Saturday, December 31, 2016

"The Beginnings of Black Hills Skiing" -- Paul Higbee

Paul Higbee presented the first 2017 program for the Spearfish Area Historical Society on Jan 3 at the Spearfish Senior Center.   The topic was "The Beginnings of Black Hills Skiing".

Paul Higbee presenting "The Beginnings of Black Hills Skiing"
It all started in 1938 when the Bald Mountain Ski Club was formed by a group of interested citizens.  The cost to join was $2.50 plus $1.00 per month.   The name was selected because the group thought that Bald Mountain had the best opportunity to provide skiing.  However, that same year, Bertha Stewart (Stewart Slope) donated a plot of land, mostly-treeless, on Terry Peak.  Homestake Gold Mine donated a long fat rope and an engine.  Bud Irish, a Homestake engineer, put up the first tow and Ken Keller, Homestake Attny., defined the first legal needs for the Terry Peak slope.   1938 was the same year that the Passion Play came to Spearfish and the same year that the first motorcycle rally came to Sturgis.  In 1942, Homestake donated the Terry Peak rope and engine to the WWII efforts, and the slope was shut down during the war.
Bart Trucano's collection of photos and history

In 1952, a private corporation was allowed in to build the ski lift on Terry Peak.  The last national competition was held in 1968 in a year when there was a lack of snow in other ski states but the Black Hills had great snow.  In the late 1960's Deer Mountain skiing was opened.  By the late 60's Terry Peak was making snow; this was enhanced in 1971-72 when a well was drilled to provide the water source for the snow machines.
Today, there are over 70 runs in the Black Hills on the two mountains and Black Hills skiing is known for its beautiful location and lower crowds where there is opportunity to make many runs, up to 50, in a single day.

Bart Trucano's vintage skiis

Local Spearfish Area Histoical Society
member, Bart Trucano, brought in a collection of ski photos and history along with a pair of vintage skiis.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Black Hills, Yesterday and Today - Paul Horstead

Paul Horsted describing his photography for Spearfish Area Historical Society on Dec 6, 2016
Paul Horstead, photographer, presented the Spearfish Area Historical Society program "Black Hills, Yesterday and Today" to over 70 people on a cold Dec 6 evening.

Paul described how he obtains old photos from many sources including museums, online, or individual contacts.  Then he searches the landscape to find the exact location that the old photo was taken and takes a new photo from the same spot.  He first finds the backdrop scenery and then searchs for the exact foreground.  For the Black Hills, his source of origin is mostly the 1874 Custer Expedition.  Paul described the expedition and its variety of people in the party including 995 enlisted men, 70 scouts, 5 press, 2 miners, 2 scientists, a female cook, a mapmaker and a photographer.  Lucky for us that the photographer, William Illingworth, a British photograper, had excellent camera equipment for the time and was skilled both in artistic photography and in use of the equipment and developing process (accomplished in a dark tent set up on site).

Paul's five books include four on the Black Hills and a new one titled "Yellowstone, Yesterday and Today".

Check out his website for more information

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

New Interpretive Center at Historic Homestake Opera House

Spearfish Area Historical Society and visitors in the Historic Homestake Opera House foyer -- Oct 30, 2016 

Forty-six members and visitors of the Spearfish Area Historical Society toured the Historic Homestake Opera House in Lead, SD on Sunday, Oct 30, 2016.  Sarah Carlson, Executive Director of the opera house talked of the history of the 24,000 sq ft structure built in 1914, and how the opera house has been involved with the northern Hills community ever since.  The group also toured the new Interpretive Center and was given a special tour of the swimming pool in the lower level.

Sarah Carlson, Executive Director of HHOH - Oct 30, 2016
The Homestake Opera House was built by Phoebe Hearst (mother of William Randolf Hearst) with the help of Homestake Mine superintendent, Thomas Grier.  The architectural firm was Shattuck and Hussey from Chicago and the original cost was $250,000.   The building included a 1,000 seat theater, a library, billiard hall, social rooms, a bowling alley and a heated pool.  Through the years the opera house was a venue for opera theatre, ballet, musical theater, concerts, dances, vaudeville shows, and eventually became a movie house with a shooting range in the basement.  On April 2, 1984 a fire collapsed the roof of the theater and destroyed the stage, theater and lobby and the building went dark for many years.  In the early 2000's the foyer and balcony foyer were restored to original glory, floor heating installed in the theater, 450 seats put in place, and modern bathrooms built.  Since then regular restoration and improvement projects have included:  cloak room, ladies lounge, men's smoking lounge, chandelier, and the original cherub angels re-set.  In 2016, an Interpretive Center museum of the history of the opera house was completed.

The tour was enjoyed by all, as our group spread out in the lovely environment.  Two ladies were chatting comfortably in the ladies lounge.  A group of seven at the back of the theater were laughing at stories.  Others were still on the tour of the swimming pool and we heard that some enjoyed a special tour of the furnace room.  Thanks Historic Homestake Opera House!      

