Hill City and its remarkable chamber and retail group have created a shopping experience geared toward quality and art. That doesn’t mean you can’t find inexpensive t-shirts here, but given its tiny size, with a year-round population of less than 800 people, there are more galleries here, per capita, than anywhere else in the hills.
While business slows significantly in the off-season, Hill City, less than 30 miles from Rapid City, and with easy access via U.S. 385/16 remains an enjoyable place to visit throughout the year. Many of the art galleries in town are open year-round and while dining and lodging options shrink, food and accommodations are available.
Hill City’s mining history was relatively short-lived and not particularly successful. In 1876, placer gold (panned from streams and creeks, instead of picked from underground mines) was detected in Spring Creek near town. It wasn’t long, however, before reports of richer discoveries sent gold seekers to the Northern Hills. Miners headed back to Hills City when the Harney Peak Tin Mining, Milling and Manufacturing Company set up headquarters in town in 1883.
For about a decade, the Harney Tin Company, as it was called, paid good wages to many local miners and kept the community bustling. The company bought over 1,100 mining claims in the region. Many of the claims never yielded any tin. Financed mainly by English investors, the company eventually collapsed, apparently under a cloud of scandal.
As an interesting side note, in 1885, a young New York attorney was sent west on the company’s behalf to investigate titles to some of the mining claims being purchased. At one point, he asked his guide what the name of the mountain was that they were passing. The mountain didn’t have a name at the time. It does now. The young attorney’s name was Charles E. Rushmore. After the closing of the Harney Tin Company, it was quite some time before Hill City recovered economic ground.
Today, it’s all about location and cooperation. Hill City is just three miles from the ongoing carving of Crazy Horse and 11 miles from Mount Rushmore, and it’s the easiest town to reach from the Sylvan Lake area of Custer State Park—so it flourishes during the summer months. Harley-Davidson has set up shop in town and Hill City has become the second-favorite place for motorcycle enthusiasts to visit during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition