Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

Sanford Lab entrance gate.
Sanford Lab entrance gate.
Chelsea Gortmaker

Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) at Homestake

For more than 125 years, the Homestake mine in Lead, SD served as one of the top producing gold mines in North America. In 2001, following a decline in gold prices and depletion of the resource, North America’s largest and deepest gold mine closed. South Dakotans looked for a use for the defunct mine and found that the deep underground shafts and drifts (tunnels) might serve a new purpose: that of a deep underground science lab.

In 2007, the National Science Foundation selected Homestake as the place to propose establishing a Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory. Because funding for DUSEL construction likely will not come before fiscal 2012 or later, the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority established the Sanford Underground Laboratory at Homestake which will host experiments, from the surface to a level 4,850 feet underground. Scientists at the Sanford Lab already have begun experiments in seismology and biology. Sanford Lab personnel and contractors are working to pump water out of the mine to prepare the 4,850 level for physics experiments. The late Dr. Ray Davis was awarded a Nobel Prize for physics in 2003 for an experiment he conducted at Homestake. It is reasonable to expect more Nobel Prize worthy accomplishments in physics and geology to emerge from deep underground.

When built, DUSEL will be a series of large laboratories serving the field of underground science. The main impetus for DUSEL is the study of extremely rare nuclear physics processes, like neutrino scatteringdark matter interactions, and neutrinoless double beta decay, which can only be studied in the absence of cosmic rays. (Cosmic ray muons on the Earth's surface cause backgrounds in these types of detectors, but the particles cannot penetrate great depths in rock.) Easy access to these great depths will open new frontiers in geomicrobiologygeosciences, and mining engineering, making DUSEL a multidisciplinary facility.If the larger DUSEL is approved, it will include the experiments planned for the Sanford Laboratory at Homestake. The South Dakota Science and Technology Authority will own the property (a donation from the Barrick Gold Corp.) and act as a sort of landlord for the lab. In addition, the Sanford Science and Education Center, funded in part by $20 million of T. Denny Sanford’s $70 million donation to the lab project, will operate in association with the lab.

According to scientists who hope to work in the DUSEL lab, this project will provide more than academic research to the scientific community. The facility will create jobs in the community, and it will attract visitors from throughout South Dakota, the region and even the world. This is an exciting time for students studying science at universities throughout the Black Hills, including Black Hills State University in nearby Spearfish and South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City.


As hopeful miners began to come to the area, General Philip Sheridan, whose command included the Black Hills, issued an order that was intended to yet ineffective in keeping trespassers from entering Native American lands. In December of 1974, the Gordon-Russell party made it through the army defenses, met at the stockade where Custer had stopped in August, and drafted their mining laws to guard their right to the property. On April 7, 1875, Sheridan's troops removed the party from the area, as the land belonged to the Sioux1.Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer was sent in 1874 to explore the economic possibilities of the Black Hills area. On August 1 of that year, Custer moved to the area that is now the Gordon Stockade near the town of Custer. There, the first mining company in the Hills was organized and called the Custer Peak Mining Company1.

Reports of gold in western South Dakota came as early as 1833, over fifty years before the Homestake Mine was established. A sandstone tabled found in 1887 by Louis Thoen near Spearfish was carved with the following words:

Came to these hills in 1883 seven of us DeLacompt, Ezra Kind, G. W. Wood, T. Brown, R. Kent, Wm. King, Indian Crow, all died but me Ezra King Killed by Ind behind high hilll Got our gold dust June 18343.Got all the gold we could carry Our ponies all got by the Indians I have lost my gun and nothing to eat The Indians hunting me.

Miners continued to get past the army patrols with few getting caught and turned back, and the Cheyenne Mining District was established in June of 1875. The United States Government remained uncertain whether or not there was really gold in the Hills, and sent W.P. Jenney and Henry Newton into the area to search. In May of 1875, Jenney reported back with positive results. The land still belonged to the Sioux and those currently mining were trespassing, so the government anticipated trouble. An attempt was made to negotiate a treaty of sale in 1875, and when it failed, the army was removed from the Hills and the miners swarmed in. The Sioux war followed as an indirect result of these combined failures1.

The violence didn't dampen the spirits of the variety of people who swarmed to the region and became miners. Fred and Moses Manuel came to the area from Montana, and in the spring of 1876, Moses began looking for gold while the ground was still covered in snow. At the bottom of the draw, he found some exposed quartz and reportedly said to Hank Harney, "Hank, this is surely a homestake" - Homestakemeans "sufficient capital to establish one permanently in the states"1.

This was the beginning of the Homestake Mine. The Manuels discovery was called the Homestake Ledge (or Lead - produced "leed"). That winter, the Manuels and their party took $5,000 out of the mine. In April of 1877, the Homestake was bonded to a California company for $40,000. A short while later, a representative of a syndicate that included Senator George Hearst got a bond of $70,000 for thirty days for the Homestake and Gold Star claims1.

On January 22, 1879, the New York Stock Exchange's Governing Committee accepted Homestake stock on the open market.

Regional Impact

At its peak, the Homestake Mine employed over 2,000 people. The Mine's workers produced 2.7 million tons of gold over the course of 125 years. According to the economic impact study conducted by the Business Research Bureau of the University of South Dakota's School of Business, the Homestake Mining Company directly and/or indirectly accounted for $82 million of South Dakota's business volume in 1980:

  • Direct expenditures by Homestake Mining Company, employees, and visitors: $59 Million
  • Additional indirect expenditures: $23 Million
  • Direct expenditures by Homestake Mining Company in South Dakota: $21.5 Million
  • Indirect expenditures related to the above: $8+ Million
  • Payroll to Homestake Mining Company Employees: $37.4 Million
  • In-State Employee Payroll Expenditure (Estimate): $10.2 Million

The Underground Lab is actually a series of different laboratories situated at different levels throughout the old Homestake Mine. There are plans for a lab at the 300 ft. level, the 4,850 ft. level, the 7,400 ft. level, and another 1 1/2 miles below the Earth's surface. The surrounding rock serves as a "cosmic noise filter" in order that scientists can better study complex phenomena. Dr. William Roggenthen describes the search for neutrinos is like "trying to hear a whisper in downtown Manhattan during rush hour".

Administrators and scientists from the U.S Department of Energy toured the Homestake site with members of the Sanford Underground Laboratory National Science Foundation. The group took the deepest journey yet into the flooded mine. 

Useful Websites to Visit for Information on the DUSEL Site

History of the DUSEL Site

DUSEL Nuclear Astrophysics Group

DUSEL Watch, by the Black Hills Pioneer

Homestake Gold Mine Visitor's Center

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Website for DUSEL at Homestake

National Science Foundation

National Science Foundation's Website for the Deep Science Initiative

Sanford Laboratory's Homepage

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