Thursday, September 29, 2016

October Program - Vore Buffalo Jump with Ted Vore

The Spearfish Area Historical Society members visted the Vore Buffalo Jump off I-90 near Beulah, WY on Sunday October 2nd from 1-3pm.  In addition, Ted Vore and Jackie Wyatt presented the history of the Vore Buffalo Jump at 7:30pm on Oct 4th at the Spearfish Senior Citizen Center with 80 people attending.

The Buffalo Jump was used by Plains Indians from 1550 to 1770/1800 when horses and guns came into the Native Americans possesion.   From studies of the type of flint found and from the style of arrowheads found, the following tribes used the buffalo jump:  Crow, Cheyenne, Shoshone, and Kiowa or Kiowa/Apache.

Jackie Wyatt, Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation President
Ted Vore
On a good wet year in late fall, approximately 100 braves would herd the buffalo into the natural draw towards the jump site.  Some would disguise themselves as decoy buffalo.  At about 100 yards away, they would stampede the herd so that about 200 buffalo would fall into the drop-off.  Many buffalo would die with the fall or suffocation and the rest would be killed with an arrow to the rib cage puncturing the lungs.  This history was determined by scientific research at the Vore Buffalo Jump.  For instance, they know that there were 200 buffalo killed in a single jump by determining buffalo in a layer and then counting the number of a single unique bone found behind the neck.  

The site was discovered in 1969 during construction of I-90 on the Vore family ranch.  In 1989 it was deeded to Wyoming for education purposes in conjunction with the University of Wyoming.  However, it was never funded by the University of Wyoming.  It was given back to the Vore family in 2001 and is now owned and managed by the Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation.  7,000 visitors pay to see the site during tourist season which pays for the staff during the summer.  More information can be found on

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Rim Rock Lodge, Its History and Future

 Geoff Ziebart presented the program "Rim Rock Lodge, Its History and Future" to an audience of 95 people at the Spearfish Area Historical Society on Sept 6, 2016.  This was the kick-off program for the 2016-2017 season.
     The land in Spearfish Canyon where Rim Rock Lodge is located was initially a mining claim by Marcus Edgerton.  Marcus moved on from mining and became the first clothier in Spearfish.   Edgerton built a cabin on the site in 1919.   He sold the land and cabin to Margaret Bridge, Dean of Black Hills Normal, for $1 in 1932.
     Even though it was the middle of the Great Depression, Margaret immediately hired Fred W and Fred E Shields to build six cabins, a 3-story lodge and a restaurant on the site.  The Spearfish Canyon railroad was washed out by a flood that same year, but Margaret kept going, completing the construction in 1934.  She started a Boys & Girls Camp at Rim Rock in conjunction with another camp called Lapped Circle Ranch (location unknown).   Margaret was also known in the area for
holding birthday parties for 80 year olds at the cabin in Spearfish Park.  Margaret died in 1994 at age of 57.
    There have been many owners since:  Willard Crane in 1944, Donald Hair in 1948, Bruce Yarborough in 1952, Benjamin Sprecher in 1955, Esa Haataja in 1970, and Walt Ziebart in 1977.   In Feb 2015, Geoff and Lori Ziebart secured the family business and have done extensive renovation to the cabins and 6.25 acre property.   Rim Rock Lodge is open from mid-June to mid-Sept.  See more on their website
    When asked about any memories from Rim Rock Lodge, SAHS members recounted enjoyable stays at Rim Rock Lodge, the tasty pancakes and oatmeal cooked by Mrs. Ziebart, the mountain goats on the rimrock, and the 1950's square dancing by musician Glenn Yarborough.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Development of the Ampitheater - presenter Paul Higbee

Paul Higbee
Paul Higbee presented "The Development of the Ampitheatre" at the Lookout Ampitheater early evening on May 3, 2016.  Rand and Gayla Williams, current owners of the Lookout Ampitheater, graciously shared the site.  They opened the box office building for us to walk through and we all sat in the left side amphitheater seats with a beautiful view of Lookout Mountain.

The amphitheater was built in 1939 for the Black Hills Passion Play, with 6000 seats and the longest stage in the world.  Martin Thompson was the primary contractor.  The yellow color on the buildings was beneficial to good lighting.  The parking lot design to allow people to walk in at a level with the seating was ahead of ADA regulations by 30 years.

The Lookout Ampitheater full stage
But the story goes back before that when, in 1937, Josef Meier from Leunen, Germany performed his touring passion play in Sioux Falls.  That led to connections in the Black Hills, especially Guy Bell, a car salesman, who contacted Josef Meier to come to Spearfish and perform the passion play at Black Hills State College.  Josef Meier chose Spearfish to construct the stage on the site in 1939.  The first performance had an audience of 1,100.  There was no parking lot as people were expected to park around town and walk in.  The seating was pine planks, made by the Hargrave Sawmill.  Initially, there was no sound system and the actors had to fully project their voices.  A sound system was installed in the 1950's. Initially, there were no trees on the site, so the Garden of Gethesemane  and the Tomb were staged with cut trees.

