WAGNER — Paul and Lisa Schoenfelder are building their life out in the country.
And they’re sharing it, one bed and breakfast stay and glass of beer at a time.
On this land near Wagner that has been in the family since 1896, the Schoenfelders have created two businesses: Sip Homestead Farms Bed and Breakfast and Choteau Creek Brewing Company. Making the most of the land and creating community is what the couple says they’re all about.
“We want to come here and build a life,” Paul said. “That’s what we want to do and this is where we want to live. A brewery is part of that process, a bed and breakfast is part of that process. And really the next step is how do we share that with people?”
Paul and Lisa, each 54, moved back to Wagner from Idaho a few years ago with the intent of building a life on the farm, as they call it. That has included all kinds of dreams, starting with a bed and breakfast and evolving to a brewery.
The homestead is off a gravel road, 1 mile north of the junction of State Highways 46 and 50, and about 8 miles east of Wagner. They are the fifth generation of the Sip family to live on that land.
The cornerstone of the property is a log building that the family believes dates back to the 1880s, with the family history indicating it was built as a train way station. The rest of the house is a typical ranch-style house but is built around this log structure that is now the living room. They spent a year-and-a-half renovating the house as they moved into it.
“It’s been standing all this time,” Paul said of the log room. “Obviously, we’ve made some changes to it but it’s the same building that was there 130 years ago.”
The bed and breakfast has been the first part of the Schoenfelders’ experience to take off. Before the house fell into disrepair over the last 15 years, Lisa’s father, Vernon Sip, had rented the house out and used it for hunters coming to the area. Lisa experimented with having a few hunters stay there and got good reviews, leading to the efforts to become a licensed B&B. This month, more hunters are using the home, including one that stayed there a couple decades ago.
“From my perspective, when I was growing up as a little girl, this homestead meant everything to me,” Lisa said. “I like history and it just meant everything to me here. … This entire project is about getting back to basics.”
A home with history
Some of the property’s history is haunting. In February 1897, Lisa’s great-great uncle, Frank Sip III and his wife, Anna, had just moved to the property after marrying four months before. They were then robbed and murdered by Charles Basl on Feb. 15, 1897.
Family history and published reports are conflicting about what happened after that. Newspaper reports from that time indicate that Basl committed suicide, while the family believes that part of the Sip family might have killed Basl in retaliation.
Lisa says the theory is that the killer was spotted in Tyndall and members of the Sip family around Tyndall formed a posse and chased down the man and killed him. Concerned that they might be in trouble for killing a man, half of the Sip family fled to Minnesota. Lisa said that eight years ago, she formed a reunion with descendants of the family and the Minnesota half had never met the Sips from South Dakota.
“It’s an intriguing family story,” she said.
From then on, great-grandfather Josef Sip lived in the house until about 1910. After his death, grandfather John Sip took over living in the house until around 1965, when Lisa’s father Vernon Sip lived in the house for about 20 years before moving off the farm, and renting out the house. From then, the state of the house diminished from there. Paul said, sitting vacant for about 10 years.
“And we had people say, well you probably should have just bulldozed it and started from scratch,” Paul said. “That was something we really didn’t want to do. We wanted to come back and contribute and make something out of it.”
The family knew the original logs were intact, but were covered for many years by plaster and wallpaper. Paul jokes that the log cabin living room is likely the most level and structurally sound part of the house, which also has a wraparound porch and a firepit.
It took convincing from Lisa to Paul to turn their home into a bed and breakfast but the couple has embraced it. The home has three bedrooms available and can sleep up to eight people when they rent out the whole house.
“It just fits with what we’re trying to do here, sharing what we have with others,” Paul said.
As a business, the Schoenfelders are finding their niches. They’ve had great success with Harvest Host, a program that provides members with self-contained RVs a camping site at wineries, breweries and farms. (Members pay a $79 annual membership, allowing them to stay at a specific site for free.) Nearly 40 reservations at the homestead this year have been through that program, the Schoenfelders said.
They’re also on Airbnb, where they’ve gotten good reviews, and where having an on-site brewery is a plus. They've also benefitted from COVID-19, where people are looking for a secluded location where they can spread out.
“We usually tell people that if they’re on the gravel road and they think they’re lost, they’re usually pretty close,” Lisa said.
Brewing on the farm
Prior to moving back to South Dakota, Paul Schoenfelder made his career running recreation programs in Boise, Idaho. But brewing is now his business.
His children purchased a homebrewing kit for him about 25 years ago and Schoenfelder has been into craft beer ever since, becoming a certified beer judge and taster. Even as breweries are making a comeback in Sioux Falls and in the Black Hills, he views this portion of the state as having untapped potential with craft beer.
An economic development study done a few years ago showed Wagner had the potential to support a brewery and Paul said he considered opening it in town. But having everything on one site and being able to bike across the yard eventually won out, he joked. The Choteau Creek name comes from the nearby creek that winds through the Wagner area and eventually reaches the Missouri River.
The brewery is specializing in Belgian beers, in part because some of Lisa’s ancestors are from Belgium and Paul has developed an affinity for brewing them. For now, the signature beer is a saison farmhouse ale called 54 Paces — named for the number of steps between the brewhouse building and the bed and breakfast and Schoenfelder’s home. They have other regional craft beers on tap, and hope to eventually increase production enough to distribute kegs to local bars and restaurants in the Mitchell, Sioux Falls and Yankton areas.
“We’re looking to grow into it,” he said. “We think it’s going to slowly build.”
The brewhouse includes a bar, a roll-up window to an outdoor patio, brewing equipment, a large cooler, and a commercial-sized kitchen. Earlier this fall, they hosted an Oktoberfest celebration and had German food, including a sauerkraut and sausage pizza, with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.
The Schoenfelders want to make the commercial kitchen available to local producers who might want to upscale their production for items such as canned goods.
The brewery’s normal hours include being open on Thursday and Friday nights and from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
And it’s possible the Schoenfelders won’t stop there. Lisa says that family lore says her ancestors made root beer, something she would like to serve at the brewery. It’s all part of the experience, she said, which so far has gotten good reviews.
“I think it’s the food and beer and the hospitality we offer,” Lisa said. “It’s a good atmosphere. We have some of everything.”