UNITYVILLE - A Pomeranian Farming Colony Established Itself in Eastern South Dakota

Beginning in the 1830's, a small colony of Pomeranian farmers made their way to Dakota Territory upon migrating into the United States by means of passing through Quebec on through Maine on their way to settling in Iowa, by the 1850's.  Families such as the Starks, the Koepsells, and the Zulks all found their way to Dakota Territory by the late 1880's, where they began colonizing, farming, moving westward upon the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862, of which they began settling and claiming land in what today has become the area north of Salem, South Dakota. 
  • The Koepsells had migrated from Pomerania by means of passing through Massachusetts, then settled in Wisconsin (you may visit the Koepsell Home), before settling in Dakota Territory.
  • The Zulks migrated from Pomerania, by mean passing through Quebec territory, by first settling in Iowa, and finally moving to Dakota Territory. 
To better understand the culture of which these people derived from, we must first step back in time to understand the country of Pomerania, let alone the region of which these people called home. 
a historic region of northeastern Europe lying along the Baltic coastal plain between the Oder and the Vistula rivers. Politically, the name also came to include the area west of the Oder as far as Stralsund, including the island of Rügen (Rugia). Most of Pomerania is now part of Poland, but its westernmost section is in eastern Germany, as reflected in the name of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania Land (state). The region is generally flat, and there are numerous small rivers and, along the east coast, many lakes.  Pomerania was inhabited successively by Celts, Germanic tribes, and, by the 5th century AD, the Slavic Pomeranians (Pomorzanie) and Polabs. Mieszko I, prince of Poland (d. 992), mastered it, and in 1000 his successor, Bolesław I the Brave, organized a diocese in Pomerania with its seat at Kołobrzeg. A local dynasty then ruled Pomerania and also the region to the west, later called Mecklenburg. German immigration into the western and central regions of Pomerania began in the late 12th century. This resulted in the Germanization of the towns and later of the nobility and the countryside.  Until the 17th century, Polish dukes ruled western and central Pomerania (the duchies of Wolgast and Stettin) under the suzerainty of the Holy Roman Empire. The elector of Brandenburg acquired these duchies in 1637, when the last Polish duke, Bogusław XIV, who had united them, died without issue. Sweden received Western Pomerania by the Peace of Westphalia (1648); part of it was returned to Brandenburg-Prussia in 1720, and the remainder (Stralsund and Rügen) was recovered by Prussia in 1815. Prussia united western and central Pomerania into one province called Pommern.  Eastern Pomerania was held by the Teutonic Knights from 1308 to 1454, when it was reconquered by Poland. In 1772 it was annexed by Prussia and made into the province of West Prussia. A small part of it was restored to Poland after World War I; the remainder, together with part of Pomerania, became Polish in 1945. The German population of eastern and central Pomerania was expelled westward and replaced by Poles. Western Pomerania was incorporated into the German Democratic Republic.
That Brings Us to the Next Chapter of their Story...
UNITYVILLE-SD - which was originally founded by John F. Stark when he decided to seek a small plot of land in order to homestead.  The property in which he decided to stake claim to was a small piece of land north of Salem, South Dakota, and in May of 1889 - John Stark was awarded Land Patent #SDMTAA 100088 which is legally governed by 43 U.S.C 161 of the Federal Codified Register of public laws.

While the homestead patent falls under U.S. Code Title 43 Public Lands; Section 161; Statute 012; Page 0392, of which is An Act to Secure Homesteads to Actual Settlers on the Public Domain (1862-05-20), the land claim was for his own private use to reside, farm, and to graze the land with the intent to prosper from the land himself. 

We could only imagine in the early days, John F. Stark in the days leading up to the issuance of the patent, referred to this territory as a family plot of land known as "Stark Family Trust", while during the summer of 1889 - Dakota Territory applied for Statehood, and soon after the State of South Dakota was established, the Town of Stark was born. 

Sooner after, in May of 1889 - the UNITYVILLE HOMESTEAD PATENT was approved by the Federal Government and rewarded to John F. Stark who had finally finished paying off the purchase price, paid the patent fee, and gone thru the land surveying requirements which had established the borders, and gave to his family, full right to own the land tax free. 

Anyone who understands how land patents work, they establish boundaries of land where you own your land completely "tax free" and most were awarded in increments of 80, 160, or 320 acres under either the 1841 Preemption Act or the 1862 Homestead Act.

Shortly after the turn of the Century, probably around 1902 - as new residents were being invited into the area, forming a townsite, buildings and homes were constructed over time, the need to incorporate the area into a "Town" within the State of South Dakota began to take shape, and it was then the residents of this territory who voted on, and chose the name "Unityville, South Dakota", and of whom created a charter, a uniform set of codes, and finally, they elected a town council, a president, a treasurer, and secretary.  Forming a local government for their small little sub-division, allowed them the luxury to collect "tax revenues" for which gave them the ability to publically manage their public roads, buildings, infrastructure, parks, and public schools, let alone, attract commercial trade to the area. 

