Canton, South Dakota was an extremely small town of around 100 people in the 1870s, when it consisted mainly of vacant lots. By 1880, more than 600 people lived there; the city was incorporated a year later and began to build in earnest. Residents were affected by the weather just as isolated settlers were, losing their crops to grasshopper infestations and enduring bitter cold and arid droughts. Pictures from 1909 show snow-lined streets courtesy of a February blizzard, though citizens of Canton were obviously out and about, trying to clear the mess.
Cantonites took advantage of their region’s cold and snow to build a popular ski jump in 1912. Interest in skiing had been aroused a year earlier when a Norwegian visitor demonstrated the sport. The ski jump operated from 1912 to 1944, and the town began hosting tournaments that drew thousands of spectators. (The longest jump–181 feet–in the U.S. occurred at Canton’s ski jump in 1927).
Residents also enjoyed ice skating, snowball fights, and other winter sports, but their mainly wooden-framed homes had to have let in plenty of wind and cold. Like most people who chose to live in the Plains’ harsh environment, Cantonites took the hand that nature dealt them and adapted to it.