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Edelbert Harthorn family / Frank Harthorn & Mabel Burd

Father and son owners of Harthorn & Son, early drygoods store in De Smet.

Ma would not let any more strangers sleep in the house. Only Mr. Hinz and the two Harthorns bunked down on the floor by the stove. – By the Shores of Silver Lake, Chapter 25, “Pa’s Bet”

Edelbert Melville Harthorn was born in Maine on July 25, 1839; he was one of at least nine children of Abigail (Shumway) and Daniel Harthorn. Both Edelbert and his father served in the Maine Infantry during the Civil War. Following the war, many of the Harthorn siblings moved to Minnesota, but they soon headed west to Dakota Territory. One of the brothers began the first grist mill in Sioux Falls in 1873.

Edelbert Harthorn married Augusta Campbell and the couple had two children: Frank Lewis (born 1864 in Anoka, Minnesota) and Edelbert “Dell” Henry (born 1875 in Sioux Falls, Dakota Territory). They adopted daughter Mabel after moving to De Smet; she died in 1887 at age 4. The “two Mr. Harthorns” from the Little House books were Edelbert Melville Harthorn (1839-1925) and his eldest son, Frank Lewis Harthorn (1864-1950). The two were among the first settlers to arrive in De Smet, Dakota Territory, in the spring of 1880 (see By the Shores of Silver Lake, Chapter 24, “The Spring Rush”).

Leaving the rest of the family in Sioux Falls, father and son arrived at the townsite of De Smet with a load of lumber with which to build a dry goods store. Because there was no place else to stay, they boarded with the Ingalls family in the Surveyors’ House. At the time, Edelbert Harthorn contracted with Western Town Lots Company to purchase Lot 11, Block 1 in De Smet. The official deed of sale in June 1880 was between Albert Keep (attorney) and Frank Harthorn, who was 17 years old at the time. Officially called “Harthorn & Son,” the store was referred to as the “Red Front Store” because of its bright red paint. The store was one story, frame, with two rooms. Frank, wearing his signature hat, can be spotted with arms folded in front of the store.

In 1887, Frank succeeded his father as owner of the De Smet store, and Edelbert took the opportunity to travel, heading west to Washinton State and Alaska (where he invested in gold mines) with another De Smet businessman and Little House character, George Wilmarth. In 1894, Frank moved his goods into the Elliot building just vacated by Charles Ingalls; this was the brick building that replaced the shop of T.P. Power, Merchant Tailor on Block 3, two doors south of the Loftus Store. For a while, Mr. Power ran his tailor shop on his old lot, but in the Elliot building along with Frank Harthorn, but the arrangement was short-lived, as Harthorn moved his store again the following year, and yet again in 1902.

In 1897, Gardner Warner bought the original Harthorn building on Lot 11, Block 1 (original town of De Smet) from George Williams, who had gone into the drugstore business after his stint as school superintendent and moved to Iroquois. Warner also purchased Lot 10, just north of the Couse building. In May 1902, the Warner (original Harthorn) building burned, and in March 1904, Timothy Healy began construction of a granite building on the two lots. Kingsbury County had just passed a law prohibiting new construction of wooden buildings facing De Smet’s main street, Calumet Avenue. The Healy building was 50 feet wide, 60 feet deep, and 2 full stories tall. There were two store-fronts below and offices above. The main floor was fitted up as a saloon and billiard hall, separated by a permanent partition. A 20-foot long golden oak bar was installed, with a 20-foot mirror behind. Healy only ran the operation for a few years, selling to Fred Floto in 1907 and leaving De Smet. In 1921, Floto Pool Hall (which later had a theater added on) was taken over by George Klinkel, then in the 1960s to son Walt. The building currently is occupied Klinkels III, run by Walt’s daughter, Lu Ann.



