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twin lakes

Lake Henry and Lake Thompson in Kingsbury County, South Dakota, collectively.

The News has been requested to suggest to the county commissioners the purchase of the land lying between Lakes Henry and Thompson and convert it into a public park… It would make a very convenient and pleasant picnic resort. – Kingsbury County News, 1888.

Although Lake Henry and Lake Thompson are nowhere near the same size, they are very rough mirror images of similar shapes, and this may have been why Laura Ingalls Wilder, who only viewed them at ground level, called them “twins.” Lake Henry is the smaller lake to the north on the 1882 Julius Bien & Company Dakota Territory map, here showing Kingsbury County, eighteen by twenty-four miles in size. Lake Thompson is the larger lake to the south.

A lake is a large and extensive collection of water contained in a cavity or hollow of the earth. It is larger than a pond. [Webster, 1882]

LAKE HENRY. When homesteaders first visited the area in 1878 and 1879, Lake Henry was said to be dry a quarter of a mile from the shore line, and Lake Thompson was nearly dry (although others reported that the lake held a good amount of water). According to a 1931 newspaper article, the lake was named for the father of Robert Henry of Volga, who passed through the area in 1878 with John Ogden, Brookings County surveyor, on their way to the Jim River to hunt antelope. Mr. Ogden had a map that showed that only Lake Thompson had been named, so Mr. Henry said it should be named “Henry,” after his own father, George Henry. It has been called that ever since.

A grove of trees stood on the south shore of Lake Henry, and included the Lone Cottonwood. Lake Henry had a maximum depth of about eight feet. The area was a popular picnic, fishing, boating, swimming and hunting destination, while wild fruit growing nearby was harvested for jelly-making. In the winter, ice was harvested from the lake and stored in an ice-house nearby. John H. Carroll owned the grove until around 1910, when he sold it to men who planned to develop the area commercially as a summer resort, building a pier and stands from which to sell lemonade, ice cream, and lunches. Within ten years, there were cottages, a dance pavilion, tennis courts and a baseball diamond at the Lake Henry Picnic Grounds, and the area was fenced to keep horses and buggy-riders out.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that when being courted, she and Almanzo Wilder took long buggy rides that included travel on the narrow road between the lakes. If you drive south of De Smet on Highway 25 and turn east on 212th Street, this turns into Twin Lakes Road between the lakes, but it is not always navigable, so use caution. From the observation tower at Ingalls Homestead, if you look to the southeast, you can see the north shore of Lake Henry!

Today, there is public access to Lake Henry on the south side of the lake, including a boat dock and parking lot. Other property surrounding the lake is privately owned. A fishing license is required when fishing.

Lake Henry southeast shore, looking northwest towards Ingalls Homestead and De Smet.

LAKE THOMPSON. Named for Minnehaha County early homesteader, John Thompson, Lake Thompson is just south of Lake Henry, six miles south and four miles east of De Smet. At the time of the Little House books, the lake was mostly marsh; at times, crops were grown on a good portion of the lake bed. It filled in the 1980s to a depth of over twenty-five feet in places, and the current perimeter of the lake is about forty-five miles. The Lake Thompson Recreation Area on the north shore is a popular tourist destination.

Lake Thompson north shore, looking south across lake.


Twin Lakes / twin lakes (SSL 7; TLW 27; THGY 21, 23, 31; PG)
     Lake Henry (SSL 7, 22, 29; TLW 27; THGY 19-20, 23; PG), see also Lone Cottonwood
     Lake Thompson (SSL 7; TLW 27; THGY 19-20; PG)