Estelline’s Portal To The Past

Posted: Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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Ever since H.G. Wells wrote about it, people have been fascinated by the concept of time travel. I, too have dreamed about stepping through a portal to the past to experience first hand what life was really like untainted by faulty memories and flattering recollections..
Well, I’m here to tell you such a place “does” exist and there’s no magic involved to visit.
Hoffelt Drug Store in Estelline is today pretty much the same as it was on the day it opened in 1911. People who’ve lived in this Hamlin County community all their lives probably don’t pay much attention to the old store on Main Street. It’s just always been there. But inside, it’s filled with things that would make an Antiques Road Show appraiser drool. The store has remained virtually unchanged through three generations of Hoffelt ownership. In fact when it finally closed in 1998, the family kept the heat and electricity on hoping to find someone who cared as much about the place as they did to buy it. They found that someone in Harvey Donley. Although he works with and repairs high-tech computers, Donley, just 38, has a real passion for historic preservation instilled by his father. It was for that reason that Gary Hoffelt, dying of cancer, turned down higher offers for the family business. Donley says, “He told me he’d sell it to me. I told him I was going to make a museum out of it.” And over the last five years, that’s just what he’s done. Harvey Donnely inside the amazing Hoffelt Drug that hasn’t changed in nearly a century.Donley spent every free moment cleaning the original marble floors and tin ceiling and the biggest challenge of all was getting  the 3 and a half ton solid marble and stainless steel soda fountain restored to working order. It was a promise he’d made to the ailing Gary Hoffelt who got to enjoy a soda with his son at the newly refurbished fountain three days before he died. To say this is a museum is an understatement.  The old drug store has things that were never sold in display cases that are original, old cameras that were never used still for sale, clocks and even men’s and ladies hats in original boxes some probably 70 years old. Donley says the Hoffelts never threw anything away.  “Every time we open a box we find something that’s a treasure,” he says. “The store was open for over 90 years and they sold products all that time so in one box you might find an item from the 80’s and at the bottom of that box you might find something interesting from 1911 or even earlier.”
“This is one of those places that you just can’t mess up. You’ve got to make sure you take it slow and research everything you do.” Helping with that research is S.D.S.U. Archivist, James Borchert who likens the store to a time capsule. But instead of a few relics in a box, everything here is a relic. A collectors Shangri La. “The antiques that are in here are in such pristine condition that it makes my job as caretaker of antiques easy,” Borchert says. Donley says he’s had several offers of over a million dollars for the store’s contents..but can’t bring himself to do it.
“It’s become a money pit, I suppose,” he says. “But the real value of this place is the way it is with everything here. To sell off any part of it would break up the set..and break the promise I made to Gary.”
The old Hoffelt Drug Store is all decked out with 13 thousand lights for a Christmas open house  Saturday December 5th from10am to 1:30pm.
Believe me, its well worth the trip to Estelline. Just take the Estelline exit off I-29 North of Brookings.
In the Summer, the store is open on Thursday evenings when the Farmer’s Market is taking place or you can arrange for a guided group tour by calling Donley at (605)692-2040.
I should mention that I got the photos from the web site of Chuck Cecil..a fellow pundit, historian and author who has written several books on local history. Click Here.

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