“Lead’s not a very big town, but at one point it was the second biggest city in South Dakota,” said Sierra Ward, executive director of the Lead Area Chamber of Commerce. “It was hugely important to South Dakota becoming a state.”
One of the oldest towns in South Dakota, Lead was founded as a gold mining town in 1876. For the next 126 years, the Homestake Gold Mine allowed Lead to prosper.
“Lead has a fun community feel, and even visitors get that sense that they’re there,” said Ward. “That’s not something you can get everywhere in the country.”
While there is no longer public access to the mine, there are still ways to experience it and learn about it.
“Lead is on the cusp of a lot of growth and change, so it’s a really exciting time.”
“We get a lot of people in that don’t know anything about our mining history or why lead was so significant,” said Ward.
Here are the top three things to do in Lead.
Sanford Homestake Visitor Center
One of the first places Ward says to stop is the Sanford Homestake Visitor Center.
“The visitor center gives an overview of the mining history that we have, and it has an awesome 3D model of the mine,” Ward explained. “It talks about how the mining has transitioned to science.”
Lead currently has a large play in physics discovery with the Sanford Underground Research Facility. The mine was donated to the lab.
Drilling to Development
Ward says that Lead’s Main Street is continuing to develop and make the town even more of a destination.
“If you don’t know what’s going on in the world of physics, then you could easily miss that,” said Ward. “Those things are really important and valuable.”
The center also has the Open Cut, a small portion of the mine that extends 1,250 feet down, that people can stand by.
“People are usually really interested when they come in to learn the backstory and the future story,” said Ward.
“Tourists are looking for things to do for multigenerational groups. Lead is a great option for that because we’ve got stuff for little kids, we have stuff that’s fun to do as a family.”
Black Hills Mining Museum
For those who want to dig deeper into Lead’s gold-laden history, a visit to the Black Hills Mining Museum can give a more encompassing experience.
“They also have a really cool simulated underground mining exhibit,” Ward explained.
She says that the tours bring the mine to life again with the interactive exhibit expanding on what the visitor center shares.
“The people that built it were homestake miners, and a lot of the tour guides are retired homestake miners,” said Ward. “They just go through what mining was like when they started and how it’s changed.”
Historic Homestake Opera House
Another one of Lead’s important stops is the Historic Homestake Opera House.
“They were having national entertainment acts coming through Lead to perform there,” explained Ward. “It’s interesting to see the impact of why they built that building.”
The opera house opened in 1914, given by Phoebe Hearst and conceived by Thomas Grier. It was a hit, but in 1984, there was a large fire. Since, they’ve been slowly restoring the building.
“Even though it still shows a lot of its burned-down, damaged bones from the big fire of ‘84, it’s beautiful and significant,” said Ward.
In a few places, guests can still see where the architecture was licked by vicious flames.
“They do entertainment and programming throughout the year, but if you’re in town when there’s not a program, you can still take a tour of it,” said Ward.