Lead - Civic Life & History
History forged in gold
The city of Lead (pronounced Leed) remains historically linked to gold mining, specifically the Homestake Gold Mine.
Located about three miles southwest of Deadwood in the Black Hills National Forest, Lead was founded in April 1876 by brothers Fred and Moses Manuel who had ventured out from the booming gold town of Deadwood in search of gold.
The brothers discovered a promising vein of ore near current-day Lead. Such veins were called leads. The brothers staked their claim, built a mill and in the spring of 1876 mined $5,000 worth of gold from what would eventually become Homestake Gold Mine.
Other miners eventually joined the brothers, and by July, town lots were laid and by December, a telegraph service began. Shortly into the next year, the town of Lead already had four hotels, a grocery store, a saloon, a bakery and a butcher shop. In 1877, the town was officially incorporated.
In June 1877, the brothers sold the 4 ½ acre claim to George Hearst for $70,000.
By 1910, Lead had a population of 8,392 and was the second largest community in the state of South Dakota. Hearst’s wife, Phoebe, used the couple’s wealth to give back to the community of Lead.
She established the first kindergarten in the West and conceived and funded the Homestake Opera House and Recreation Building for the people of the Homestake Mine community.
The Homestake Mine became the longest continuously operated gold mine in the country, operating for more than 125 years. The mine reached more than 8,000 feet below the city of Lead.
But in September 2000, mining officials announced the mine would close. Two years later, in January 2002, Homestake closed its doors. But those doors would open again, this time in the name of science.
When Homestake closed, the company donated it to the state of South Dakota. In 2006, philanthropist T. Denny Sanford donated $70 million to establish the Sanford Center for Science Education. The state of South Dakota has invested $40 million to the project and secured a $10 million Community Development Block Grant. In 2011, the Department of Energy, through the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, began supporting science operations. Find more information at the Sanford Lab website.
Though small, Lead holds several civic events throughout the year, including WinterFest in January, WinterFest features a Parade of Lights, skiing, tubing and a fireworks display over the “open cut,” the site of the former Homestake Mine.
On July 4, the city celebrates Gold Camp Jubilee Days with a parade, live music and fireworks.
The Sanford Underground Research Facility holds Neutrino Day the second Saturday in July with free science-related activities for all ages.
To see a full list of events, visit the chamber of commerce website.
The community of Lead is also home to various civic groups, including the Historic Deadwood-Lead Arts Council. The council offers classes, art contests, monthly exhibits and theater performances.
The Historic Homestake Opera House has enjoyed a rebirth after a fire nearly destroyed it in 1984 and it sat unused for years. The Historic Homestake Opera House Society, a nonprofit organization, is working to restore the theater and building. The society hosts a variety of events throughout the year.
The Homestake Gold Mine Surface Tour & Visitor Center is open year around in Lead. It offers surface tours and a viewing of historic memorabilia. (605) 584-3110,
Historic Documents and Photographs Available Online
The Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress has hundreds of images of Lead available online, including an extensive collection of photographs by Joseph Elliott taken in 1992 for the Historic American Engineering Record. Library of Congress also provids photographs made by John Gabrill in 1888 and 1889 as well as historic postcards from the early twentieth century produced by the Detroit Publishing Company.
The Denver Public Library has images of Deadwood, Lead and the Homestake Mine from the late 1800s.
Chronicling America, a project sponsored by the Library of Congress, provides full text access to digitized historic newpapers from around the United States. Search historic newspapers from 1836-1922 or use the directory to find information about American newspapers published since 1690. Locate thousands of stories with references to Lead and the Homestake Mine.
Historic photographs and newsletters from Black Hills Power & Light are available on the Black Hills Knowledge Network.