Watertown’s Mellette House opening again for public tours

Roger Whittle

May 18, 2021

WATERTOWN, S.D.–One of Watertown’s main attractions is opening again.

The Mellette House, the restored home of South Dakota’s first governor, Arthur Mellette, was closed all of last summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With restrictions being eased across the country, however, the Mellette Memorial Association announced this week that the historic house and museum will be open for public tours beginning June 1.

Tours are available six days a week (Tuesday through Sunday) from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The house, located at 421 Fifth Ave. NW in Watertown, is closed on Mondays and on the Fourth of July.

Tours are free, and donations are welcome. Donations pay for upkeep, utilities and insurance.

The house was constructed in 1885 in the Italianate style which was popular in the period. It was constructed of bricks made in a local brick yard owned by Mellette and his friend and business partner, William McIntyre.

The House is furnished with original Mellette family pieces and other period pieces. There is also much Mellette family and early Watertown memorabilia on display.
After the Mellette family left the house and Watertown in 1895, it was a private residence for many years. In 1929 Watertown’s first radio was located in the Mellette House. Eventually it was divided into apartments and then slid into a steady decline. In 1943 it was condemned by the Watertown Fire Department and slated for demolition.

At that time, the nonprofit Mellette Memorial Association was formed to save the House After much fund raising, the property was purchased by the association for $500. Work was immediately started to restore the house to its former glory.

In 1953 Charles Mellette, the last surviving Mellette son, gave many of the original furnishings, personal papers, paintings and even some of his parents’ clothing to the Mellette Memorial Association. The House was opened to the public for tours, and on Aug. 13, 1976, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We are really looking forward to welcoming guests back to the Mellette House,” said Prudy Calvin, head of the Mellette Memorial Association. “The house truly is one of Watertown’s crown jewels, and it’s something everyone should experience.”