During WWII, attendance dropped and the non-profit organization collapsed.  Walter Dickey offered an interest-free loan so that bills could be paid.  Instead of performing in Spearfish, the troupe took the passion play on the road to survive.   They returned to Spearfish in 1948 to begin a long run of performances three nights a week.

Audiences were often chilled from South Dakota cool nights or sometimes wet from rain.  The US Weather Bureau provided regular weather forecasts.  Motels offered Passion Play blankets.  The motels also had a concierge at the site for late-comers who still needed a place to stay.

Five to six million people attended the Passion Play before it closed August 2008.  

View of Lookout Mountain in May

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Two Spearfish Canyon Hydro Plants

Graphic of Hydro 1, south of Spearfish Park 
Paul Higbee shared the history of the "Two Spearfish Canyon Hydro Plants" to 125 people at the April 5, 2016 program for the Spearfish Area Historical Society.   
Paul Higbee speaking on "Two Spearfish Canyon  Hydro Plants"  

Hydro 1 in Spearfish
The first hydro-electric plant from Spearfish Canyon was started up 104 years ago on April 12, 1912.    Homestake Mining Company designed and built the water flow and hydro plant using its own capital without borrowing funds.  The new lower cost electrical power was to replace coal-fired steam power.  The plan was to divert water from Spearfish Creek in the canyon and send it directly to a new power plant in Spearfish.  Key people on the project were Thomas Greer and engineer, Capt. Richard Blackstone.  A dam was built at the diversion site at Maurice.  Eight tunnels were drilled 5 miles through the Spearfish Canyon rock.   The tunnel(s), at 6 ½' wide x 5' high with an arched ceiling, were coated with cement to become the conduit for the water diversion.   The tunnels narrowed towards the Spearfish end to increase water pressure as it came into Hydro Plant 1, located south of Spearfish Park.   From the dam at Maurice to the sand-pipes, the water drops 800 feet.  Drilling turned out to be easier than expected as the Spearfish Canyon rock was softer than the rock near Homestake's operations near Lead.  That advantage was countered by nature when a 1909 flood took out the railroad line in the canyon.

One of the two generators inside Hydro 1 in Spearfish
Hydro Plant 1 with two generators started up smoothly in 1912 but, by 1913, Homestead needed more power and another generator, so they designed a second plant directly in Spearfish Canyon (this is the dam and power plant that can be seen next to the highway about 6 miles up the canyon).  Man-made pipe conduit was installed through and along the canyon walls and Hydro Plant 2 was started up in 1918.  That start up caused Spearfish Falls, just below Latchstring Inn, to go dry. 

Both Hydro Plants operated through the 1934 year of dust storms.  In 1947, a Spearfish Canyon landslide damaged the conduit and Hydro Plant 2 was shut down.  The Hydro Plant 2 property was sold to SD Game, Fish and Parks.   In 2004, Homestake sold Hydro Plant 1 to the City of Spearfish.  The plant is still running and the power is sold to BH Energy.  Homestake re-channeled the water to Spearfish Falls in 1990.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Trucanos and Trojan

Bart Trucano at Spearfish Area Historical Society 3-1-2016
On March 1, 2016, Bart Trucano led over 80 members of the Spearfish Area Historical Society down the "Trucanos and Trojan" path of ancestry and stories.   Bart's great grandfather, Matteo Trucano, left a monastery in Italy as a young man to come to the Illinois coal fields.  His other great grandfather, Peitro Ciuretto, also came from Italy and moved to Terraville to work in the Terraville Mine where he was tragically killed by a blast in 1897.   The next generation, Bartholomeo Trucano and Mary Ciuretto Trucano, stayed away from the mines and became grocers in Lead.  Bartholomeo joined the Christopher Columbus Society, a club that advised and helped immigrants become naturalized.  Bartholomeo's naturalization papers were signed by Sol Starr and in 1915 he registered for the draft for WWI.
Early Day Open Cut Mining Black Hills Area
Trojan, SD approx 1918
Jim Ciuretto and Curt Hoselton delivering groceries

Some facts from the times:
-          A postcard in 1910 cost 1 cent to mail.
-          In 1914, miners who were in ill health went to Hot Springs for health treatments in the spa. 
-          The town of Trojan, west of Lead with a population of about 500, was originally named Greenmont then Portland, then Trojan.
-          In 1907, Homestake Mine changed the work hours for miners from 10 hours a day seven days a week to 8 hours a day seven days a week.  They

offered 6 days a week but the miners wanted to work Sundays.
-          Trojan Mining Co. eventually became Bald Mountain Mining Co.   It employed about 200 people.
-          Cyanide can lids were used around the area as insulation.
Aldo Trucano in center of group of people cross-country skiing in Trojan/Terry Peak Area 1927-1929