- [Announcer] This is a production of South Dakota Public Broadcasting.
(gentle music) - [Larry] In the summer of 1874, troops in Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer's Black Hills Expedition discovered gold flakes while panning along French Creek.
The following year, a scientific expedition confirmed the presence of gold, and soon after, the rush was on.
The first gold discoveries in Lead were made along Gold Run Creek.
By the way, originally founded as Lead City, the name was shortened to Lead in 1876.
The same year, brothers Fred and Moses Manuel found a promising vein of ore near what is now the Open Cut.
A year later, George Hearst bought the Homestake claim for $70,000.
By 1879, the mine was listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Aside from a hiatus during World War II, the Homestake Mine operated continuously for 126 years.
It produced over 41 million ounces of gold.
When mining operations ceased in 2002, Homestake was the deepest gold mine in the Western hemisphere.
The success of Homestake drove the development of Lead, and the growth was rapid.
There were nearly 1,500 residents by 1880.
The turn of the century census was over 6,000.
And in the early 1900s, Lead was South Dakota's second largest city.
And over the last 20 years, scientific exploration has replaced mining.
At the Sanford Underground Research Facility, the deep shafts blasted into the earth in search of gold are now the setting for scientific research.
As Homestake historian Steven Mitchell calls it, nuggets to neutrinos.
But Lead's mining history is as inescapable as the gigantic Open Cut.
Welcome to "Dakota Life," and greetings from Lead.
(bright music) - [Announcer] This program is made possible with support from our members, and by the historic Homestake Opera House.
The Jewel of the Black Hills has been a gateway to arts and culture for the Lead community since 1914.
Still in recovery from a fire in 1984, the Homestake Opera House continues to provide facilities for the enrichment of our citizens and community by providing art, culture, and educational opportunities for generations to come.
And by Black Hills Energy.
Ever since the first lights lit up the night in Deadwood 140 years ago, Black Hills Energy has been proudly serving customers safe and reliable energy.
Learn about how Black Hills Energy continues to fuel growth in communities and comfort in homes at BlackHillsEnergy.com.
- The Black Hills Mining Museum gives you a glimpse into the working lives of generations of miners.
It takes you from working the mine by candlelight and moving broken rock with mules, to the era of modern, state-of-the-art pneumatic tools.
As the Homestake Mine expanded underground, upper Lead not only grew, but it also moved.
In 1919, downtown Lead was sinking.
The mine shafts that were dug directly beneath the city center were causing it to subside.
Over the next 20 years, the town center was relocated to a safe distance from the Open Cut, and the grid work of tunnels beneath it.
Many of the landmarks on Lead's historic Main Street date back to this era.
The Art Deco City Hall was built by the WPA in 1937.
The Highland Hotel, now known as the Motherlode, was built in 1928, and had 40 guest rooms.
The historic post office was built out of Hot Springs sandstone.
In its early years, Lead was an open town, not unlike neighboring Deadwood.
There were brothels, opium dens and saloons.
But as the Homestake dug deeper into the earth, miners with stable jobs put down roots, and Lead became more associated with working miners, rather than the likes of Wild Bill Hickock or Calamity Jane.
In 1954, the Black Hills Chairlift Company began shuttling skiers to the summit of Terry Peak.
It was fuel for Lead's growing tourist industry, and establishing it as the gateway to the Northern Hills.
Coming up, the preservation of history in Lead, as represented by the many unique homes you find here.
The resurrection of the Opera House, known as the Jewel of the Black Hills.
And we'll hit the slopes with the ski patrol.
But first, we'll take you to Lead's annual Winterfest celebration to ask the question, what makes Lead Lead?
(sled clattering) (spectators laughing and cheering) - [Brian] Lead's annual Winterfest seems to get everybody in town out of the house and into the cold, fresh, mile-high air.
London Ackerman is one of the dozens of kids enjoying this singular experience of sledding on a closed city street.
Her dad's girlfriend, Liz Frith, is on hand to record a memory that London might well have forever.
