On Thanksgiving Day in 1887, the Pioneer Townsite Company made available Whitewood’s first business and residential lots. The Fremont, Elkhorn, and Missouri Valley railroad extended its line north from Rapid City that year, temporarily making Whitewood the end of the line. A post office had been established in June 1877, and the town incorporated on May 12, 1888.
The railroad bypassed well-established Crook City by a couple miles. Many of those who originally bought Whitewood lots were Crook City residents ready to abandon the older town in hopes of finding business profits stemming from rail service. Whitewood remained the line’s end for three years and prospered as a shipping point for locally produced livestock, wool, fruit, and milled grain.
According to an early history, "The town is nestled among the foothills of the great system of high altitude and is thus afforded a fine protection from the extremities of winter. There are many strong inducements to home-seekers to seek a location either in Whitewood for business or in the vicinity for the advantages in farming and grazing." Whitewood was also where people from across a wide rural region came to collect shipped parcels, greet family and friends who arrived by train, or to ride the rails themselves.
That activity slowed after the railroad extended lines to Deadwood and Belle Fourche in 1890, according to author Rick Mills. Still, train service remained a key to most of Whitewood’s development well into the 20th century. In 1904 the 29-room, sandstone Lane Hotel opened, catering primarily to railroad travelers.
In 1938, as automobile travel was starting to eclipse rail travel, the Federal Writers Project’s South Dakota Guide described Whitewood as “a picturesque village, so named because of the extensive growth of aspen and birch in the vicinity.” The Guide reported Whitewood’s population then as 421. Later in the 20th century lumber processing and livestock feed production emerged as important industries. Whitewood lost prime alfalfa acreage to Interstate 90’s construction in the early 1970s, but the highway seemed a natural fit for a town always associated with transportation.
Museums, Libraries & Archives
The Whitewood Library is located at 1201 Ash Street in Whitewood. They have a collection of 10,000 books and audio resources, and five computers with Internet access for public use. The library offers a summer reading program for children in the community. For more information call 605-269-2616.
Historical Photos and Documents Online
Whitewood: A Black Hills Knowledge Network Collection offers photographs of the town at the turn of twentieth century into its centennial celebration in 1977. The images capture the development of the area’s agriculture, farm life, commerce, and railroad. Included in this collection are the following anthologies:
The community of Whitewood is home to three churches:
Immanuel Lutheran Church. 920 Fillmore Street. (605) 269-2104
First Presbyterian Church. 901 Laurel Street. (605) 269-9232
Black Hills Baptist Church. 12205 SD-34. (605) 269-2646