Divorce in Sioux Falls

There was a place named the “The Cataract House Hotel” between 1884 to 1908, located in the frontier town of Sioux Falls, Minnehaha County, South Dakota, which became a haven for women—and some men—escaping bad marriages. It was built in 1871, a luxury hotel with 14 beds and two parlors. It was enlarged twice by 1884. Unfortunately, it burned to the ground during a fireworks accident in June 1900. It was quickly rebuilt, now 5 stories tall with 175 bedrooms, a restaurant, bar and was now fireproof.

People wanting a divorce, arrived by train, coming from a large variety of states whose laws only granted divorces for “proven’ adultery or physical abuse. It was very hard to get a divorce from spouses in those days. The wife was expected to stay in the marriage, no matter what.

Being a frontier state, South Dakota had most relaxed grounds for divorce in America. The main requirement was to have lived in South Dakota for only 3 to 6 months. So those wealthy individuals wanting a divorce (women as well as men) made short-term moves to Sioux Falls. Unfortunately, those individuals with no extra means of money and who could not leave their home state for a few months had to separate or desert the family. There were some individuals came who were forced by their in-laws to get a divorce.

Other states did not like the reputation of South Dakota with their relaxed divorce laws. If it was an uncontested divorce, the case was all done in court within 15 minutes. Those where a case dragged on for months there was a big celebration at the Cataract House Hotel when the divorce was granted. Then the “after divorce” parties were large and expensive.

Not all Sioux Falls residents were happy about so many divorces granted, all held at the fancy Cataract House Hotel, especially the religious communities were unhappy. Between 1887 and 1906 there had been 1,124 divorces in Minnehaha County. They petitioned for a change to the state’s laws. On January 1, 1909, the residency requirement had been changed to 12 months. So many future divorce-seeking individuals then went to Reno, Nevada which had a 6-month residency requirement.

The Cataract House Hotel still remained open as a fine hotel but not with celebrating divorces, it was joined with Sheraton Hotels by the 1950s but eventually closed by 1970, then torn down in 1973.

Any ancestors or friends who once visited Sioux Falls?

Photos: Cataract House Hotel in 1884, the menu from 1891, hotel in 1898, hotel in 1901 and in 1950s.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Menus and Photos 1851 – 1930

19th Century Menus

Places of Palm Beach

< Return To Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.