Pettigrew house offers look at Sioux Falls city leader

Pettigrew House
Pettigrew House

Richard Pettigrew came to Sioux Falls to be a surveyor. He went on to become South Dakota’s first full-term United States senator. He represented the state in Washington, DC, from 1889 until 1901.

At the time Pettigrew first took on his Senate responsibilities, a mansion was built for Thomas and Jenny McMartin in Sioux Falls. Pettigrew bought the house from the McMartins in 1911. The house was designed in the Queen Anne style.

It was a major acquisition for Pettigrew. He was a city leader, who promoted Sioux Falls as often as he could. He helped arrange for the Old Courthouse and downtown courthouse to be built, using locally mined quartzite.

Pettigrew House
Pettigrew collected rocks

Pettigrew, along with his brothers, was a collector. He collected a variety of things, from rocks to Native American clothing. He thought himself an amateur archaeologist.  He built a museum at the back of the house. It opened to the public in 1926.

His final benevolent act was donating the Pettigrew house following his death in 1926. He wanted the city to use the house as a museum. The city completed an addition to the mansion in the 1930s.

Now, the entire mansion is a museum. On top of it, admission is free. The house is divided between the original museum and the house as an exhibit.

We found the entire tour took about an hour. We started with a self-guided tour of the museum. The museum was interesting. It’s fairly small, but offered a ton of things to check out. The first floor offers a look at Asian art and stories accrued from Pettigrew’s travels.

Pettigrew House
Senator Pettigrew made a few trips to Asia

The second floor gives a view of pioneer and Native American life, as well as miscellaneous items.

Pettigrew House
An early picnic basket

A display of weapons from the 1800s was a highlight of the tour.

Pettigrew House

When you visit, take the guided tour of the Pettigrew house. The guide provides a lot of information you might not realize if you walked through by yourself.

The kitchen was plainly designed. It was considered “back of the house,” because only the staff would be there.

Pettigrew House
Pettigrew house kitchen

The house had gas and electric lights. If the power went out in one of the systems, then the other could be used.

Pettigrew House
Old lights

The pantry was decently sized. It contained a lot of canned items. It included an ice box.

Pettigrew House
Old food containers

The dining room offered visitors a chance to see what a formal dinner might look like.

Pettigrew House
Dining area

The parlor was used for entertaining guests. As we stood there, you could imagine the senator and his friends leaning back, topping off their evening with a cigar in one hand and a drink in the other, discussing the day’s issues.

Pettigrew House

Or, perhaps, he would sit in the office area across from the parlor, admiring his collection of canes.

As you head upstairs, the guide will likely show you two documents – the Declaration of Independence and a federal indictment for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 for questioning US involvement in World War. His legal team – led by the great attorney Clarence Darrow (of the Scopes Monkey Trial) – led his effort to fight the accusations because he believed the war was started to help the rich. He urged men to avoid service. The trial was delayed so often that the charges were eventually dropped. He was proud of both pieces of paper.

Pettigrew House
Two documents in Pettigrew’s life

One room on the second floor has been converted into a study. A copy of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader printed on linen hangs on a wall because of a paper shortage during World War I.

Pettigrew House
Upstairs study

The floor also displays the Pettigrews’ bedrooms.

Pettigrew House
Bedroom in the house

The Pettigrew Home and Museum offers an interesting look into the region’s history. It’s definitely worth checking out when visiting Sioux Falls.

For more information on the mansion and museum, please visit or