Even though we have been to Rapid City before we started full time RVing, we both wanted to revisit South Dakota’s second largest city again. For some reason, we both just really like it here. Maybe it’s the small town feel yet with all the amenities, or the easy pace, or maybe the pleasant dispositions from all we meet, whatever it is; the area just has a really nice feel to it.
What brought a flow of settlers into the Black Hills was the discovery of gold by the Custer Expedition in 1874. And out of the gold rush grew the city, and other industries became apparent such as lumbering, ranching, and farming. Out of a campfire conversation in 1876 by a group of disheartened prospectors, the city of Rapid City was born (originally known as Hay Camp), and renamed for spring-fed Rapid Creek which flows through the city.
A square mile was measured off and the six blocks in the center were designated as a business section and committees were appointed to bring in prospective merchants and their families to locate in the new settlement and by 1876, over one hundred people called Rapid City their home. It is known as the “Gateway to the Black Hills” and “Star of the West”. The city is divided by a mountain range that splits the western and eastern parts of the city in two.
Although the Black Hills became a popular tourist destination in the late 1890s, it was a combination of local “boosterism”, the popularity of the automobile, and construction of highways that brought tourism to the Black Hills in large numbers after World War I. Then work began on Mount Rushmore in 1927 and finished in 1941 bringing more tourism to the area. And tourism sustained the city throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s, the gas rationing of WWII had a devastating effect on the tourist industry in the town.
The city benefited greatly from the opening of Rapid City Army Air Base, later Ellsworth Air Force Base, an Army Air Corps training base. As a result, the population of the area nearly doubled between 1940 and 1948 and the local economy flourished with the military payroll. And during the Cold War, missile installations proliferated in the area; a series of Nike Air Defense sites were constructed around Ellsworth in the 1950s. In the early 60s the construction of three Titan (rocket family) missile launch sites containing a total of nine Titan I missiles in the general vicinity of Rapid City took place. Beginning in Nov 63, the land for a hundred miles east, northeast and northwest of the city was dotted with 150 Minuteman missile silos and 15 launch command centers – all of which were inactivated in the early 1990s.
Now Rapid City has also taken on a new title, “City of Presidents”. A series of life-size bronze statues of our nation’s past presidents are along the city’s streets and sidewalks. It’s fun to walk along the streets and stop and read the write ups on each president, or better yet, some of the older ones – try to guess who they are! Does the picture of Chester A. Arthur come to your mind? Andrew Johnson? Millard Filmore? John Tyler? Well, you get the drift I’m sure.
The City of Presidents project began in 2000 to honor the legacy of the American presidency. Each year four presidential sculptures are added in downtown Rapid City – two presidents from the early years of the presidency and two from more recent administrations (in fact George W. Bush has recently been added). Each of the sculptures is privately funded, and the pattern of placement was chosen to maintain a coherent structure and eliminate any sense of favoritism or political gain. The sculptures were created by five talented South Dakota artists: Edward Hlavka, Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby (same two that did the sculptures in the state capital), John Lopez, James M Maher and James Van Nuys.
As described in one of our first post’s when we got here, this is where our mail forwarding service is located, Americas-Mailbox. They recently moved from their original site to the new one along I-90 (many of you know this from our snail mail address changing recently) and provide us not just the mail service, but also getting our vehicles registered and licensed in South Dakota, assistance in getting registered to vote and provided us information about obtaining our SD driver’s licenses as well. Many of you have asked us why South Dakota and the answer is pretty simple. South Dakota does not require an annual safety inspection thus necessitating a presence in the state every year at the same time frame. We did not want to be encumbered with that requirement, and SD has no state income tax and registering a vehicle here was far less expensive than in Texas, Florida, Nevada, due to their tax on vehicles. We are now officially South Dakota residents. So, naturally we went by our “home base” and have provided a few pics to show those of you interested in seeing where those cards and letters you write us are sent.
Our snail mail address is in Box Elder and for those of you that asked about the history of the town and its name I did a bit of research to share with you. However, when we tried to find the “town” of Box Elder, there was no chamber of commerce, city hall, etc., just housing areas and farm fields as far as the eye could see!
In the late 1800s, the present day Box Elder was only a fertile valley. Lone Tree, a few miles east of Box Elder, was a stop for the covered wagons and horsemen who were going from Fort Pierre to the Black Hills Stage and Wagon Road. In 1907, the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad built its track from Wasta to Rapid City. This was the beginning of the present day Box Elder. Box Elder got its name from the large number of boxelder trees (a.k.a. Ashleaf Maple) along Box Elder Creek which flows through the valley.
Originally a stop on the Milwaukee Railroad, Box Elder later became home to Ellsworth Air Force Base, a multi-wing, multi-mission defense base, now it is the home of the B1B Bomber. The skies over Box Elder are often filled with all types of military aircraft, B-1, B-2, T-38, T-37, helicopters, tankers, and all types of visiting aircraft from around the country. The Air and Space Museum is located just outside the gates of Ellsworth AFB. However, it’s currently closed for renovation.
This is our last post from Ellsworth AFB FamCamp with our next destination – Sioux Falls, due east of here!
Till the next time. . .