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John H. Carroll

Early De Smet clerk of courts, banker, and both first postmaster and first mayor of De Smet.

J.H. Carroll, well known in Brookings county has received the appointment of clerk of courts for Kingsbury county, and is now ready to transact the business of his office at this place. Filings for homesteads in this county can be made only before him in case parties settle upon the land and do not go to the U.S. Land office. -April 1880 Kingsbury County News

John H. Carroll is mentioned in The Long Winter as the renter of Pa’s town building; Carroll moves out after the October blizzard and the Ingalls family moves in. He was said to have left a roll-top desk and coal heater as payment for part of his rent. In Wilder’s Hard Winter manuscript, Pa buys the desk from Carroll:

Judge Carroll had moved into an office with a partner who already had an office desk. One was all they needed so Pa had bought Judge Carroll’s and it was left in the big front room.

Although called “Judge” by Laura Ingalls Wilder, John Carroll was neither a judge nor an attorney, although he served as Kingsbury County’s first clerk of courts, appointed in 1880. While Wilder may have confused Mr. Carroll with Visscher Barnes (who was a judge), it’s more likely that Wilder knew that in addition to his appointment as clerk of courts, Carroll twice served as a member of the South Dakota state legislature, where he would have been addressed as “The Honorable John H. Carroll,” also used in reference to a court judge.

October 31, 1885, Caroline Ingalls sold “Lot 21, Block 4 and premises” to John Carroll for $600. The Ingallses had occupied the building for three winters at the time of its sale. The building was moved to the east end of the lot and rotated to face Second Street to the north in 1886, leaving 50 feet between it and the new “Carroll Block.” The brick building – which housed Gass Law Office for many years – originally housed The First National Bank of De Smet and private offices and businesses; it is now empty and undergoing major repairs. Sara and John Carroll sold the portion of the lot containing the Ingalls building in January 1918 for $200 to Peter O’Hara, who opened a fruit and vegetable store in Pa’s old building, in partnership with William Storts and Little House character Robert Boast (1848 – 1921). The image here is from McKibben’s 1912 De Smet panoramic, and shows both Carroll’s building and Charles Ingalls’ building (circled), after it had been moved to the back of the lot.

John H. Carroll was born April 19, 1849, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Hannah and Thomas Carroll. Educated in Philadelphia, Carroll taught school upon graduation in 1869, both in Philadelphia and in Waukon, Iowa. In 1878, he came to Brookings County as a dealer in real estate and land locating agent; he followed the railroad to De Smet, where he settled. His homestead (converted to a cash purchase), the SE 28-111-56, adjoined De Smet to the east. He platted ten blocks as residence lots, the blocks bounded by 1st St. SW to the north, 3rd St. SW to the south, Boast Ave. SW to the west, and Loftus Ave. SW to the east (current street names).

December 25, 1876, John Carroll married Sara Imus, daughter of Charles Imus (1811-1887) and Lucy S. Cheney (1819-1890). They had one son, Louis, born in Luverne, Minnesota, in 1880. Louis died young, and was buried in De Smet Cemetery.

As clerk of courts in Kingsbury County in April 1880, meaning that homesteaders could then file claims in De Smet rather than going all the way to Brookings, as Charles Ingalls had done that February. Carroll was postmaster of De Smet from 1880-1887, and also served as the town’s first mayor. In 1885, he started The First National Bank of De Smet with capital of $50,000; both his brother Walter Carroll and nephew Austin Imus were cashiers, and his sister-in-law, Jennie Imus, was a major stockholder. John Carroll was a member of the House of Representatives during the eighth (1903) and ninth (1905) sessions. He was a candidate for Speaker of the House in 1904, and candidate for lieutenant governor in 1907. He was a member of the first library committee in De Smet, formed in 1884. He was treasurer of the cemetery board for over thirty years.

A gifted musician and singer, Carroll furnished music for 4th of July festivities and other events. He was active in the literary society. He was leader of the De Smet Cornet Band beginning in 1887. A member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Carroll led the boy’s choir, and later, an adult choir. He owned the land between Lake Henry and Lake Thompson, including its grove of trees (and the Lone Cottonwood), and gatherings were held there for a number of years, vendors selling food and renting boats to visitors; there was also fishing and swimming. In the 1920s, he sold the 160-acre tract and the purchaser planned to turn the area into a resort.

Due to Mrs. Carroll’s poor health, the couple began spending winters away from De Smet in the late 1880s. Retiring from banking in 1909, Sara and John Carroll began spending winter and summer in Florida that year, Carroll going into business in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1911, where they moved in 1912, settling permanently in St. Petersburg the following year.

Sara Carroll died in 1925. John Carroll died April 2, 1926 in St. Petersburg, Florida. They are buried in Royal Palm South Cemetery, St. Petersburg (Pinellas County) Florida. Their graves are unmarked.


John Carroll (TLW 8)
     De Smet Cemetery tour file for CARROLL