WATERTOWN, S.D. - The Mellette House is one of Watertown’s better-known tourist attractions, drawing thousands of visitors each summer. But May, the first month the restored home of former Gov. Arthur Mellette is open to the public, is traditionally a slow month.

“Tourist season doesn’t really kick into high gear until after Memorial Day,” said Prudy Calvin, president of the Mellette Memorial Association, the nonprofit group tasked with maintaining the house. “In fact, many years we consider not opening until later.”

This spring, however, things are different. Several groups have already toured the house and more than a half-dozen are scheduled in the next week.

“We actually opened a day early this year because a book club that had read Jack Timm’s book “And the Last Shall Be First,” wanted to see the house,” Calvin said.

The book is about Mellette, who served as the last governor of Dakota Territory and the first governor of the state of South Dakota. In addition to being an author, Timm is a historical re-enactor who often portrays Mellette.

The early steady stream of Mellette House visitors this season put a smile on Calvin’s face.

“It’s so good for our community,” she said. “It all trickles down. When they come to see the Mellette House, they stop and buy gas here, they have lunch, they go to Gather to have coffee. It really benefits the whole town.”

The Mellette House was built in the mid-1880s and was condemned in 1943 before a group of concerned citizens formed the Mellette House Association to save and restore the Italianate style-home. Some work will be done on the exterior this summer, including a partial-replacement of the roof and some painting.

But the work won’t prevent visitors from touring the Mellette House.

“The crews know we have to stay open during all of the work,” Calvin said.

If you go

  • What: The Mellette House
  • Where: 421 Fifth Ave. NW, Watertown, S.D.
  • Tours: House is open for tours 1-5 p.m. every day except Mondays
  • Notes: Reservations are recommended for groups. For more information, call 605-886-4730.