- Lead is eclectic.
Lead is unique.
- [Brian] How so?
- Lead has some things in this little town that no other little town has, like a mining museum, and a sledding hill in the middle of the street.
Lead has some really strong-hearted people that come together as a community to help each other out.
- [Brian] Less than a mile away, riders about to compete in a fat-tire bike race gather at Lead's Mickelson Trail Trailhead.
Matt Ackerman owns a bike rental shop, and organized the race.
- [Matt] Thank you.
- [Racer] Thank you.
- Well, thank you for showing up, so give yourselves a round of applause.
- [Brian] Ackerman has his own take on what makes Lead Lead.
- Lead to me is the blue-collar worker, always has been.
The miners were here, they were down in that hole working for 130 years, you know.
And Lead has that blue-collar drive, and that's why I'm here, 'cause I don't pretend to be anybody I'm not.
I've always worked hard my whole life.
And these are good people up here, and I fit right in with them.
- [Brian] That 130-year way of life came to a full stop when the Homestake Mine closed in 2002.
- So the loss of Homestake was a very big loss in terms of people's sentiments, nostalgia, pride.
And so it took the town quite a long time to overcome that loss.
I'd argue that there's still people today feeling that too.
- [Brian] A lot of people left Lead.
But those who stayed behind began looking at a brighter future after the Sanford Underground Research Facility took over the Homestake Mine in 2006.
New jobs, new people.
- There are actually quite a few, whether it's laborers or scientists, they live, work and play in Lead, specifically.
And I think there's a lot of them that have embraced the town 100%.
- [Brian] That tight embrace has had an impact, especially on housing.
- Housing, currently, is a challenge.
If you're looking for a house, let's say you're a first-time home buyer, it's 100% a challenge.
Whether it's in your price range, or if it's dilapidated and needs help.
I think that if you're in a higher price point, it's not a challenge.
- [Brian] But the competition for housing isn't just because some new people moved here for work.
A lot of people just love living here.
- I would say Lead is a feeling.
A sense of community.
Lead is snow.
Lead is the aromatic pine.
Cooking in the sun, you can smell in the summer.
I also want Lead to keep remaining, to be a welcoming community, that's open arms to the melting pot of the world.
I think that's what we came from, where we are today.
What I want Lead to be in the future is more driven towards economic opportunities for families.
- [Brian] It's working for Matt Ackerman.
He recently moved his bike and outdoor equipment rental business from Deadwood to Lead.
- I think the Lead wants to stay true to its small-town roots, you know?
Everybody knows everybody.
Your neighbors are always willing to give a helping hand.
I think they want to grow, but at the same time maintain that small-town feel and attitude.
Neighbors helping neighbors.
- [Brian] One other thing that makes Lead Lead, the annual Winterfest fireworks show over the town's iconic Open Cut.
Only in Lead.
- Aspire Boutique on West Main Street is housed in the historic Finnish Lutheran Church, built in 1891.
There are a few interesting details, like matching circular windows on either side of the nave, and an open belfry, topped with an octagonal roof.
The congregation built a new church in 1962, so the Women's Club of Lead purchased the original building, converted it to an art gallery, and the building was moved to a new location near the Open Cut.
In 1993, it was moved to its present location, and has a new life as a boutique.
Migrants from Finland were part of Lead's diverse ethnic mix, along with Cornish, German, Italian, Slavic, Scotch and Scandinavian communities, all bringing their mining skills and their cultures to the Homestake and Lead.
And there's a new cultural mix in the scientists that have taken over the mine, as the Sanford Underground Research Facility.
History also thrives here, thanks to the efforts of volunteers, homeowners, and city employees who value Lead's historic properties, like these recently restored historic homes.
- [Lura] This is awesome.
It's past brought Tom Johnson and Gail Parfry to Lead.
- Lead has this interesting history, this mining town history that really goes back to the heart and soul of what the mining industry was all about.
And of course, the Homestake Gold Mine, et cetera.
So it was sort of that edge of history that really brought us to Lead.
