On plains where Native Americans once hunted vast herds of buffalo, a country general store called Wellington Corner sprang up at this location in 1921. The first building, which became the ice house, was constructed by Luther and Anna Gage. The store bordered a section-line dirt trail used by horse drawn wagons and buggies and an occasional automobile. A private highway association, active in promoting a tourist road from the East to Yellowstone National Park, included the unimproved trail as part of the route. The road was named the "Custer Battlefield Highway."
The State Highway Commission designated the trail as U.S. Highway 16 in 1926. Maintenance equipment was very primitive. After heavy rains, State crews used horse drawn drags to level ruts and washboards. Drainage culverts were installed in 1928, and the trail was graded and graveled for the first time. In 1931, concrete paving began. The first five mile stretch of the newly paved highway, running in both directions from the store now known as Pumpkin Center, was opened to public use in June. When a pavement dance was held on the highway in front of the store to celebrate the event, the party was monitored by Federal G-men. The agents were on hand to discourage bootleggers from selling homemade moonshine liquor as Prohibition was in effect.
In time, as auto traffic increased, the small general store also became a gasoline filling station. During the 1930s, a new car dealership created a need for a repair garage and a body shop. Scheduled bus and freight service eventually became available. Pumpkin Center was a gathering place to drink coffee and visit. It was also a landmark to meet and carpool, and more than once, it was a safe haven for winter travelers halted by deep snow or by a fierce, blinding blizzard.
In the thirties, community activities at Pumpkin Center included softball and baseball tournaments. The store sponsored its own team, the "River Rats." For many years picnic tables surrounding the small cluster of buildings hosted vacationers in the spring and summer and pheasant hunters in the fall. During World War II the store provided a patriotic service as a Red Cross Station. The store, last of the related enterprises to close, finally locked its doors for good in 1993.
The naming of Pumpkin Center is lost in uncertainty. Whatever its origin, the name stuck and for decades the phrase, "I'll meet you at Pumpkin Center," was common. Among the last of the early way stops that accompanied the development of the automobile and the expansion of transportation, Pumpkin Center helped to define an era. It served its purpose and has gone on to join the earlier wagon camps and stage coach stations in the evolving history of Minnehaha County.