What does Deadwood, South Dakota have in common with Aspen, Colo. and Monterey, Calif.? They're all on Forbes magazine's 2010 list of the prettiest towns in America. The magazine recognized Deadwood, not only for its beauty, but for its rich history as a haven for Gold Rush fortune-hunters and outlaws like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.
"This historic town still breathes with the rugged spirit and beauty of a frontier town," said John Vander Stelt, an expert on Forbes' selection panel.
That didn't happen by accident. It took two decades of hard work that started after a 1987 fire destroyed two historic buildings and several businesses.
A grass-roots effort followed to approve limited legalized gaming as a way to raise money to restore the city, which had dwindled to less than 2,000 residents. When the ballot measure was overwhelmingly approved in 1988, consultants projected Deadwood gamblers would bet $2 million in the first year. Instead, they bet nearly $281.5 million.
The sudden boom took a toll. In 1990, the National Trust for Historic Preservation put Deadwood on its list of most endangered historic sites, due to the town's sudden growth triggered by gaming. But with the gaming came money to rebuild the town, and a consultant's recommendation to preserve Deadwood's history. That was good advice.
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Millions were spent to restore city hall, an old railroad depot, a cemetery, crumbling infrastructure, and the Adams House, also recognized as one of the top Western museums in the nation. Downtown was graced with antique-style lighting and cobblestone streets.
Kevin Kuchenbecker, Deadwood Historic Preservation Officer, discusses the city's preservation efforts in a video that can be viewed at www.rapidcityjournal.com/vmix_02a91bbc-c7ca-11de-9121-001cc4c002e0.htm.
"The building facades have been restored back to the original grandeur of what they were like when they were built," Kuchenbecker says in the video. "Without historic preservation and limited gaming, we might have lost Deadwood." Instead, the once-crumbling town is now a beauty. As Forbes put it: There are some American towns that stand out as exceptionally pretty just about any time of year, whether for architecture, aesthetics or small town charm."
Counting Deadwood among them is an honor that was earned with foresight, determination and hard work.