For nearly 13 years, Philip native Kevin Kuchenbecker has been the front man for anything related to historic preservation in Deadwood. And, as the community approaches the 30th anniversary of legalized gaming, Kuchenbecker says much remains to be done.
A graduate of South Dakota State University, where he earned a degree in history with an emphasis on architecture, Kuchenbecker spent nine years as director of Heritage Ohio, where he worked on historic preservation and revitalization projects with cities, towns and villages in all of the state’s 88 counties.
Married for 26 years to Shana, a para-professional at Lead-Deadwood Elementary School who manages the Days of ’76 Campground in the summer months, the 52-year-old Kuchenbecker is the proud father of two sons — 23-year-old Seth who works for the U.S. Forest Service in Laramie, Wyoming, and 21-year-old Cole, a seasonal USFS employee in Cooke City, Montana.
As Deadwood’s historic-preservation officer, we sat down with Kuchenbecker to gain a sense of what’s been accomplished in the town and what’s on the horizon.
Q: You oversee a $7 million annual budget for historic preservation. What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced in preserving Deadwood’s history?
A: Balancing preservation and controlled growth and development. Our goal is to recognize development pressures for larger projects that may encroach upon, damage or destroy historic properties, and protect the city’s designation as a National Historic Landmark.
Q: What is the greatest misunderstanding people have about historic preservation?
A: That you can’t do anything in Deadwood. There are opportunities to preserve the historic properties and still make appropriate and compatible changes and alterations.
Q: Deadwood has accomplished so much in historic preservation over the last 30 years. What remains to be done?
A: Upper-floor development of our core historic district. We have many vacant upper floors and there are opportunities for quality infill development in both commercial and residential sectors. When you have vacant properties in your district and retail and residential needs, it’s always better to fill in. It’s about smart growth. It’s better to save our surrounding forests and make use of existing structures and infrastructure than it is to development outside the core area.
Q: Why do you think Deadwood remains so intriguing to history lovers?
A: It’s been legendary from the beginning. Whether it’s the first 14 years when the only way in was to ride a horse, walk or take a stagecoach or after 1890 when we got the train. Deadwood was the last of the American West in so many ways. Then with legendary figures of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, Deadwood promoted its history early on. From Richard Clark hired as Deadwood Dick in the 1920s, or the creation of the Days of ’76 rodeo and celebration, modeled after Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, we’ve been promoting Deadwood’s history for well over a century and keeping those myths, legends and realities alive. It’s the romanticism of the American West, which is still alive here in Deadwood. People come here to witness that.
Q: You’ve been on the job for so many years. What have been your greatest surprises during your tenure?
A: The overall support of the community for preservation. For the most part, it’s embraced. Sometimes that’s difficult today in a throw-away society. There’s recognition of the historic value and economic impact that history has for Deadwood.
Q: Some say the work of historic preservation is never done. Thirty years from now, what do you hope Deadwood is and what future visitors will see and learn?
A: I think over the next 30 years, Deadwood will continue to embrace its history, preserve its building stock, and improve our museums and historical programs, which will continue to develop and be strong. Obviously, we don’t know what the future will bring, but some of these stories will be more technologically advanced in the interpretation and presentation of our past. I mean, can’t you see a hologram of Wild Bill walking down Main Street?