milwaukee, where he pursued a course of study in Bryant & Stratton Commercial College, for he had come to a realization of the fact that special training along business lines is a valuable asset.

Mr. Van Eps next went to Minnesota in search of a location and finally settled at Mantorville, Dodge county, where he continued for three years. On the expiration of that time he received a letter from his old friend, W. A. Jordan, asking him to sell out in Dodge county and join him (Jordan) in business at some point that they might decide upon. After investigation they located in Eddyville, in southern Iowa, where they conducted business under the firm name of Jordan and Van Eps. They carried on the store there for a year, at the end of which time they concluded to seek a location where they could occupy their time and capital to better advantage. Mr. Van Eps started out in search of a location in Nebraska, northern Iowa or Dakota but finally decided on Cherokee, Iowa, which place had a name if not population, there being only two or three houses upon the site of the city at the time. They ascertained, however, that the Dubuque and Sioux City Railroad, now the Illinois Central, was about to be extended westward to Sioux City and they decided to locate in the little hamlet and engage in merchandising. Two years later Mr. Van Eps learned that the military reservation at Sioux Falls was about to be abandoned so he began to consider removing to the city in which he made his home to the time of his death. He arrived there on the 14th of August, 1870, to look over the ground and, becoming infatuated with the country and realizing that a city of considerable importance could be built upon the plains of Dakota, he returned to Cherokee and completed arrangements for removing to Sioux Falls in the spring of 1871. At that time there was practically nothing there but Fort Dakota and the military reservation which included the quarters which had been occupied by officers and men. The nearest railroad point was at Le Mars, Iowa, seventy-five miles distant. Mr. Van Eps set out to purchase lumber to erect his buildings and his residence. He made his way to Minneapolis, where he purchased lumber of W. D. Washburn, afterward United States senator from that district. After ascertaining where Mr. Van Eps intended to take the lumber, Mr. Washburn seemed much interested, questioning him concerning conditions and somewhat as to Mr. Van Eps personally. About ten days later the latter received a package containing several copies of the Pioneer Press, published in St. Paul, the paper setting forth the fact that a certain young man named William Van Eps, seeing the importance of an early location in what was then called the wilds of the Great West, had established a mercantile business in Sioux Falls and that in his (Mr. Washburn’s) judgment he had selected a location which, within a few years, would be the site of a prosperous frontier city and would be paying tribute to both the wholesale and manufacturing interests of St. Paul and Minneapolis – all of which proved true, indicating that the prophetic judgment of both Mr. Van Eps and Mr. Washburn was correct.

Mr. Van Eps was one of the most active and energetic business men that ever resided in South Dakota, as well as one of the most successful. He figured extensively in real estate transactions, erecting a large number of business houses and other structures of the city. His first building was erected for business purposes, his store occupying the first floor while the second floor was used as his residence. In 1899 he was proprietor of one of a very extensive and attractive line of goods, that brought him a liberal patronage. He knew that satisfied customers were the best advertisement and moreover, the honor and integrity of his business methods brought to him gratifying resilts. Not only was he enjoying a large trade, but the building which he occupied was also erected by him and remains one of the large and handsome business structures of the state. He never faltered in anything that he undertook and obstacles and difficulties in his path seemed to serve as but an impetus for renewed effort on his part.

While busily and actively engaged in trade, he found time to cooperate in many movements for the general good. In politics he was a democrat, but in local affairs his activity and interest transcended all partisanship. He was elected one of the trustees of the village of Sioux Falls upon its incorporation and from that time until his death was an active factor in every movement tending to promote the progress and welfare of city, state and nation. He was a member of the school board of Sioux Falls from 1889 until 1893 and he was an influential member of the State Constitutional Convention of 1889, aiding largely in framing the organic law of the commonwealth. He was a delegate to various democratic national conventions and was always a leader among the delegates from the northwest. His opinions carried weight in the councils of his party and he was recognized as one of the democratic leaders of South Dakota.  He studied closely questions of governmental policy and the issues of the day and his support of any measure was an indication of his firm belief in its efficacy and value.

On the 14th of October, 1867, at Mantorville, Minnesota, Mr. Van Eps was married to Miss Inez C. Herrick, who came with her husband to Sioux Falls in 1871 and has here since resided. She has figured prominently in social circles and is equally well known and popular in musical circles. She possesses a fine voice and her vocal selections have been one of the attractions on many a public occasion and added much to the joy of her own home. However, she has best been known among the poor and needy, where she has done splendid work to relieve sorrow, suffering and distress. Mr. and Mrs. Van Eps were separated by death, when on the 12th of July, 1906 he was called from this life. He modestly disclaimed any important part in public affairs, yet it was well known that no movement for the benefit of the city sought his cooperation in vain. His judgment was sound, his opinions practical and his efforts effective. His labors were indeed a source of advancing growth, development and prosperity in Sioux Falls and his name is inscribed high among those who have done most for the city."

Kingsbury, George W. History of Dakota Territory. Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1915, IV. pp. 472 – 474.

William Van Eps lived to 63 years of age and was buried on July 12th, 1906. Inez lived on until 1927 reaching the age of 81 years. She was buried on April 27th, 1927. They rest in Block 17, Lot 8 (the Van Eps – Blauvelt Lot).

We wish to thank Siouxland Heritage Museum for the photos. We encourage you to visit and support the Museum. Visit their website at www.minnehahacounty.org/museums.