Prior to 1889, the area was known as Stark Township, but after 1902, the Town of Unityville was taking form, and by choosing the name Unityville, probably derived from the goal to unite all the farmers whom now had a common area to conduct business, giving to themselves a place to do business.  The main street in the town was  Stark Road named after John Stark who first claimed the site. 
And if any of you have ever passed through the town, you will notice that Stark Road was the main road that all of the businesses were established on. It connects 436th Avenue on the east side, and wraps around through the heart of the town, and reconnects to County Road 247 which obviously connects S.D Hwy 81 to the Canova Road. 

From 1902 to 1961 the Town of Unityville grew to as many as 300 +/- residents, not a very big town, but big enough to generate taxes, in order to provide for the residency whom lived there. It would have a Grocery Store, an Elevator, a Bank, a School, a House of Commons (city auditorium) that also utilized space as a Town Hall, and Livery and Community Stables.

While as a community, it had upwards to 300 to 400 residents, many of whom resided on farms surrounding the townsite itself, many of those farms are still in existence today, and as you drive along County Road 247 - you can see many of those farms today.

But it soon came to be, as Salem, Canova, and Howard grew in stature, and thanks in large part to the Great Panic of 1929 along with the Dust Storms of the 1930's, causing much of the economic crisis of the country itself, Unityville began to see its residency die off, and by 1960 - talk was fast developing, that at some point they would have think about dissolving the town, while selling off the assets to pay off its remaining debts,liabilities, and expenses of the town itself.  There just was not enough residency left to collect enough in taxes to maintain the status quo, let alone to remotely operate a small town itself. 

Beginning in 1961, the Town Council began the long dreadful plan to sell off the assets, pay off its debts, and return the land back to its rightful owners - the Stark Family Trust, yes, that meant the buildings would gradually be raised, the roads broken up over time, and by 1981 they had finally paid off the last of the remaining debts, and by 1991, the last of all the buildings were raised.
The Remains of Unityville Town Bank
Today, all that remains is a Bank Vault, a lasting reminder of the once proud community, while there are probably left - 6 homes left, mostly on the west side.
As you drive down Stark Road, you will notice few new homes being built, so perhaps, maybe, some within the area want to help maintain some sense of history on this quiet little "homestead" today. 

As you drive through the former town site today, just imagine, one of those residents living there would be a proud member of the Stark Family, in fact, we are almost sure of it, as the Patent is still very much active today, and still in existence. 
So, next time, as you travel through the area, take a few minutes of your day, and introduce yourself to the last remaining residents - the Stark Family heirs. 

Click this Link to review the terms of the Land Patent - https://thelandpatents.com/patents/sdmtaa-100088...
The South Dakota Constitution reserves to the patent holders, free ownership of the land, with the right to pass it on to each future heir. 
South Dakota Constitution Article 22, Section 2 - That we, the people inhabiting the state of South Dakota, do agree and declare that we forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundary of South Dakota, and to all lands lying within said limits owned or held by any Indian or Indian tribes; and that until the title thereto shall have been extinguished by the United States, the same shall be and remain subject to the disposition of the United States; and said Indian lands shall remain under the absolute jurisdiction and control of the Congress of the United States; that the lands belonging to citizens of the United States residing without the said state shall never be taxed at a higher rate than the lands belonging to residents of this state; that no taxes shall be imposed by the state of South Dakota on lands or property therein belonging to or which may hereafter be purchased by the United States, or reserved for its use. But nothing herein shall preclude the state of South Dakota from taxing as other lands are taxed any lands owned or held by any Indian who has severed his tribal relation and has obtained from the United States, or from any person a title thereto by patent or other grant save and except such lands as have been or may be granted to any Indian or Indians under any act of Congress containing a provision exempting the lands thus granted from taxation. All such lands which may have been exempted by any grant or law of the United States, shall remain exempt to the extent, and as prescribed by such act of Congress.
As one personally drives down County Road 247 Road today, otherwise known as Unityville Road, take a gander, to locate and find the former townsite which sits nestled between a small creek, and Stark Road, if you blink an eye, you will miss it. The few residents left behind, is a lasting reminder that this area once was a small quiet farm town. 
North of  Unitiville, South Dakota, a small abandoned acreage sits just north of the county line along 436th Avenue, directly north of the former townsite - the Zulk Family Farm today, just one of those family farms that once made this area such a popular place to reside. 
Foundation Remains of the Zulk Home. The house was moved to a new location, roughly 5 miles north of Hartford, South Dakota along Western Avenue (Hartford-SD).