Handiman Special? Throughout the black hills there are many
ghost town sites. Most are poorly preserved with only a
foundation or two still visable. A few however such as Spokane, near
the junction of Iron Mountain and Playhouse roads, still have buildings
standing. This fixer-upper is on state land and is not for sale. Sorry,
Ghost Town Hunting
The first Europeans in the Black Hills were
gold seekers, followed in very short order by saloon keepers, madams,
gamblers, gunmen, assayers, storekeepers and (Who would have guessed
it?) lawyers. Within two years every inch of the hills had been
prospected and all the promising lodes had been claimed. Within the
next few years the biggest commercial mines were already in operation
and a boom that lasted for nearly 25 years was underway.
The year was 1876.
Towns and mines appeared in almost every valley and draw, but the main
mining districts were located roughly within a rectangle bounded by
Deadwood in the northeast and Custer in the southwest. These included
Deadwood/Lead, Keystone, Hill City, Tinton, Rochford, Galena and points
between. However within a few years almost all of the gold mining was
in the northern hills where it continued almost to the present day.
Gold was not the only ore sought by miners. In fact, a whole range of
minerals has been mined in the Black Hills, notably tin, coal, uranium,
feldspar, mica and lithium, among others.
Between 1876 and about 1930, more than 400
towns and an untold number of mines appeared and disappeared in the
Black Hills. Almost all are now ghost towns and ghost mines. Some, such
as Cambria in Wyoming, just north of Newcastle, were spectacular.
Cambria's, nearly 2,000 residents left in an afternoon and the town
remained untouched for many years afterward. Most, however, are only
references on maps or in books and only subtle traces remain.
Nowadays, ghost town hunting in the Black Hills
is challenging. There are several books on the subject but most of the
research and writing was done in the 60s and 70s so many of the places
listed just don't exist anymore. Buildings that were falling down then
have since collapsed and the US Forest Service has spent the last 30
years destroying these old "unsafe" landmarks. One on-line
resource is http://www.usgennet.org/usa/sd/topic/ghost/ which lists some -- but by no means all -- of the ghost towns in the Black Hills.
Nevertheless, ghost town hunting in the Black
Hills remains popular. And, for the diligent searcher, there is still
much to see. There are still a few preserved ghost towns. Spokane, for
instance was once the home for nearly 2,000 people and can still be
visited. A careful observer can even find traces of the old mine that
gave the town its livelihood.
Ghost mines, still abound, but,
unfortunately, they are often dangerous places. Tunnels are prone to
collapse and shafts, many hundreds of feet deep, can appear in the
ground out of nowhere. Buildings, if they still exist, tend to be
rickety and are best viewed from afar. Some of the old mines, like
Keystone's Holy Terror Mine, are easy to recognize. Others look like
holes. Also many mines are on private property and visitors need -- but
rarely get -- permission to view them.
If you wish to visit ghost towns or
mines, planning is important. You need to know where you are going
before you start, so researching with books and maps is critically
important -- as well, as a good pair of walking shoes. A compass and a
GPS device are also invaluable. Also, it's wise to pick only those
sites that are on public land. And, as ever, picking up a little local
knowledge along the way never hurts.
But, for those willing to persevere the
rewards in the form of great photographs and a sense of Black Hills and
Western history can make the effort well worthwhile.