Once the first South Dakota School for the Blind, Buffalo Ridge Resort, in Gary, South Dakota, was a collection of nine buildings on 37 acres. For more than 60 years it served as the state’s educational facility for blind children, with an emphasis on individual development, rather than group development. In 1895, after Gary lost their status as the county seat, citizens offered the Deuel County Courthouse Building to the state of South Dakota to be used as a school for the blind. Because the original building was unsuitable for a school, the citizens of Gary raised money to build a two-story brick structure (1899-1900). The school opened in 1900, making it the 42nd School for the Blind in the nation.
The average enrollment at the school was 55 to 60 students per year. From the beginning, the course of instruction offered at the school followed closely with what was taught in public schools across the state. In addition to the regular curriculum, braille, gym, industrial work, piano-tuning, broom-making, chair-caning, upholstery, and domestic science were also taught.
The school was self-supporting with its own dairy and beef cattle, hogs, chickens, and gardens. The garden produce was stored in the root cellar, which remains today as the wine cellar for the Rock Room Bar and Grill. The beautiful neoclassical and classical-revival designed complex included classrooms, administration offices, dormitories, a barn, a boiler building, a playground, a unique water fountain in an old flower garden, a gymnasium, and an auditorium with a stage.
The students were a big part of the community of Gary. People would often give them rides to church, uptown to shop, and to other places in the area. In addition, students were often invited into homes to join in Sunday dinners. Folks would travel far and wide to enjoy musical concerts and operettas performed by the students. The school’s outstanding music department influenced the public school music program, which resulted in numerous awards for both schools. The upper level of the Barn was where the first sanctioned high school wrestling match took place in South Dakota. In addition to wrestling, students took part in boxing and basketball, as well as roller skating, in the auditorium.
In 1957-1958, major concerns of the need for additional facilities, the lack of travel experiences for students, the lack of proximity to a college, and rumors of a possible relocation of the school began to surface. In 1961, the school was moved to Aberdeen, South Dakota. The main buildings were then used as an assisted living home until the early 1980s, after which the buildings sat vacant for almost three decades. Although vandals, weather, and vermin had taken a toll on the structures, none of the buildings had been altered, and most were considered structurally sound and in good condition.
In 2008, South Dakota native, and businessman/entrepreneur, Joe Kolbach, purchased the property at an estate sale. On a cold, snowy evening on December 12, 2008, Kolbach gathered, in what is now the Sundance Ballroom, with people of Gary and the surrounding communities, to discuss their desires and goals for the property. Ideas were considered, visions were developed, and a completion goal of Gary’s annual 4th of July celebration in 2009 was set. Two stages of the project were planned. Restoration began in December of 2008, with the two dormitory buildings, originally built in 1910 and 1924, and the re-establishment of Lake Elsie. The Boiler and Administration buildings were to be renovated at a later date. Buffalo Ridge Resort came to fruition when the Herrick Hotel, Woodbury Hall, and the Talking Waters Campground opened on July 3, 2009, just in time for the annual Gary Independence Day celebration. In July of 2010, the Rock Room Bar and Grill was established on the bottom floor of the Administration Building.