By DIRK LAMMERS
Jan. 22, 2006
HILLSVIEW, S.D. – This McPherson County town just south of Eureka once was home to a couple hundred people and boasted its own butcher shop, bank and ZIP code.
Today its residents can fit around a kitchen table.
Welcome to Hillsview – the smallest incorporated town in South Dakota.
Jim Imberi, 76, is one of Hillsview’s three residents and serves as president of the trustees. His wife, Helen, and son, Cletus, round out the population.
“Jim feels he was born and raised here and he’d like to see the town survive at least as long as he’s around,” Helen Imberi said.
But even if Hillsview survives as a town, the Imberis say it’ll never return to its heyday. “That’s history,” Jim Imberi said.
“There are no houses here that are livable and nobody’s going to move a house here,” said Helen Imberi, who serves as Hillsview’s treasurer.
Cletus Imberi sits on the town board as an alderman.
Aberdeen residents Wayne and Orville Malsam, sons of the town’s former mayor, own property in Hillsview and round out the five-member board.
They don’t hold regular meetings but did get together in the spring.
“When something has to be discussed, then we get together,” Helen Imberi said.
Eight streetlights paid for through the town’s treasury illuminate what’s left of the village. The Imberis live on property dotted with several structures on the north side of the town’s only county road. An abandoned schoolhouse and hardware store sit across the street.
Two road signs used to direct drivers to the village. One on state Highway 47 read “Hillsview – 3 miles” and another by Eureka said “Hillsview – 7 miles.”
But when somebody stole one of the signs, the county removed the other. That caught some of Helen Imberi’s relatives visiting from Michigan off-guard.
“When they came out and the sign was gone, they didn’t know where to turn, so they drove all the way to Bowdle,” she said.
The county told the Imberis that it couldn’t direct motorists to a town with no services, so they compromised on having the new signs read “Hillsview Road,” she said.
In the 1940s, Hillsview’s creamery, grocery store, blacksmith and liquor store were kept busy by residents and visitors who made their livings from the railroad, the town’s feed mills and surrounding farms.
Children such as the Imberis’ oldest son, Gervase, learned the three Rs in the town’s schoolhouse.
But a town can’t survive without young people, and young people can’t make it without good jobs, Jim Imberi said.
“There’d be a lot of them that would like to stay here if they could make a halfway decent living,” said Jim Imberi, once a postal carrier in the town. “But if you’ve got no factories, where are you going to go?”
Jim and Helen Imberi now carve out a living installing carpet in the area.
Cletus Imberi is a lot manager for Beadle Ford in Bowdle, 16 miles south of Hillsview.
Asked about Hillsview’s future, Cletus Imberi said he doesn’t see much hope. Jobs are scarce, and people no longer can afford to farm off the land. He thinks most land eventually will wind up in the hands of big-city hunters.
“These guys have got money. It’s nothing for them guys to come out and pay $400-$500 an acre. They don’t think nothing of it,” he said. “But for a guy starting off trying to make a living off of it, you can’t make a living off the land at that price.”
Hillsview doesn’t levy its own tax, so the only money that comes into the town treasury is through small transportation allotments that cover such things as street maintenance.
McPherson County Auditor Steve Serr said Hillsview received $127 in the second quarter of 2005 and $260 in the third quarter.
“The only thing we really spend it on is lights, and we had our road graveled about two years ago,” Helen Imberi said. “That’s about the extent of it.”
The town also has to pay every few years to keep its clerk and treasurer bonded, she added.
The Imberis had considered unincorporating.
“We were going to close it down a few years ago, and all the stuff that you’ve got to go through, it wasn’t worth it,” she said. “So we thought, OK. That’s the way it is. We’ll keep our lights going and we’ll just run it the way we have.”
Jim Imberi said staying incorporated allows Hillsview to keep some control.
“Dissolve it and the county gets the money, and they cut off the lights and stuff,” he said. “It’d be stupid.”