Supporters of Black Hills Mining Museum seek new space


LEAD (AP) – For 35 years, an old grocery store that took 17,000 volunteer hours to convert into a gold mine of history has served the community well. But members of the Black Hills Mining Museum are making their case for a new building.

Black Hills Mining Museum board members recently hosted a community meeting to discuss the importance of the museum in preserving Lead’s history and the history of mining, as well as to talk about their need for a new facility, and preliminary plans that have been drawn up for two new buildings – one on Main Street and one at Gold Run Park.

Homestake served as the deepest gold mine in the western hemisphere for 125 years before shutting down in 2001. During its operation, the mining company produced 41 million troy ounces of gold, which would have been 900 ounces of gold every day. Black Hills Mining Museum New Facilities Coordinator Gordon Phillips said by today’s gold prices, that would be $1.6 million a day, the Black Hills Pioneer reported.

“That’s pretty significant,” he said. “So when I talk about why the Black Hills Mining Museum matters, it’s because we have a trove of irreplaceable community treasures.”

The museum, he explained, serves to tell that history of the Homestake Mining Company, as well as to tell the story of Lead and other mining practices around the Black Hills. It also contains irreplaceable and highly valuable artifacts and records from the area, which many people use for research. Phillips said the museum consistently receives five-star ratings from such travel companies as AAA and TripAdvisor, and in 2014 the S.D. Legislature designated it as the official mining museum of the state.

“This mining museum is the gold mine of Lead,” said board president Mike Stahl.

Phillips reported that nearly every week someone comes into the museum with a new relic or record for historical safe keeping. Recently, he said a woman donated 20 maps of Lawrence County early drainage descriptions from 1896, and that’s just one example of donations that come in regularly.

But all those items need to be kept in a temperature-controlled, dust-free, archival space, in order to be properly preserved, Phillips said. The Black Hills Mining Museum does not currently have such a space, and that is one of the many reasons for a new building.

“Pieces of clothing and paper have to be stored in a proper environment, otherwise over time they disintegrate,” he said.

Other reasons for a new building, Phillips said, include making the museum fully ADA accessible with an elevator. Parking is also a major issue, since the Black Hills Mining Museum does not have ample parking for bus tours, RV and travel trailers, or handicapped spaces. Additional storage for the museum’s growing collection is also needed, he said.

“We could spend a good amount of change toward fixing this building and still fall short of these goals,” Phillips said of the current facility.

In an effort to develop preliminary plans for a new building, Phillips reached out to Tim Palone, an architect in Oklahoma City. Phillips, who met Palone while his family was vacationing in the Black Hills, said the architect offered to create the preliminary plans at no cost. Palone explained that the proposed facility would have two levels. The main level would be flush with the parking lot, allowing handicap accessibility. It would include a greeting area, the public museum, a café area with gold panning, restrooms and a dedicated space for the underground mining simulation tours. Additional conference rooms and office areas would also be included. An elevator and stairs would lead to a second level, where the museum would store its archive materials for research, as well as support areas for staff and more storage.

“The design and intent is to represent the heritage and history of this community while providing a functional and efficient space that meets the needs of the museum,” he said. “This is a concept. This is the start of a discussion. This isn’t representative of a final design. We also feel the design could add a gateway effect as you enter Lead, and draw visitors into the museum.”

A new city building that is proposed to be located where the existing museum and the library are currently located, is another reason the Black Hills Mining Museum is looking for a new space. Phillips, who also serves on the city comprehensive plan and the planning and zoning board, said he reached out to Dream Designs, of Rapid City, to fulfill what has long been a dream for the city – a new library.

Mike Stanley of Dream Designs presented plans that the company has proposed to build a brand-new building that would replace the existing mining museum and library space. The new building would include a two-level parking garage that would be accessible from Julius Street. An elevator from the parking garage into the main building, as well as a grand staircase connecting Julius Street to Main. The new library, he said would be located on one level, on the Julius Street side of the building, with windows, ample space and ADA accessibility. Three commercial suites and a plaza area would be on the Main Street side of the building, on the main level. On the upper level, Stanley said the company proposes about 14 apartments or condominiums.

Stanley said the new building would be designed to complement the Homestake Opera House.

There have been no official city plans to move forward with that project, and it is still in discussion phases with city officials.

Though the plans presented remain conceptual, Phillips asked the community to pull together to help make the new museum a reality. Combined individuals typically give more funds than corporations, and so he asked the community to consider becoming members of the Black Hills Mining Museum by providing donations. He also said there are opportunities for the community to help in other ways, including volunteering and raising awareness about the project.

“While it’s easy to think others will have to give big, don’t discount what you can do,” he said. “There were 17,000 volunteer man hours to put the original museum together. We really aren’t going to be able to move forward until we know we have community support, corporate support, grants, etc. It’s also important to pass the word. The more people who hear about this and learn what we’re thinking about, it helps us identify people who can help.”

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