Born: May 22, 1848
Died: November 2, 1919
Mayoral Dates: 1882-1883
- President of Village Council
- Fire Chief
- Board of Regents
- SD School of Mines President
John R. Brennan was one of the founders of Rapid City. He was a member of the first village board of trustees, serving as mayor until the city became incorporated. He was president of the first City Council, first Postmaster, member and later president of the first School of Mines board, Union Pacific agent in Rapid City, fire chief for several years, Pennington County superintendent of schools, vice president of the First National Bank of Rapid City and railroad commissioner for the state of South Dakota. He donated land for the first cultural center (Library Hall), and introduced and developed the first stage and express line into Rapid City.
John R. Brennan was born in Kilkenny, Ireland, on May 22, 1848. He was three years old when his parents came to this country during the potato famine and settled in Iowa. It is not known if he attended school past the eighth grade, but records show that he attended school in Wisconsin and later Bryant and Stratton Business College in St. Louis in 1867. His employment was working in and managing hotels in Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver.
With the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, Brennan left his position as manager of the American House in Denver in the fall of 1875 and headed for the Hills. He named and placer mined for a time at Palmer Gulch. Not finding it all that profitable, he and a group of men left Palmer Gulch with the intent of founding a "second Denver" somewhere along Rapid Creek. On February 24, 1876, they arrived near the present location of the Black Hills Packaging Company, where they camped overnight. The following day, they decided on an area one mile square and staked out what was to be Rapid City.
Brennan built Rapid City's first hotel, a 12'x14' log cabin with one sleeping room. There is a story told that when a customer ordered a meal, they said Brennan hollered the order through a window to an imaginary cook, went to a store and, with credit, got groceries, then cooked and served the order. In 1878, Brennan built a hotel and named it the American House after the one he operated in Denver. This was the first hotel to have more than one room to rent.
In 1879, Ada Jane (Jennie) Leedy came to Rapid City to join her father and brothers who had a small sawmill. She came by train from Ohio to Yankton, then by boat from Yankton to Pierre and then by ox train from Pierre to Rapid City, a journey that took three weeks. John Brennan was the "catch of the town" at the time and, in December of 1881, he and Jennie were married. They had three children: John Jr. (who died in infancy), Ruth and Paul.
Mr. Brennan built the showplace of the Black Hills on the corner of Seventh and Main--The Harney Hotel in 1885--and he and Mrs. Brennan personally managed it. The road signs for the hotel read, "Water closet on every floor."
In his spare time, Brennan was a member of the first village board of trustees, president of the first City Council, first postmaster, member and later president of the first School of Mines board, stage and Union Pacific agent in Rapid City, Pennington County Superintendent of Schools, vice-president of the First National Bank of Rapid City and railroad commissioner for the state of South Dakota. He was fire chief for several years and president of the Black Hills Firemen's Association. He left the bell that sits outside of the main fire station as a gift to the city. The inscription on the bell read: "John R. Brennan, Chief." The date of casting the bell was 1888. It was used to call the volunteers to a fire in the city or ring out the hour at noon.
He introduced and developed the first stage and express line into Rapid City. When the community decided to build its first cultural center (Library Hall), John Brennan donated the land. He was a stockholder in the First National Bank and served as vice president. He also owned a 500-acre farm in Rapid Valley. He was a veteran of the Civil War.
In 1900, he was appointed superintendent of the Pine Ridge Reservation and served in that capacity for 17 years. Both he and Mrs. Brennan were very well liked and respected by the people of the reservation.
The Brennan's moved back to Rapid City in 1917 and purchased a house on the corner of Kansas City and Sixth Street. Mr. Brennan died November 2, 1919. He was considered the leading citizen of the Black Hills.