Spearfish - Civic Life & History
Spearfish settlers’ first community task, in 1876, was construction of a log stockade described by period journalist Richard Hughes as big enough “to accommodate a large number of horses or cattle, as well as all the people who might resort to it in time of danger.” It stood where Spearfish’s downtown business district is today. The so-called “era of stockade protection” was already history by 1877. Soon after Spearfish people began working aggressively to bring about longer lasting community assets. Successes included the territorial normal school in 1883, a railroad spur through Spearfish Canyon in 1893, and a federal trout hatchery in 1899.
Meanwhile, Spearfish prospered thanks to a diverse range of private enterprises: irrigated farming, cattle ranching, logging, retail, milling, dairy processing, and mining. Permanent structures of locally quarried sandstone rose, including the downtown Matthews Block, developed by cattleman Thomas Matthews and housing an ornate operate house.
Early 20th century Spearfish residents launched a successful campaign to build a highway through scenic Spearfish Canyon. With an eye on tourism, the community struck an arrangement with a passion play from Germany, making Spearfish the production’s summer home. From 1938 through 2008 more than six million visitors traveled to Spearfish to see the story of Christ’s last seven days staged in an amphitheater. Professional actors played principal roles while Spearfish churches earned a portion of ticket revenue by supplying actors for nonspeaking parts.
In the spirit of earlier generations, contemporary Spearfish people—usually as volunteers—have enhanced civic life by restoring Matthews Opera House, initiating a summer arts festival, preserving the trout hatchery and creating the High Plains Western Heritage Center. They’ve worked with city government to develop creekside parks and a cycling path, as well as the Spearfish Rec and Acquatics Center.
Arts & Culture
The Spearfish Center for the Arts and Humanities is responsible for the Matthews Opera House, Art Gallery and the annual Festival in the Park. To find out more and to see what events are coming up click here.
Spearfish is also home to a number of literary and visual artists. Novelist Kent Meyers' nationally acclaimed books include Twisted Tree, The Work of Wolves, Light in the Crossing, The River Warren and The Witness of Combines. Dick Termes paints "Termespheres," globes influenced by the work of M.C. Escher and Buckminster Fuller.
Museums, Libraries & Archives
The High Plains Western Heritage Center contains a 5-State regional museum that honors the Old West pioneers and American Indians of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska. It's located off I-90 south of exit 14 on Heritage Drive.
Historical Photos and Documents Online
Library of Congress. The Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress has a handful of historic images of Spearfish online, including several photographs of Spearfish Falls by John Grabill taken in 1889 and 1890. The collection also includes photographs of the Anderson Dairy Ranch compiled for Historic American Buildings Survey.
Digital Library of South Dakota. Photographs from the Leland D. Case Library at Black Hills State University are available through the Digital Library of South Dakota. They include more than 60 items from the BHSU Archives.