Gracevale Hutterite Colony

Gracevale Hutterite Colony

The newest community in Lake County is the Gracevale Colony of the Hutterite Brethan, which was founded near Olivet in 1944. It is composed entirely of families with ancient roots in the Anabapist movement of the sixteenth century. Though there were several great leaders in Hutterite history, their name derives from Jacob Hutter, one of the great leaders and martyrs of the Hutterite Brethren in Moravia.

When it was founded, it was the only colony in Lake County and only the ninth established in South Dakota. Since that time forty-two more colonies have been established in South Dakota, giving the state the highest number of colonies in the United States. From the beginning, on of the basic beliefs of the group has been pacifism, an early obstacle in their settlement in the U.S. Though they were not guaranteed exclusion from military duty, approximately 200 of the Brethren sailed for America and settled first in Nebraska, then entirely in South Dakota. Their first settlement was Wolf Creek Colony about forty miles north of Bon Homme.

Because of their pacifistic beliefs, however, problems arose before and during World War I. The government took harsh steps to enforce conscription of Hutterites into the armed services. In some cases the army officers treated these conscientious objectors very brutally, many being injured and imprisoned. As a result, nearly all of the Hutterites migrated to Canada, which seemed to be more sympathetic to the beliefs of the Brethren.

However, as WWII approached, anti-German sentiment aroused the Canadian people and government to restrict the growth of the Hutterites In this war, however, many Hutterites were accepted into the service in a non-military role. After the war, when antipathy toward Germany abated, the hostility was less obvious, but there was still governmental restrictions on the growth of Hutterite Colonies. As a result, after the war many Hutterites began to return to the U.S., settling mainly in South Dakota and Montana. In a monumental decision by the South Dakota Supreme Court, a law banning the growth of Hutterite colonies was declared unconstitutional. Since that time growth has been steady and the relations between the government and the Hutterite Brethren have improved.

Gracevale Colony, which began in 1948 with a population of ten families and about 55 people, has grown to about 20 families with a population of about 120. In 1978, a group of Gracevale citizens moved to a site north of Brookings near White to establish Roland Colony. In 1963 the Tschetter family established Cloverleaf Colony north of Howard as the second offshoot from Gracevale.

The major industry of the colony is agriculture. From its inception, the leaders have insisted upon using the most modern of agricultural techniques and technology. The Board of Directors is continually seeking new knowledge and applying new technology in their farming enterprise.

The basic specialization of Gracevale has been its huge hog operation. Beginning in 1950 with 60 sows, the Directors added one of the most modern hog confinements in 1978, and at present have about 370 hogs in process. Hogs, of course, necessitate a huge farming operation. The total acreage in 1948 was 1500 acres; by 1994 the acreage had increased to 4300, enterprise is the turkey operation which was begun in 1950 It started small, but now they have about 85,000 turkeys. The colony added bees and honey production in 1951, but that aspect has remained a modest venture.

One interesting sideline is a specialty that only four colonies in South Dakota have maintained: broom making. Gracevale still has a small but steady production of superior quality brooms and brushes, which they sell to retailers in the state. The Ben Franklin store has sold Gracevale brooms and brushes for some time. The hay for the brooms is mainly grown on the colony farms with some supplements from other places when the grass crop is poor. In a good year, they make and sell about 1200 brooms. The outlook for this industry, however, is not good because most of the young people prefer to do activities related to modern agricultural technology.

Hutterites have often been helpful to their neighbors, helping out in such times of emergency as blizzards and floods. Many farmers even hire the Colony to undertake jobs like combining and bulldozing for moderate rates. The Hutterites have always been good neighbors.