DAKOTA IMAGES | Henry E. Swander

DAKOTA IMAGES | Henry E. Swander

Harry E. Swander established a pioneering family-owned bakery in Rapid City that remained in operation for over a century. The Swander Bakery’s historic building still stands as a testament to the vital role of small businesses in the area’s development.

Born in Tiffin, Ohio, in July of 1863, Swander received little formal education, leaving school at the age of twelve to work on a local farm. At sixteen, he became a baker’s apprentice in Bedford, Iowa. In 1885, with a meager thirty-seven-dollar investment, he co-founded a bakery in nearby Clarinda. After selling the business, Swander tried his hand at homesteading in Nebraska until financial difficulties drained his savings. He briefly worked as a railroad lineman and then opened a restaurant in Alliance.

Swander and his first wife, Viola, married in 1888. The next year they moved to Rapid City and started a small grocery and confectionery shop. Swander Bakery opened as an offshoot of the family business in 1892. The bakery weathered the economic bust that soon followed to become, as a 1915 autobiographical sketch of Swander claimed, “one of the best and largest of its kind in South Dakota.” Following a divorce, he married Clara Patton, owner of the Patton Hotel, and began investing in and operating local hotels. While Swander retained ownership of the bakery, his oldest son Edward took over its management in 1917. In the decade that followed, Swander Bakery opened new locations in Deadwood and Huron. In 1928, the original plant moved into an eleven-thousand-square-foot building at 601 Twelfth Street in Rapid City. An advertisement declared that the new facility made it the state’s largest and “most modern” bakery.

Harry Swander, whom the Rapid City Daily Journal remembered as a “pioneer businessman,” died in Rochester, Minnesota, in 1935. Swander Bakery, however, continued to grow. Its Rapid City plant doubled in size after it joined the Quality Bakers of America, a national cooperative, in 1949. The Iowa-based Metz Baking Company bought out Swander Bakery in 1955, but Harry Swander’s younger son Charles remained general manager until retiring in 1970. The building remained an operational bakery until the mid-1990s. In 2001, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, solidifying its reputation as a local landmark.