The image above is from a circa 1910 postcard view of the buildings on the west side (so, facing east) of Block 1. Lot numbers are in red. As shown in the De Smet birds-eye view – click HERE for biggie view with 1884 owner names on buildings – Edward Couse’s hardware store was on the south end of Block 1 and Mead Hotel was at the north end near the railroad tracks. Couse built a new brick building in 1885, shown occupying Lots 8-9, which is still standing and houses Ward’s Store & Bakery today. Harthorn’s “red front” building was on Lot 11. Note that while the location of Wilder Feed is shown on Lot 17, the building this picture was constructed after Royal Wilder’s store building had been torn down.

Next time you’re in De Smet, look up to see the “Healy Block 1904” date stone high in the Spencer granite façade. The ground has changed in looks over the years (no more big windows!), but the north half of the building (currently with applied stone facing) is where Harthorn & Son’s “red front” building stood during the Little House years.



In the summer of 1883, Frank sold his interests in De Smet and went into business with his future father-in-law, George Burd of Lake Preston. October 1883, Frank Harthorn married Mabel Kate Burd (born 1865), daughter of Samantha and George Burd. An announcement in the Lake Preston (Dakota Territory) Times read:

Married. Harthorn – Burd. In Lake Preston, Dakota, on Saturday, October 28, by Rev. J. T. Otis, Mr. Frank S. Harthorn and Miss Mabel K. Burd, all of the above place. They took the east bound passenger and spend a few days in Lake Benton, Minn., returning yesterday. In the marriage of the above we need but recognize “In union there is strength.” Though being in Lake Preston but a short time, they have gained the esteem of all who have made their acquaintance. The bride is a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. G. W. Burd. The groom is of the firm Harthorn and Burd and a promising young man of able business qualities. Congratulations were free upon their return and the best wishes of all will go with them through life. The Times acknowledge the customary offering in response.

In These Happy Golden Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder refers to Mabel as “May Bird” (see Chapter 11, “Jingle Bells”). Although they spent the first year of their marriage in Lake Preston, the Harthorns – along with Mabel’s parents – moved to De Smet the following year. George Burd purchased Royal Wilder’s former feed store building and property in 1909.

Frank and Mabel had five children: Jessie (born 1884), Mary (born 1887), Frances (born 1897), Gordon (born 1900), and Lewis (born 1906). The Harthorn family lived on Second Street in De Smet. Frank was an avid bicycle rider; he was also foreman of the De Smet Fire Department for many years.

Following the death of his wife, Edelbert Harthorn and his son Dell moved to California. In 1906, Edelbert married Phoebe Shumway in Seattle, Washington. Phoebe and Edelbert Harthorn both died in Portland, Oregon, in August 1925.

In 1913, Frank Harthorn bought a “ten cent and variety store” in Livingston, Montana, and the Harthorns left De Smet. A notice in the De Smet News (September 26, 1913) reads:

F.L. Harthorn is here for a few days looking after collections. He had been in Minneapolis a week purchasing holiday goods for his store in Livingston, Montana. Mr. Harthorn says he is highly pleased with his new location, and that his business is far better than he had looked for.

In 1916, they left Montana , however, and relocated to Seattle, where the whole family operated a movie theater for many years. In 1917, daughter Jessie wrote to Carter Sherwood, editor of the De Smet News that “…Gordon runs the machine, Frances sells tickets, Mrs. takes tickets, Lewis ushers and Dad bosses the bunch.”

Mabel Harthorn died in 1947, Frank in 1950. They are buried in Forest Lawn cemetery in Seattle. Photo shows the graves of Frank and Mabel in 2011.


Harthorn family
     Edelbert, Frank’s father (SSL 25; TLW 7, 17-18, 20, 29, 31; LTP 6; THGY 16)
     Frank (SSL 25; THGY 16-17; PG)
     Frank Hawthorn [sic] (THGY 11)
     Harthorn’s grocery / store (TLW 7, 14, 17-18, 22; LTP 6; THGY 4, 16-17; PG)
     Harthorne’s [sic] store (THGY 4)
     Burd, Mabel / May Bird [sic], wife of Frank Harthorn (THGY 11; PG)