Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tour of New Interpretive Center at the 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 www.rimrocklodge.com.
    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

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Whitewood History and Homesteading Laws

Mary Livingston presented 'Whitewood History and Homesteading Laws' to an appreciative audience on a snowstorm evening on Feb 2, 2016 at the Spearfish Senior Citizens Center.

Whitewood History synopsis: 

     From 1877 on, the little settlement of Whitewood seem to have a few people a year build homes, but it was overshadowed by the busy Crook City just a mile south. Crook City was the intersection of the Ft. Pierre and the Bismark Trails where oxen drawn supply wagons stopped before making the long and arduous trip ‘up the mountain’ to the populated Black Hills mining towns of the late 1870s and 1880s.

     A man by the name of William Selbie, a railroad employee and Deadwood land speculator, seem to have an ‘ear’ of the ambitious Eastern railroad men who were looking to expand the rail lines into the West to ship western livestock and farm products to the large Eastern cities. Selbie began buying up water rights and land on the flat area just east of the then settlement of Whitewood. By 1887, Selbie had put together and sold a land package to the Pioneer Township Company who surveyed it into lots and, on Thanksgiving Day 1887, auction off the Whitewood Town Lots. The first train in the Northern Black Hills from the East pulled into Whitewood November 21, 1887. When modern day Whitewood was begun, Crook City knew the coming of the railroad to their neighboring city would spell their doom so they hitched mule teams to buildings in their town and pulled them into Whitewood and a new business district was formed overnight.

Whitewood Picnic Day 1912
This photo is from the Whitewood Library collection of Philip Bonniwell cars.   He was one of the first car dealers in the Hills.  He had a ranch at Slim Buttes, (the post office on his ranch was named Reva after his daughter.  Reva, South Dakota.) then moved into Whitewood and started a harness shop.   Very soon he built the Bonniwell Building with his Hardware store on the main floor and a dance Hall on the second floor (later known as the Golden Wheel Dance Halls).   When cars started coming into the Black Hills he started his dealership with a garage next door.    He was hired as the engineer to build a road from Whitewood to Deadwood for the 'new' auto traffic.
Whitewood, Dakota Territory 1888

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Furois Family of St. Onge

Bernadine Hansen
Maureen Glanzer

Lawrence Co. Special Centennial Newspaper Article 1998
Maureen Glanzer, Bernadine Hansen and Ed Furois share the story of their family history "The Furois Family of St Onge" with over 90 members of the Spearfish Area Historical Society on Jan 5, 2016.

Maureen started the story out with the Stanislas Furois family arriving from Canada in Deadwood in 1879 and moving to the False Bottom area.

Son, Adolphe, got a toothache and walked to Deadwood all night in the middle of the night to get to a dentist.  He decided after that to live in town, Deadwood and then St Onge.   At one point he cut wood from Crooked Oaks and peddled it door to door in Deadwood. Adolphe helped build the stone house in St Onge.
Stone House - St Onge

Adolphe's brother, Achille Furois, was a fiddle player and a ladies man and at one time met Belle Star of western fame.  He built a hotel in St Onge and named it the Star Hotel.

Adolphe and his family managed the only general store in St Onge.  His son, Charles L Furois took up as manager and the store stayed in the family into the 1940s and 1950s.

General Store advertisement

General Store Ledger

Ed Furois

Ed Furois told the story of his father, Charles, waking him up at 4am to accompany him to the St Onge Cemetery where they took down the fence separating the Catholic and Protestants buried there.   Later, in the General Store, a patron came in announcing that the "Fence in the cemetery was gone!" and Charles nonchalantly commented "Is that so?"