Eileen Woodruff retires from Jerauld County Abstract

A love of history, a knack for solving puzzles and a good dose of patience has helped Eileen Woodruff serve the area well at the county’s oldest business, Jerauld County Abstract. 

“I love history so it’s always been a fun thing for me,” Woodruff said. “I enjoyed my 26 years of putting together the puzzles of property abstracts so they are correct as far as land transactions go.” 

A property abstract is a collection of legal documents that chronicle transactions associated with a particular parcel of land. Generally included are references to deeds, mortgages, wills, probate records, court litigations and tax sales—basically, any legal document that affects the property.

Property abstracts are considered good starting places for research on historical buildings, showing the names of all property owners, how long a particular holder owned it and the price of the land when it was sold.

Woodruff said that one of the most interesting abstracts she worked on mentioned a person who traded horses for some land. 

“It ended up going to court because the horses were stolen,” laughed Woodruff.  “The person was trying to get a deed for the land but it got thrown out of court because the horses were stolen.”

Woodruff purchased the historic business and the building in which it is still located in 1992.

“I remember right after we purchased the business we hosted Easter dinner. After we ate I informed my guests they were helping me move,” she recalls with a smile. “But Jerauld County Abstract hasn’t always been in that spot. It’s been around.”

A snapshot of Jerauld County Abstract’s history, taken from Jerauld County history books The Making of a Community and Footprints in Jerauld County follows: 

Mrs. Albert Gunderson was the first known abstracter in Wessington Springs. In 1889, her husband had acquired a half interest in the Jerauld County Bank building on Lot 17-Blk. 9. He thereupon placed a small building adjoining the bank at the rear, and in it Mrs. Gunderson opened the first abstract office. 

In 1897 both H. C. Wallace and O. J. Marshall advertised as abstracters, then late in 1906 Marshall and Alden Cutler organized the Jerauld County Abstract Company. 

Vessey and Steere advertised in 1910 as abstracters. Chas McDonald also advertised as in the abstract business in 1911. 

Fred N. Dunham’s abstract business was established in 1916. He operated the business until selling to Roland Cutler in 1951 after thirty-five years. Cutler had obtained his father Alden Cutler’s abstract company, Jerauld County Abstract. Upon consolidating the two companies, the Jerauld County Abstract Company became the only one in Jerauld County and Roland Cutler became the county’s only licensed abstracter. 

Cutler sold the abstract company to Monte Linafelter in 1971. Linafelter called the business Linafelter Abstract Company. The company was purchased by Ryland Moorman in 1979 and name was changed back to its original title, Jerauld County Abstract Company. 

In 1992 Eileen and Reed Woodruff purchased the Jerauld County Abstract Company, Inc. from Ryland and Onalee Moorman. Eileen trained, tested and became the county abstracter. 

Woodruff said that there was rarely a dull moment during her 26 years owning Jerauld County Abstract. 

“During research and compiling information you find some weird stuff,” she explained. “Once in awhile you come across something that can throw a person off and you have to have patience. Land is complicated.”

Woodruff said that in recent years, technology and the abstracting business has been changing, shifting from abstracting to title insurance. 

“Banks don’t want bulky abstracts anymore,” she said. “It’s expensive to build an abstract, about $1000 ”

After serving the county’s abstracting needs for 26 years, Woodruff says she is very pleased that the oldest business in town is being passed on to another Jerauld County resident.

As of last November it was official — Michelle Schimke took ownership of the business, now named Jerauld County Title Company. 

“I trained Michelle for much of last year,” said Woodruff. “When it comes down to real estate laws, legal descriptions and instruments used, there is a lot to it.” 

Woodruff said she will continue to be available if Schimke has any questions. “I’m still here to impart any information I’ve garnered in the last 26 years,” she said. 

The Wessington Springs native plans to continue volunteering at the museum and occasionally helping at  Shakespeare Garden. She said that cleaning out closets and exploring family genealogy also rank high on her to-do list as she enters retirement. 

“The best thing about owning my own business was being able to go to my kids’ activities as they grew up,” Woodruff remembers. “Now that I’m retired I look forward to spending more time with them again.” 

Prior to tying up a few abstracting loose ends this spring, Woodruff and husband Reed, who fully retired three years ago, spent February and March in Arizona, golfing and enjoying the walking pools at their winter home in Sun City. 

“We took our time and toured on the way down, including Roswell, NM where there were aliens all over the place,” she said, adding that they also stopped in Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands and caught a wild west show in Tombstone. “We always joked about heading south for the winter and finally were able to do it.”