Look Up, Deadwood! A Walking Tour of Deadwood, South Dakota
by Doug Gelbert
There is no better way to see America than on foot. And there is no better way to appreciate what you are looking at than with a walking tour. Whether you are preparing for a road trip or just out to look at your own town in a new way, a downloadable walking tour is ready to explore when you are.
Each walking tour describes historical and architectural landmarks and provides pictures to help out when those pesky street addresses are missing. Every tour also includes a quick primer on identifying architectural styles seen on American streets.
Tradition holds that Virginia City, one of the oldest established communities in Nevada, took its name from James Finney who was known as “Old Virginy.” Finney wasn’t even his name - he supposedly changed it from Fennimore after killing a man in his home state of Virginia. Virginia City sprang up virtually overnight after the discovery of the Comstock Lode, the first major silver strike in the United States, was revealed in 1859.
An expedition led by Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer in 1874 confirmed rumors of gold on the Sioux Reservation. Prospectors - and those looking to mine the pockets of the miners - descended on the Black Hills, although it was illegal to trespass on Indian lands. No one knows for sure who first found gold sparkling in his prospector’s pan in Whitewood Creek in Deadwood Gulch but Frank Bryant is generally given credit in August 1875. A sprawling community spread down the narrow gulch almost instantly. In fact Deadwood, named for the many fallen trees in the gulch, grew to its approximate current size within a few years of its founding.
The raucous mining town gained a national reputation for lawlessness, a badge of dishonor that hung around after it had morphed into a prosperous Victorian town. The rugged topography allowed for little new growth and as other towns developed into ranching centers or mining towns Deadwood became an urban oasis wrapped in a service economy. Some of those services smacked of the town’s upbringing - the last of Deadwood’s brothels did not shut down until 1980.
Deadwood has been plagued by floods and fires through its history. The worst conflagration broke out in a bakery on Sherman Street in the early morning hours of September 26, 1879. The fire spread quickly to Jensen and Bliss’s Hardware where it ignited eight kegs of gunpowder. The subsequent explosion caused the fire to sweep quickly through the town, destroying three hundred buildings and leaving two thousand homeless. All of the town’s founding buildings were obliterated. The streetscape of Deadwood today is studded with Victorian-style buildings raised in the ashes of that historic blaze, constructed with stone and brick and not vulnerable wood.
In 1961 the entire town was designated a National Historic Landmark and indeed it seemed as if Deadwood was slipping into an era of somnambulism. Interstate 90 bypassed it and there were more fires. In 1989 gambling was legalized in Deadwood, the first small community to turn to gaming revenues to maintain local historic qualities and the town became rejuvenated as a tourist destination. Our walking tour will work back and forth through the narrow gulch and we will begin not 100 yards from the spot where some miner filled that first prospecting pan with gold...
- Doug Gelbert, June 2012
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