- [Lura] And together with their contractor, David Gockel, this couple from Buffalo, South Dakota joined a growing number of Lead residents working to preserve this mining town's history by restoring its historic properties.
In their case, the Cotton House.
- This house is pretty iconic as far as the history of Lead.
You know, James Cotton went on to own much of the business on Main Street, so he was a very important figure in the history of Lead.
And his presence in this town, whether people understand it or not, has made Lead what it has been and what it is now.
- [Lura] Like most of Lead's historic figures, James Cotton started out working for the Homestake Mining Company.
Then, the immigrant from Cornwall, England left the mine to open a whiskey distillery.
The elegant, Georgian Victorian brick home he built on the corner of Julius and Paul was a testament to his success.
But time was not kind to the Cotton House.
- We looked it over and just decided that it was too much of a money pit, that we weren't going to do it, so we said no.
- [Lura] So what does a money pit look like?
A brick shell, missing floors, and bare stud walls.
The 120-year-old Cotton House was in such a state of disrepair that the owner deeded it to the City of Lead, and Tom and Gail eventually bought the home at public auction for $30,000.
Then, they painstakingly restored the property to its original grandeur.
Fortunately, the original doors and some ornately carved decorative woodwork did remain.
For the rest of the home, they had to find craftsmen to create replicas of the historic moldings.
They invested more than $100,000 in custom windows alone.
Today the Cotton House is grand once again.
And its neighbor, the Stewart House, has also been restored.
Preserving Lead's historic properties is a positive trend.
- When I first started at Lead, I had 30 houses on my list that probably needed to go away.
They were gonna be condemned.
Now I have none, because people come in and are buying these houses, and they fix them up.
- [Lura] The Homestake Mine that built Lead is also the reason many of its historic properties have disappeared.
- [Dennis] One time was in the early 1900s, where the subsidence of the mine where the underground tunnels and the open stokes were caving in, and they had to move a lot of the town, and a lot of buildings disappeared then.
And then in 1982, or right around in there, when the Open Cut expanded, we lost a city park, and we lost quite a few buildings and residents then too, from the expansion of the Open Cut.
- [Lura] When the Open Cut Mine expanded, 130 historic properties were lost.
Today, preserving Lead's historic properties is truly a citizen-led effort.
- Residents have to decide that.
The residents have to come forward and say, "We wanna save this.
We wanna make this work."
- [Lura] The Lead Historic Preservation Commission is a citizen-led board of volunteers who provide education, resources and encouragement to historic property owners who want to preserve Lead's important history.
Homeowners like Tom Johnson and Gail Parfry, who restored the Cotton House.
- We're just thrilled to pieces that people have taken a home that could have been demolished or bulldozed, and they took it under their wings and they're little pride and joys.
- [Lura] By the way, when the City of Lead auctioned the Cotton House in 2018, the proceeds of the sale went to Lead Historic Preservation Commission to aid in preservation efforts.
- The residents of Lead have made extraordinary efforts to preserve the community's architectural and cultural heritage.
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the Lead Historic District is also comprised of commercial buildings, along with beautiful historic homes.
If there was one building that was the cultural nerve center to Lead, it was the Homestake Opera House.
Now, I say was, but it's still here.
You see, it's complicated.
Lead began as a company town.
The company was Homestake Mine, owned by the Hearst family.
In 1914, Phoebe Hearst, the wife of Homestake majority owner George Hearst, built the Opera House as a gift to the community.
In addition to the 1,000-seat theater, the facilities included a billiards hall, bowling alley, library, heated swimming pool, and free kindergarten.
But our story isn't as much about what was, it's more about what is hoped to be in the future.
If you were here up until the 1980s, you saw the original facility.
But in 1984, the Homestake Opera House burned.
- [Ken] I got a call saying the Opera House was on fire.
And I don't know how you found out about it.
- I think you called me, actually.
- Did I call you?
- I think you called me, yes.
- And I know we met in a parking lot on the street, and we watched it burn for a while.
