Calling the American West "Home"
In Going Home, the faces behind CIRCA share our personal stories of the old houses and historic places that have shaped our lives. Today, Cristiana shares her thoughts on her home in the Black Hills of South Dakota. As an added bonus, we’ve thrown in some old houses for sale around the area! (Photo above shows the City of Deadwood c. 1900, and is courtesy of the Library of Congress.)
Setting: Home improvement store, Midwestern U.S., holiday time. Me: “He wished me luck! He said he didn’t have the part we need but actually wished me luck finding it somewhere else … PEOPLE HERE ARE SO NICE!” Stereotype though it may be, city folk can be a bit … direct. Exceedingly so. Having been in New York, now, for 7+ years, I’ve become more fluent in the language of gruff shopkeepers (“harumph” = we may have that item you need, but I’m too engrossed in reading my horoscope to acknowledge your existence). So it’s an annual tradition of mine, whenever I experience a bit of Midwestern hospitality, to be overcome by a Mayberry-type admiration for “home”: the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The long drive home for the holidays.
In the typical — and naive — child’s fashion, it took me leaving home to realize what a special place the Black Hills region is. I left South Dakota when I was 18, trekking eastward for college, then grad school and, now, life in New York City. But every year, in December, I venture back home for the holidays. This year, our 10-day vacation provided ample time to re-discover Rapid City, the region’s anchor and state’s second-largest city, along with the gorgeous northern hills.
Downtown Rapid City still maintains the charm of its mercantile roots. As the gateway to the Black Hills, where dreams of striking it rich in gold mining were the norm, Rapid (we locals drop the City … too cumbersome *wink*) was a town of trade and commerce.
The Clower Building in downtown Rapid City.
The Clower Building houses Prairie Edge, which specializes in artisanal goods made by and celebrating the culture of the Lakota Sioux Indian tribe, and features architectural flourishes to enhance the humble brick foundations and out-of-the-way locale.
The Clock Shop Building with its iconic onion dome.
The former Clock Shop building, with its onion dome, exemplifies this tactic. You can imagine how fanciful this seemed to me as a kiddo! And the historic Hotel Alex Johnson reigns over the scene as the second tallest building in downtown (at a whopping 10 stories). Oh, and did I mentioned it’s haunted? No visit home is complete without a drive up West Boulevard, which became the desirable address in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the historic homes lining the drive still impress.
Talk of South Dakota and the “Wild West” town of Deadwood inevitably enters the conversation. The northern Black Hills set the scene for an incredible gold rush that only recently came to a close (the Homestake Gold Mine was exhausted in 2002 and now houses underground laboratories for testing black matter, or something equally scientifically impressive!).
Infamous personalities like Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane tread the streets of Deadwood, which quickly gained a reputation of western lawlessness.
As the gold was pulled from the streams with pans and extracted from the mine, Deadwood and neighboring Lead slowly grew. Only ever to a certain point, though, as many gold-hungry explorers came for brief stints to make their fortunes and then returned from whence they came. The mining and engineering legacy of the Black Hills lives strong in the local university, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.
Also a university town, Spearfish can be found just a stone’s throw further West of Deadwood. It’s proximity to the history of Lead/Deadwood — not to mention wintersports — make it a popular and growing destination. Black Hills State University regularly graduates strong classes of educators (like my Mom!) and communications majors (radio and TV alike).
I’m a happy snowbunny at Terry Peak Ski Area.
No virtual visit of the Black Hills — or South Dakota, for that matter — would be complete without two monumental attractions: Mount Rushmore and the Badlands! The former is that herculean undertaking of carving the heads of four American Presidents (can you guess which ones? Without Google’ing it!) into the hard granite of the Black Hills. Seventeen miles to the south, Crazy Horse Monument (still a work-in-progress) was a direct response to Mount Rushmore’s creation. And Black Hills-adjacent can be found the otherworldly landscape of the Badlands (or the “mini Grand Canyon,” as I like to call them). The National Park is considered one of the world’s richest fossil beds. The largest and most complete T-Rex fossil ever found — lovingly named Sue — now residing in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, was discovered in the geological deposits of the Badlands.
As beautiful as the Black Hills are with a dusting of snow, exploring during the spring and summer is requisite. Driving through Custer State Park and seeing the buffalo and other wild species in their habitat takes my breath away, each and every time. Not to mention the gorgeous natural scenery of the Needles Highway and Sylvan Lake. And for those who like their diversions clad in leather and fueled by gasoline, there’s the world famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, every August.
OLD HOUSES FOR SALE IN THE BLACK HILLS:
907 Fulton Street, Rapid City, c. 1919. $287,500.
1021 Quincy Street, Rapid City, c. 1889. $465,000.
12154 Elenbecker Road, Custer, c. 1920. $559,000.
12154 Elenbecker Road, Custer (alternate view), c. 1920. $559,000.
815 State Street, Spearfish, c. 1931. $590,000. This one is on the National Register of Historic Places.
8 Shine Street, Deadwood, c. 1900. $389,000.
340 E Main Street, Lead, c. 1910. $45,000.
1105 Saint Joseph Street, Rapid City, c. 1909. $189,900.
21179 Lookout Trail, Lead, c. 1932. $385,000.
624 Sunnyhill Road, Lead, c. 1935. $389,500.
624 Sunnyhill Road, Lead (interior – I’ll take that view!), c. 1935. $389,500.
147 N 3rd St, Custer, c. 1922. $192,000.
12509 Hazelrodt Cutoff, Custer, c. 1940. $499,000.
Alternate view of 12509 Hazelrodt Cutoff, Custer, c. 1940. $499,000.
27 Stewart Street, Deadwood, c. 1895. $235,000.
131 S Galena Street, Lead, c. 1900. $99,900 (foreclosure).
42 & 41 Denver Street, Deadwood, c. 1885. $200,000.
15 Washington Street, Deadwood, c. 1903. $219,900.
7 Stewart Street, Deadwood, c. 1910. $134,000.
35 Centennial Drive, Custer, c. 1891. $329,900.
35 Centennial Drive, Custer (overhead view), c. 1891. $329,900.
231 Quincy Street, Rapid City, c. 1909. $136,750.
735 N 8th Street, Spearfish, c. 1930. $259,900.
735 N 8th Street, Spearfish, c. 1930 (adjacent building also included). $259,900.
735 N 8th Street, Spearfish (mantel alert!), c. 1930. $259,900.
AUTHOR CRISTIANA PEÑA
Cristiana is CIRCA’s social media butterfly. A Midwest transplant, she traded the prairies of South Dakota for the architecture of New York City and the history of the East Coast. By day, she spearheads the work of the Woodlawn Conservancy, a non-profit committed to sharing the architecture and resources of the historic Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. By night, she freelances in new media projects, lending her expertise in leveraging the social web to broadcast an organization’s message.