Dickenson Cafe

225 South Main Street
Between 1907 and 1958 there was a castle at 225 South Main street near what is now the Washington Pavilion. It was a strange sight to be sure, a bakery with two turrets, one rounded, the other square.  Inside there were ornate corinthian columns with an amazingly sculpted ceiling and murals painted on the walls. The building was the Dickenson Cafe, and it was peculiar. It was perhaps not as peculiar as the man for whom it was built. This man was Richardson W. Dickenson and he was quite unlike most in the Sioux Falls area in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was kind to a fault, though he did not come to his kindness through any religious adherence. He was kind to any in need, perhaps because he came from need, and knew the predicament well.

 Dickenson was born in England September 18, 1861. He was not well off, but his mother did all she could to make his life a joy. While in England, he apprenticed to become a master baker.  He earned the equivalent of $4.50 per week in a popular cafe where he honed his craft. In the early 1880s, Richard and his wife Mary Elizabeth emigrated to Ontario Canada. Shortly after settling in Ontario, their first son William was born. Their son Reuben was born two years later in 1884. From Canada, the Dickensons moved to Minneapolis where Richard became the head baker of the National Biscuit Company, later renamed Nabisco. Their son Rowland was born in Minnesota in 1886.

By 1888 the Dickensons had moved to Sioux Falls, Dakota Territory, where Richard started again to build his business reputation. Richard and Mary’s fourth son, Richard was born in 1893. Richard Senior partnered with E. A. Anthony for a short time before establishing his own bakery in 1894 near the present site of the Carpenter building. One fateful night a fire threatened to completely destroy his business. Through heroic efforts, the firefighters were able to save Dickenson’s supplies and save him from a total loss. Thereafter Dickenson made sure that Sioux Falls firefighters were supplied with coffee and fresh donuts to bolster their energies and spirits during the prolonged fire battles that sometimes occurred.
Much ado was made about the way Dickenson dressed, always in white. Always pants stuffed into his boots. Duster below the knees, and never a hat. At the time people wore hats as a matter of course, Dickenson could be striding around town dressed as pictured, his shoulder-length hair unencumbered by any chapeau.
The land for The Dickenson Cafe was purchased in 1899, construction began the next year. It took years to build, in fact, Dickenson built a replica in sugar to illustrate the completed vision long before the real cafe could be completed. The cafe opened on June 30, 1907. Owing to the fanciful design of the building, friends called it The Katzenjammer Castle.

Richard W. Dickenson was possibly the most interesting man in Sioux Falls during his time. Those who knew him called him “Dad” or “Daddy” Dickenson. He acted as shepherd to children, serving as the official Censor of Sioux Falls for a short time in 1912. In this capacity, Dickenson would make sure that nothing untoward would happen after hours for boys and girls under the age of eighteen. This went from chasing the young out of pool halls and off the streets after hours to managing what kind of movies could be shown to young audiences. Daddy acted as shepherd to not only children, but to the poor and animals. No hungry soul was turned away from his cafe empty-handed.  A meal for the poor, bread crumbs for birds when the snows had flown, a ham bone for an emaciated dog.

Richard Dickenson died March 29th 1916 after a prolonged illness at the age of 55. He was said to have died with a look of contentment on his face. As many as 3,000 attended his funeral. George Egan, a controversial local attorney and friend to Daddy Dickenson provided the funeral oration.
Many images and much information used for this were provided by the Siouxland Heritage Museums. Thanks to Adam there for his help!
The interior shot was purchased using donations to the tip jar below. Thanks!