This home at 1003 West Boulevard was built by a California cattle buyer. Guests entertained here included Gutzon Borglum and Theodore Roosevelt Jr.

The other morning, my 8-month-old daughter woke up at 5:04 a.m., and with the sun already casting its early blue light through my window, I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep.

What to do when you want to get out, but don’t have time to leave town? Hit the Boulevard.

I buckled baby into her stroller, laced up my walking shoes and headed out the driveway. After hanging a right, I was there.

West Boulevard is the city’s most recognized residential street, and it’s a fantastic place for locals and tourists alike to walk, whether they’re looking for exercise, a lesson in local history or just an understanding of the varied ways Rapid City residents live today.

It’s also a great, shady place to “get away” when you don’t have the time or gas money to get out of town.

The Boulevard, the central, tree-lined strip that defines the West Boulevard Historic District, stretches for more than a dozen walkable blocks on a mostly north-south axis just a few blocks southwest of the city center. The district also includes Wilson Park with its rose gardens and gazebo, a great place to rest after your walk.

It’s where I go for fun and exercise several times a week, and I’ve come to appreciate the district not only as home, but as a place that in a way is owned by everyone in Rapid City. It’s not officially a city park, but the strip is maintained by the city, and certainly anyone is welcome to hike the well-worn path. There are even trash-can stations with plastic bags – your dog is welcome, too.

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There’s no good website yet for complete information on the district. But I picked up a worn copy of the 1996 edition of “A Riding and Walking Tour of the West Boulevard Historic District” at the Rapid City Public Library.

The homes in the district were built by some of Rapid City’s most interesting early residents, such as the first Catholic bishop of Rapid City (1622 West Blvd.), city settler James Halley (807 West Blvd.) and Robbins & Stearns Lumber founder J.L. Robbins, developer of the Robbinsdale neighborhood (1000 West Blvd.).

Architecture buffs will enjoy the span of styles, from bungalows to Queen Annes, neoclassical designs to Dutch colonials. Gardeners will love the sprays of colorful plants on display this time of year.

But you don’t have to care about history or architecture or plants to just enjoy a nice stroll on the strip. It’s a place where people say “good morning” to each other, there are friendly dogs to pet and every block holds a unique view. And if you return each time you are in town, you start to see history unfolding as residents remodel and landscape their homes to fit the times.

Getting there

From Interstate 90, take Exit 57 and just head south; go through all the street lights and you will see the white West Boulevard Historic District sign. From downtown, go west on Main Street and turn left at West Boulevard (also 10th Street). From Mount Rushmore, go north on Highway 16 (Mount Rushmore Road in town), then west on St. Patrick Street (turn left at Starbucks) for two blocks, then right on the Boulevard.

Barbara Soderlin is a Rapid City Journal staff writer. Contact her at 394-8417 or barbara.soderlin@rapidcityjournal.com

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