The Verendrye (Var-en-dree) Museum was established in 1968, when the Old Stanley County Historical Society and many other historically-minded individuals worked together to bring to life their vision of a place where Fort Pierre’s colorful past could be preserved and commemorated. The museum is named for French brothers Louis and Chevalier Verendrye, who explored the upper reaches of the Missouri River and in 1743 buried a lead plate on top of a nearby hill, claiming the entire Missouri River basin for France. Today the Verendrye Monument graces this same hill and is a National Historic Landmark. The lead plate is housed across the river in the South Dakota State Historical Society Museum. This is one of South Dakota’s most important historic treasures.
The Verendrye Museum resides in the heart of downtown Fort Pierre, mere blocks from the Verendrye Monument and one block from another national historic site: the spot at the confluence of the Missouri and Bad Rivers where Lewis and Clark had their historic first encounter with the Sioux. Surrounded by this rich history, the Verendrye Museum is housed in a 1930s-vintage building that used to serve as a community hall and was home to many a Saturday night dance in downtown Fort Pierre. It was the home of the American Legion for many years. The building that houses the museum was put on the National Register of Historic Places in July 2017.
As the oldest continuous settlement in South Dakota, Fort Pierre occupies a unique place in South Dakota’s history. The Verendrye Museum brings this long and colorful history to life with displays that will capture the imagination of young and old alike. Exhibits include a country store, an original telephone operator’s station and post office boxes, period displays of home furnishings and horse-drawn carriages, an extensive array of local saddles and cowboy hats, as well as countless photographs, hand-crafted items, homestead tools, Native American artifacts, guns, period wardrobe pieces, rocks and fossils. The museum also offers exhibit items relating to some of Fort Pierre’s most famous and colorful characters, i.e. Scotty Philip. While offering a wealth of information to accompany its holdings, walking through the museum retains all the charm and excitement of discovering treasures in your grandmother’s attic.
There are also a number of displays at the Log Cabin Visitor Center and the Sansarc Country School Museum, which is open all year long and located at the corner of Main Street and Highway 83.