Vermillion, is a community of 10,000 atop a bluff on the Missouri River in the southeastern corner of South Dakota. Its name is derived from the original Sioux name meaning “red stream.” The junction of the Missouri River and Vermillion River had for generations been the camping ground of a band of the Yankton Sioux Indians.
The present site of Vermillion was first visited by French fur traders at the close of the 18th century. On August 24, 1804, Lewis and Clark camped at the mouth of the Vermillion River and from there made their trek to Spirit Mound. Afterwards, numerous trappers and fur traders went up and down the river, and the Columbia Fur Company established a trading post at the river’s mouth. John James Audubon, the famous artist, visited the Vermillion ravine in 1843 to enjoy the abundance of bird life.
On August 8, 1844, the first white settlers to the area were a group of Mormons seeking a new home after being driven out of Illinois. This group eventually moved down river near Omaha, and from there they continued to points west until they arrived in Utah in July of 1847.
By 1860 the Yankton Sioux Indians were moved to government lands and Dakota Territory was opened to homesteaders. In this area many were of Scandinavian descent. Vermillion grew and became a thriving community. The University of South Dakota was established in 1862 at the first meeting of the Territorial Legislature and is central to modern day Vermillion.
The town was incorporated in 1873 and did well until a huge flood in 1881 washed three-fourths of Vermillion away. Merchants immediately relocated to the top of the bluff and began building new stores. One major local attraction is the Austin-Whittemore House Museum, a home that was built atop a bluff along the river after the disastrous flood. This Italian-style villa is filled with Victorian furnishings and items of local historical interest.
Other local hits the region’s historical heritage, and the nearby Spirit Mound Historic Prairie visited by Lewis & Clark. Vermillion commemorates the 1804 Corps of Discovery visit each August in cooperation with the Native American community.
Since 2000, Vermillion has renewed its commitment to downtown revitalization and the protection of its historic resources. The community has developed a cultural plan and a historic preservation plan, and surveyed its properties. As a result, historic downtown Vermillion was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003 and design guidelines for façade improvements were developed. New park facilities and traffic lights were designed to blend with their historic surroundings, and a draft historic preservation ordinance is under development.
Designated a Preserve America Community in August 2005.