KADOKA - A century ago, railroads were moving west, bringing people and towns to the unsettled prairies.

When the Milwaukee Road arrived at Kadoka in 1906, one of the first businesses to open near the rail line was the Pearl Hotel.

When the town started planning a centennial celebration in 2005, the shabby and empty building still anchored a Main Street corner.

As the 2006 celebration approached, the vacant old hotel, then owned by the city, became the focus of a small group of people who recalled its better days.

A team of volunteers cleaned, painted and decorated the hotel's rooms with memorabilia from Kadoka's history. Pressed tin panels still cover walls and ceilings on the first floor.

Centennial visitors were fascinated by the old hotel, and long-forgotten stories resurfaced. For many, it was their first look at the hotel's interior.

"It was wonderful," Carol Solon said.

But, a good cleaning and paint couldn't conceal the fact that the Pearl was an old building at a crossroads. It was time to fix it or get rid of it.

Determined to preserve a piece of their town's history, a group called the "Save the Pearl" organized.

"It's been a long process," said Kolette Struble, Save the Pearl president. "We knew it wasn't going to happen overnight."

Ignoring those who said it couldn't be done, Struble's followers persuaded the city to give them the building. Save the Pearl had to become a nonprofit corporation so the city could give it the building.

"At the time, we didn't have even a dollar to our names," Struble said. Legal and accounting services were donated to create the corporation.

The group also applied to have the hotel listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel was added to the register last year.

Finding the money to preserve the Pearl has been a bigger hurdle.

The corporation's first application for a Deadwood Fund grant from the State Historical Society was rejected, along with a grant request to the South Dakota Community Foundation, Struble said.

Those failed grant applications were good learning experiences, she said.

Pat Nolin, a former Kadoka resident, had offered to match up to $25,000 if a Deadwood grant was secured.

A second, more detailed attempt at a Deadwood grant won the group $12,000, which Nolin matched.

"He ended up giving us the whole $25,000," Struble said.

An additional $16,000 was raised through donations and fundraisers including bake sales, meals and a community auction. Community support has been good, Struble said.

Not counting the Deadwood grant, "for a group of little old ladies to raise $40,000 in a couple of years, … that's pretty good," Struble said with pride.

Having matching cash available was critical, because the Deadwood Fund grant is awarded as a reimbursement for work completed, she said.

The first necessity was a new foundation and sub-floor. That project was recently completed but has almost exhausted the corporation's cash, Struble said.

"It takes lots of dollars," Struble said. "Everything costs a fortune."

With the Pearl resting safely on its new foundation, it's back to fundraising and writing more grant applications.

There are windows to fix, plumbing and wiring to replace and a kitchen to make functional.

Eventually, the women would like to see the building used as a community meeting place or for social gatherings.

It could even be rented to large visiting families, Struble said.

"It has a lot of possibilities once we get it usable," she said. "There's too much history here to lose."

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