(An interview of Francis Luce, Herman Luce's son, by John J. Warns provided considerable information for this history.)
The village of Herman started on the shore of a lake in a chain that was known to Indians and trappers as the Skunk Lakes. In June of 1870 a group of travelers from Fillmore county, Minnesota - Herman H. Luce, J. Clemens and Edward Millits - came to Dakota Territory. They camped on the north shore of lake furthest west in the chain and named it Lake Herman after Herman Luce. Herman Luce and his son William selected timber lands on the east side of Lake Herman and assumed "squatter rights," the only thing they could do since the land had not been surveyed. Jabe Clemens and Edward Millits did not like the prospect and left the country. The Luces plowed three acres, planted rutabaga, and then returned to Minnesota.
In the summer of 1871 Herman and William Luce returned to Lake Herman. With the help of William Lee and John Walker, the first settlers on Lake Madison, they built a log house at Lake Herman for Herman Luce. They returned to Minnesota, where William Luce married Mary E. Ault. In October William and his wife came to live in the log house. The next spring William built a log house of his own. The first child born in what is now Lake County was a son to the William Luces in March of 1872. He was named Herman after his grandfather. At this time Lake Herman and Skunk Lake settlements were still a part of Minnehaha county.
The Herman Luce family lived at the log house, and it became known to settlers and stage drivers as the Luce Tavern, because it was where overnight guests in the area would stay. The Herman Luce house still stands at the entrance of Lake Herman park.
In February of 1873 a girl, Susie, was born to the Charles Demicks of the Lake Herman settlement. She is claimed to be the first child born in Lake County after it was officially established.
Herman Luce was appointed as a county commissioner by Governor Burbank of Yankton in the fall of 1873. In Lake County's first election in October of 1874, he was elected county commissioner with Autstin Demick and William Lee. William Luce was elected judge of probate; and Charles Demick was elected sheriff.
Somewhere around 1874 a post office, called Herman was established. The office was in the Luce's log cabin, and Herman Luce was post master. Prior to this, the settlers had to go to Sioux Falls for their mail. The Herman post office was an important one, because it supplied the families of a large portion of the northern, southern, and western parts of the county.
On June 26, 1878 the town site of Herman was platted on the northeast end of Lake Herman by Van-Dusen of Rochester, Minnesota. Herman grew to be quite a rival of Madison. Three supply stores were started almost at the same time. They included Herman Luce's store and Knight Bros. store. Lake View Hotel, overlooking the lake, was built by Austin E. Demick, with Sparhawk Hutchins as proprietor.
The post office was moved from the Luce home into town in 1878, and was located in the Luce Hall across from the Hotel. Several businesses opened up in the town. Dave H. Mullen operated a general merchandise store, as did Murdock McGillivaray. George F. Tuttle operated a lumber yard, Mr. Fitch a feed store, and Charley Wagner a butcher shop. McCormick had a boot and shoe store, and Carlisle had a stock of leather goods and saddlery. A hardware store was run by A.M. McCallister, Dr. Jenks was the town's physician, and the Saudager Brothers and Mr. Gilford had drugstores. F.C. Stowe published the weekly Leader; Col. Murray was a lawyer. Other men who had businesses in Herman were Dibble, Gorden and Wagner.
In 1880 a survey was made for an extension of the Milwaukee railroad to near the center of Lake county, crossing C.B. Kennedy's farm. Kennedy tried to persuade the rival towns of Herman and Madison to join in a new location on the railroad line, but the people of Herman were not ready to give up their town. They continued to induce new settlers, and were quite successful; several new buildings were added that year. Some Minnesota investors, Van-Dusen, Lobdill and Smith, owned the townsite, so that aided the town financially.
On August 16, 1880, the proprietors of Herman called a meeting with Madison businessmen and railroad officials. The people of Herman came up with the following proposal: They would give the people of Madison 150 lots (to be as good as can be found among those unoccupied) and $1,000 in cash to aid in defraying the expenses of moving; or a one-half interest in the platted and unplatted town site of Herman, which was guaranteed to be equivalent to the title to 120 acres of land under the town site.
The Madison men had five days to consider the proposal. On August 21, the met again, and came up with a counter proposal; they offered Herman 175 lots, $1,500 in cash, and full title to 140 acres. Neither side would agree to accept the other's proposal.
Next, a committee of three members from each town met to arbitrate a plan. The meeting lasted all through the night, and by morning they were back to where they had started. Two more members from each side were added to the committee, but still their deliberations were fruitless. Both sides finally agreed to let the railroad officials (Egan was superintendent at that time) make the decision; the railroad decided in favor of new Madison.
Most of Hermanites still were not ready to move. Then, in the fall, three buildings in Herman came up for sale. Madison businessmen quietly purchased them. Beginning with the smallest building, the Madison moving outfit started before daybreak to raise the building and put rollers under it. When the people of Herman realized what was happening, a general alarm was sounded and nearly every man, woman, and child appeared on the scene, armed with divers weapons of warfare. Though threats were made, the Madison movers had the necessary legal documents and the sheriff and several deputies close at hand to aid them. Herman leaders backed off, thinking this was the only building to be moved. When the Madison men returned the next morning for the second building, another demonstration ensued, but nothing could be done to prevent the moving of this building or of the third one. Some of the Herman people were ready to capitulate and move to the new town, but others continued to fight.
October saw the beginning of the move from Herman to Madison. Only a few businesses remained in Herman at the end of 1880, among them were Mullen's store, Arnold's store and the Leader.
The Herman Luce family continued to live in their log house. Then in August of 1881, a tragedy struck! Mrs. Luce's clothes caught on fire while she was house cleaning. She was so badly burned that she died five days later. Her grave is near Lake Herman where her mother and brother were also buried. Although it has not been positively determined who is buried in the fourth grave, information obtained through a daughter of Herman Luce states that it is Herman, and that is what the grave marker shows; however, another source states that he is buried in Chatfield, MN, alongside his second wife. Still another source suggests that an eight-year-old daughter of Herman's died of smallpox and rests in the fourth grave. The four graves, discovered when Herman park was being laid out, are surrounded by a log fence near the entrance to the park and marked with boulders.
In 1881 the few remaining businesses in Herman closed. The old Arnold store was moved to new Madison in July of 1881. The Leader was discontinued in the summer and later re-established itself in Madison.
Also in December, deputy post master Preston circulated a petition to continue regular mail service from Flandreau to Herman, so the post office was kept open for some time. But for all practical purposes Herman was a ghost town, never to revive. Now only a small sign designates the area where this proud little prairie town existed. The Herman Townsite Marker pictured above is the only remaining physical reminder of where the village of Herman once stood. (Courtesy of Joe Habeger)