The current location of Interstate Highway 90, and the resulting importance of Piedmont Valley and Summerset, has deep historical roots. Piedmont Valley was a route that the Native Americans used hundreds of years earlier. Later, the early pioneers established pack trails through Piedmont Valley. In 1857-58 Lieutenant G.K Warren was dispatched from Fort Laramie and given the responsibility of exploring the Black Hills and perimeter areas – including the Piedmont Valley area. After a thorough assessment, Warren reported that the valleys between the ridge and the higher Black Hills provided excellent possibilities for road routes. This finding hastened further development and the existing pack trails later became stage and wagon roads. Stage and wagon routes later became gravel roads. Finally, gravel roads became paved roadways and finally an Interstate Highway was built. The importance of this transportation route is evidenced by the fact that this was the first section of Interstate highway to be built in South Dakota back in 1958.
After the Warren Expedition, the importance of the area around present-day Summerset was furthered by the Custer Expedition in 1874. General George A. Custer left Fort Lincoln near Bismarck, ND and set out to map the Black Hills and collect useful information. One accomplishment of the Custer Expedition was the development of a wagon route from the higher Black Hills down into the Piedmont Valley. This route was developed just north of where present-day Black Hawk is located now. The route became important in the future as other settlers and prospectors utilized it to gain access to the Black Hills. Custer also explored the entire area from present-day Piedmont to Bear Butte and reported on the area’s favorable climate and rich natural resources, including gold.
When the Black Hills gold rush started, the area was officially opened to settlement by the U.S. Government. This created the need for better transportation routes to afford passage of people, goods and equipment. One of the more important trails and stage routes that was developed included the Sidney-Deadwood Stage Road which ran through the Piedmont Valley between Rapid City and Sturgis and then connected to Deadwood. This route was regularly used by 1878 and was located roughly where the present day Highway 79 service road is now.
The regional importance of this valley increased in 1897 when the first railroad was developed through the area. The Fremont Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad (aka the “Elkhorn”) was extended from Rapid City north through the Piedmont Valley to Whitewood. This resulted in a dramatic decrease in wagon transport in the area and a dramatic influx of settlers. Area development was enhanced by the connection of Homestake Mining Company’s narrow-gauge railroad line to the Elkhorn line. The community of Piedmont was platted by Homestake Mining Co. in 1890 and was created for the purpose of providing housing and commerce for the mine’s workers and families.
The decreasing influence of the gold industry and the railroads over the years resulted in a general decline in the Piedmont Valley in the first half of the 1900’s. But this decline was reversed with the construction of improved roadways. As in other areas of the country, the largest recent impact to the Piedmont Valley and the area where present-day Summerset is located, was the construction of paved roadways and particularly Interstate Highway 90. The construction of I-90 coupled with the growth of Rapid City, resulted in significant residential development in unincorporated areas of Piedmont Valley. Since the 1970’s especially, numerous subdivisions and developments have sprung up and continue to do so. As noted, Summerset itself, owes its role as a bedroom community to the presence of I-90 and the proximity to Rapid City.
The city of Summerset was incorporated in an election held June 7, 2005 and became at that time, and still is, the state’s newest second class municipality. Summerset Subdivision, which comprises most of the city’s development, was originally platted in 2000 with the first home constructed early in 2001. The incorporated city limits of Summerset currently encompass approximately 1,430 acres.
Arts & Culture
Meade County is home to many private art galleries, the Weaver Art Gallery of Sturgis, the D’fine Art Gallery of Sturgis, and the James O Aplan Antiques & Arts of Piedmont. Summerset is the home of Captured Radiance Photography.
Museums, Libraries & Archives
There are no museums that reside in city of Summerset, but there are two local cities that each claim ownership of other museums.
Near Sturgis, located in a historic building across from Fort Meade’s parade grounds, the Old Fort Meade Museum recounts the region’s military history. It is open seven days a week in summer.
The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame, in downtown Sturgis, is open year round. Its displays include vintage bikes, as well as photos and artifacts documenting the Sturgis rally through the decades. The Hall of Fame honors personalities from Peter Fonda to Evel Knieval.
Rapid City is located 12.2 miles southeast of Summerset, and have a plethora of museums as shown on our Rapid City Civic Life & History page.
There are no libraries located within the city limits of Summerset, but the city is near two cities with library systems.
The city of Piedmont is about 3.7 miles northwest of Summerset. The Piedmont Valley Library, located at 111 Second Street, contains over 12,000 books, audio books, and movies for all ages. They have three computers for public use, and recently released an online catalog. For more information, call 605-718-3663.
Rapid City is located 12.2 miles southeast of Summerset and has two libraries residing there. The Rapid City Public Libraries offers two locations, and have over 260,000 eBooks, audiobooks, movies, music albums and magazines. They feature a variety of other services as well.
Historical Photos and Documents Online
The Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress has more than 460 images related to Meade County available online. They include large collections of photographs of Fort Meade National Cemetery taken by David W. Haas as part of the Historic American Landscapes Survey as well as an extensive set of construction drawings and images of Ellsworth Air Force Base from the 1950s.
Piedmont: A Black Hills Knowledge Network Collection, features vintage photos from the 20th century highlighting the every day life of Piedmont Valley area residents.
The Black Hills Knowledge Network offers many resource pages that cover important topics of the Black Hills and Meade County specifically. A History of Summerset resource page, highlights the important historical roots of the city of Summerset and the Piedmont Valley.
To explore other Black Hills area anthologies on the Black Hills Knowledge Network, see our Digital Archives page. The Black Hills Knowledge Network, in collaboration with local libraries, has constructed an updated archive of Meade County news.
The Association of Religion Data Archives lists information about Meade County residents’ religious affiliations, as of 2010. Full church members, their children, and others who attend services regularly are considered adherents, and 18,947 residents reported no adherence while 1,988 were Catholic, 2,314 were mainline Protestants, 1,925 were Evangelical Protestants, and 260 reported “other.” To see the data for the year 2000 in a graph, click here.