Lead, South Dakota, (population 3027), developed as the company town serving the Homestake Mine, and took its name (pronounced “leed”) from the term for a ledge of ore. The Homestake, discovered in 1876 and in operation through 2001, was the longest continually operated gold mine in the Western Hemisphere.
By the time South Dakota was granted statehood in 1889, Lead was the State’s largest city, home to thousands of immigrants in search of prosperity. This diverse population worked side-by-side mining ore, cutting timber, and establishing a business community that dominated the economy of western South Dakota.
From its construction in 1914 until a catastrophic fire in 1984, the Opera House in Lead was the center of community life. In addition to a theatre, it housed a bowling alley, billiard rooms, a swimming pool, library, and social rooms.
Lead citizens rallied to restore their historic building, obtaining funding support from Community Development Block Grants, the Save America’s Treasures program, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the South Dakota State Historical Society. Matching funds were raised, and soon the restored Opera House will once again serve as a cultural and educational center and community landmark.
Lead has an active Historic Preservation Commission and a community-wide preservation plan. Today Lead’s historic business district is witnessing changes that are restoring, rebuilding, and revitalizing the community. Many local landmarks are receiving facelifts, and most of the town of Lead is a National Register of Historic Places District.
At both the Black Hills Mining Museum and the Homestake Visitors Center tourists and residents can explore Lead’s mining heritage through tours and exhibits. People from all over the Black Hills region, including people from Wyoming and Montana, travel to Lead for an annual event during Historic Preservation Week each May.
Designated a Preserve America Community in August 2005.