- [Jacque] We thought the fire was out.
Do you remember that?
- [Ken] Mm hmm.
- [Jacque] We thought that they had gotten it, and we went up there, and then the roof caved in.
- We were optimistic, and we were talking about the future the day after the fire.
We were talking about not restoring the Opera House, but at least saving the structure and doing something with it.
- [Larry] But it took nearly a decade for restoration to get going, and piece by piece, they've continued ever since.
- We have been slowed, but we've never totally been stopped.
We have just kept moving forward.
- [Larry] Jacque Fuller was chair of the early restoration effort, and credit's former Governor Bill Janklow for helping to get things rolling.
- He had first given us a small grant.
And I said, "But I really want you to see the building."
And he said, "I'm giving you the grant so I don't have to see the building."
(laughs) But when I finally got him through it was when he was here because of the lab announcements.
And I got him to come in and I was giving him a tour, and he said, "You'll never do it.
How much do you need now?
How much money do you need now?"
And I said what it was.
And he said, "Oh, you'll never do it."
We got into the theater.
He started looking around, and he said, "Now, when you're finished with this, I don't think you should limit the use.
You know that kids who are involved in the arts do better in school?
Do you know that adults who are seniors who are involved in the arts have less Alzheimer's?"
He said, "You shouldn't limit the use."
And then he looked at the man next to him, and he said, "You should write a check for this."
(laughs) So he became a fan of what we were doing, and I'll be forever grateful.
- [Larry] Fundraising and restoration efforts do continue, but the building is back in use.
- When I book a show, when I have an artist who's ready to come, they know enough that they know they want to come perform here, and then I start to tell them all the things that I'm not going to be able to do, and then we find out how willing they are.
And every time, even if it leads to some technical issues as we're getting the show up, even if there's hiccups along the way, everyone says, "Yes, I still want to come."
- [Larry] In January 2023, a $4 million fundraising goal was announced to the public, with hopes of completing the restoration.
- Originally, right out this door to the side was the free kindergarten, also given to the community by Phoebe Hearst.
We work off of that foundation.
Where a children's theater program anywhere else might cost you $250 to get your kid into it, ours is free.
We do everything we can to keep the barriers to the arts low so that everyone in the community can enjoy it.
That tends to resonate.
They see that we're not just saying, "Hey, it's a cool building.
Let's get it back."
Because it is a cool building, and we do want it back, but it's also real people, in the here and now, building off of this amazing historical foundation, and trying to bring it into the future and make a future for Lead.
- [Larry] Whether the future includes a fully-restored Opera House remains to be seen, but there is a passion to complete the Jewel of the Black Hills.
- I think it's just perseverance.
You know, Lead is a town that is... Work is important.
And just staying at it, and I think that that... And young people, when they come in, can look at our staff, you know, they're all young.
- Hey, I have a passion for really cool buildings, and we have a lot of great theaters in South Dakota, but this is one of a kind.
This is its own thing.
And even in its current state, you know, people can't believe what they see here.
- As the fundraising continues, it's hoped that the campaign will be a model for how to rescue an historic property.
One more thing about the Opera House.
A few years after opening in 1914, the Spanish Flu epidemic struck Lead.
The Opera House was used as an overflow hospital.
And of all of the patients treated in the building, only one didn't survive.
It was a young man named Eric.
Now, ever since 1919, the ghost of Eric is blamed for playing good-natured pranks on the staff working in the theater late at night.
Now, back at the mine.
After 126 years of operation, Homestake's closure could have been economically disastrous for the area.
But even before mining ceased, there were talks to convert it to a place dedicated to physics research.
Some research began in the 1960s.
That's when Dr. Ray Davis started a solar neutrino experiment at the mine's 4,850 foot level.
His research led to greater understanding of neutrino physics.
And in 2002, Davis received the Nobel Prize in physics.
Now, about that same time, Homestake's deep, underground world was being established as a prime site for scientific research.
