Courtesy photo Gayla PiroutekCourtesy photoCourtesy photo

Senechal: What’s in the Name

A History Mystery by Gayla Piroutek

Part Five of Five:

The car bridge was completed in 1926 at Pierre, so it was now time for another opportunity.  A big fire in 1920 had destroyed the Northwestern Hotel, leaving Philip without a hotel.  Earnie and his wife, Anna, had homesteaded on land east of Philip in 1902, but had always lived in Ft. Pierre. Earnie and Anna moved to Philip in 1927, and with the Henry O’Neill Company, built the Senechal Hotel.

At almost 104, Rich Smith of Grindstone was a 10-year-old boy when the Senechal was being built.  He remembers Mabel Kiel’s brother, Loren Shoemaker, helping build the Senechal.  In his early 20’s, Loren would load the wheelbarrow with bricks.  A ramp16-20 feet long, with a slope, had been built through the front door area of the hotel.  With a running start Loren would push that wheelbarrow along the ramp, until it was hooked by a chain that would then pull it farther up so that bricks could be laid on the second floor level of the hotel.  

It was exciting for Philip to have this new 40-room hotel ready for use by July 1, 1927.  Less than three years later, a 15-room addition was built, making it 70’ x 140’ right on the corner in downtown Philip.  

Earnest E. Senechal was a city alderman in charge of streets and alleys in 1936.  In 1945, E. E. Senechal is listed as vice-president of the Philip City Council and on the committee for the auditorium.

The Argus Leader of Sioux Falls reported on Dec. 12, 1940: “Credit was given to last year's officers of the Commercial Club in helping to obtain the new 200-acre airport, now just about completed, four miles to the east of the city on U. S. Highway 14. The sum of $54,000 was appropriated by the federal government for this port and its operation for the next five years. This is an emergency field but permission is allowed for the landing of private as well as commercial planes. It is electrically lighted around the entire 200 acres. A beacon tower, powerhouse, and other buildings are being erected. A full-time man and part-time electrician will be in charge at all times. The site is the homestead of Earnie E. Senechal, operator and owner of the Senechal Hotel. ….the east-west military highway across the state will come through Pierre and go in as near a straight course as possible to the gateway of the Black Hills, Rapid City, passing by the strategic emergency landing field here.” 

(In researching this above newspaper account from late 1940, I found the airport is presently located in Sec. 16, which was a school section that was purchased by Mrs. Dorothy M. Dorothy on Jan. 5, 1946. Prior to 1946, the state had leased the school land to Philip for its airport.  It came to light that school land could only be leased for grazing or farming.  The Philip Chamber of Commerce could buy the school land for $10 per acre, but they didn’t have the money.  Dorothy Brothers came to the rescue with its purchase and lease to the Chamber for $ 1 per year, who in turn leased it to the CAA for air service.  The original homestead of Earnie Senechal was in the SW4 of Section 14, about a mile to the east of the present airport. Perhaps at one time the airport in 1940 was a bit farther east, or Earnie Senechal had at one time owned parts of Section 15.  A mystery for another day???)

In 1945 Cap Senechal left his Fort Pierre home to live with his son, Earnest and his wife at the hotel, dying there on April 6, 1946. His son, Earnest died two years later. Widow Anna Senechal continued to run the hotel, but in 1952 the hotel was sold to Morris G. Hallock who operated the motel at least into 1957. 

Anna Senechal transferred title to the motel to the estate of L.G. Weller in the early 1960s.  He left the motel to his wife, Stella, and children, Bill Weller, Marjorie Borbely, Shirley Josserand, Harold Weller and June Wanczyk.  Weller leased the hotel to Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Keller in 1960.  Stella Weller sold the motel to Joe and June Wanczyk in late 1962.  The Wanczyks remodeled and revamped the hotel, holding a grand opening in June 1963.  The dining room got an update in 1968.  A year later the hotel received a merit award from the Welcome Mat Corporation for exemplary service to the community and the traveling public. The Senechal Hotel had its own restaurant, known by various names: Senechal Restaurant, Betty’s Café, K&K Coffee Shop, Senechal Coffee Shop.  The restaurant was leased to different people over the years, thus the different names.   

Mrs. Anna L. (Meyers) Senechal died Feb. 24, 1967.  She had married Earnie on June 29, 1899. They had two daughters, Mrs. (Melita) Michael A. Kennedy of St. Paul, MN, and Mrs. (Addie) James K. McCallum of Jackson. MS. Her sister was Mrs. Bertha Wolbrink of Philip.  Earnie’s two brothers, Ed and Fred, ended up in the state of Washington.

A member of the Class of 1972 remembered staying with classmates in a packed room at the Senechal one night, possibly for an FFA event.  Some slept under the beds.  Cash was short and several shared one pancake for breakfast the next morning.

 The Wanczyks sold the hotel back to Stella Weller in 1974.  Stella then sold to D.B.H. Company, Inc. in 1979.  This began a new service for the hotel.   The 55 rooms were gutted and remodeled into 16 separate 700 sq. ft. apartments, designed for elderly residents of Philip.  New wiring, plumbing, and an elevater were installed in this two-story building.  Many couples, widows, and widowers, have moved into The Senechal Apartments where they enjoy the cheery, bright living/dining area.  Residents gather together during the weekdays to enjoy Meals on Wheels, along with others from the neighborhood.  Card games and jigsaw puzzles are plentiful, with a laundry also on the main floor.  This central living area with its fireplace has also been a gathering place for Bible studies, meetings, baby showers, and birthday and graduation parties. Many happy Philip residents have enjoyed calling The Senechal their home over these past 40+ years.

The Pioneer Review

221 E. Oak Street
Philip, SD 57567
Telephone: (605) 859-2516
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