After considerable cleanup, the mine was donated, and the state entered into a partnership with the National Science Foundation.
Now today, the Sanford Underground Research Facility is operated as a partnership between the Department of Energy and the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority.
Known by its initials as the SURF, the facility hosts the world's most sensitive dark matter detector, and many other experiments.
Once again, Lead's underground lures people from around the world.
But nowadays, the newcomers are mostly scientists.
Now, back above ground.
Way above ground, to the top of Terry Peak.
We're going to introduce you to a man who found a very different way to make a living.
Jacques Dupret grew up in France.
He learned to ski in the Alps, and now he works at Terry Peak.
Falling in love with a South Dakotan brought him to the Mount Rushmore state, and while it's different than his home country, the winter vibes do make him feel right at home.
- [Jacques] The ski patrol team is a real family here.
- No, that's okay.
- I know places in big mountains, there is a lot of testosterone going on in that kind of team.
We are family.
We all do our job, and we are all trained the same way.
And it's such a close family that yeah, it was easy to be doing that for 18 years.
My name is Jacques Dupret.
I have been a ski patroller here at Terry Peak for the last 18 years.
(gentle music) So I was born in France, obviously, and I met my wife, who is from here, from South Dakota.
Met her 25 years ago.
We got married 22 years ago, and so I moved in the US.
We lived in Minneapolis for four years.
Life in Minneapolis was pretty good, but I was living in the Alps before coming in the US, the French Alps, and so I was missing the ski industry, the mountains.
So we decided to check out different places in the US, and we ended up being here for, I guess, multiple reasons.
But the location of Terry Peak, closer to an airport big enough for her to do her job, she travels a lot.
So it was a good match, definitely.
After all of those years of skiing big mountains, I became better, and it was the time here to be able to apply for that kind of job.
And actually, being here in America made me achieve the dream of a young boy that I had.
Look at what Terry Peak makes me do.
(ladder clanking) You ready?
(radio beeping) - [Dispatcher] Do I have somebody that is available to escort the- - Obviously, we need to have this mountain as safe as possible for the public.
So every morning we come early, and we start our day before everybody else, and we prepare the mountain.
We make sure that all the slopes are safe and sound, well groomed.
If a tree fell during the night, we have to take care of that before opening the mountain.
If there is any hazard on the mountain, we need to take care of that.
And so at 9:00, people come, and we are there.
We check traffic.
If it's very busy, we have different places on the mountain where we stand and look at traffic, and maybe talk to people if it is necessary to do it.
And then another part of the operation is to respond to anything that can happen.
I am 63 years old.
I'm thinking about retirement, actually, and doing maybe something else.
And enjoy the mountain, right?
I will be here, definitely.
I will ski Terry Peak, and I will enjoy it.
And it's my mountain now, you know?
I live in Sturgis, and that's the mountain that is close to us, and it's such a great place.
- Throughout most of the Black Hills, the Gold Rush, spurred by the Custer Expedition, spawned short-lived camps and settlements.
Many of them, like Maitland or Spokane, are now forgotten ghost towns.
The Homestake though, sunk its roots deep.
Deep mine shafts into the earth, deeper than any mine in the Americas.
Over the course of the next 126 years, the miners of Lead extracted enough gold to make a couple hundred million wedding bands, give or take.
The miners' success bankrolled a scenic, bustling mountain boomtown.
Miners brought their expertise, their lifestyle, and their traditions from a world away, right here to the Black Hills.
Years after the boom, the residents have painstakingly preserved that historical mix.
In fact, in the last 20 years, Lead's economic focus has shifted from nuggets to neutrinos.
But as before, much of that action remains underground.
Above ground, you don't need a microscope to see the beauty of the Northern Hills, or the buildings and the lifestyle that the residents of Lead have accumulated over the past century they now painstakingly preserve for the future.
You can revisit our stories about Lead and all of the other communities we visit at sdpb.org/dakotalife.
Thanks for coming along with us.
I'm Larry Rohrer.
For all of us at SDPB, thanks for watching.