Pennington County was formed by the Dakota Territorial legislature in 1875, and was named in honor of the territorial governor, John Pennington. The Black Hills were still part of the Great Sioux Nation under the terms of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, when white settlers first occupied the bottomlands along Rapid Creek. The settlement took the name of “Hay Camp”.
With the expansion of deep underground gold mining in the northern Black Hills, the South Dakota School of Mines was established in Rapid City in 1885 to train mining engineers.
Arts & Culture
As the major metropolitan center for a large rural hinterland, Pennington County's arts and culture offerings are extraordinarily rich. As the commercial capital, Rapid City is home to visual and performing artists, regional galleries and theater as well as several nationally-recognized writers who focus on the character of the community and the natural beauty of the region.
The Rapid City Arts Council operates out of the Dahl Arts Center, which hosts a variety of events and art exhibits year-round. Opened in 1974, the Dahl was gifted to the city by Mr. & Mrs. A. E. Dahl. The Dahl houses an event center, five visual arts galleries, a children's gallery, the Cyclorama Mural of American History, a gift shop, classrooms for artists of all ages and abilities, and an Emerging Artist performing space.
Several other Pennington County communities have become incubators for the arts, especially Hill City. Hill City is among the stops the South Dakota Arts Council recommends for those interested in art in the Black Hills region. The community has numerous art galleries, including the Sandy Swallow Gallery, which features Oglala Lakota artists; Warrior’s Work and Ben West Gallery, which features Black Hills and South Dakota artists; the Jon Crane Gallery, featuring the artist’s watercolors and prints; and ArtForms, an artist-owned gallery. In addition, the Prairie Berry Winery hosts exhibits showcasing area artists. Other local wineries include Naked Winery, Stone Faces Winery & Distillery, and Twisted Pine Winery.
The Hill City Area Arts Council sponsors several events annually. Among them are Music in the Hills, an open-mike program offered twice each month from January through March, and Sculpture in the Hills, a juried art sculpture show which is held the final weekend in June. The arts council also works with organizers to host the Black Hills Film Festival annually during the first week in May. This festival offers classes from film professionals and showcases new voices in the independent film industry.
Among the shaping forces in the arts community is Kristin Donnan Standard, who is not only president of the Hill City Area Arts Council, but is also a prolific writer, publisher of the former Art of the Hills magazine. She is married to known metal sculptor Grant Standard. By giving a voice to arts in the area, Donnan Standard has promoted the growth of a community identity that includes the arts. Other published writers from the area include her mother Marcia Mitchell and director of the South Dakota State Railroad Museum, Rick Mills.
Historical Photos & Documents Online
The National Archives and Records Administration has a number of images and documents related to the Battle Creek Fire that took place in 2002 as well as Census documents from 1940. Enter "Pennington County" into the search bar on NARA's Archives Research Catalog.
The Denver Public Library has several documents including three Draft Registration documents from World War I as well as a genealogical record of a pioneering family from New Mexico and an obituary index from Intermountain Jewish News that records from 1918.
The Black Hills Knowledge Network and the Rapid City Public Library have curated large collections of historic photos, documents, and news articles related to Rapid City and the surrounding area. Explore our Digital Archives page to learn more.
- Billboards: A Rapid City Collectioncontains photographs of billboards located throughout Rapid City during the mid and late 1960s. The mid-century advertisements range from commercial services, food and drink, political campaigns, household goods, travel and local tourism, national phenomena, utilities, cars, and public spaces.
- Black Hills Corporation: A Rapid City Collectionoffers photographs documenting the corporation from the 1950s to the present. The images depict various aspects of the corporation’s 130-year presence in the Black Hills and features storefronts, facilities, field workers and executive staff, oil, coal, and power plant initiatives.
- Fitz and Startz Outbursts: A Rapid City Collectionis an anthology of the monthly newsletter published by the American Legion Post 22 in Rapid City from 1935-1945. The Fitz and Startz Outbursts offers the views, concerns, and humor of veterans in both peacetime and war.
- Holidays and Programs: A Rapid City Library Collectioncontains newspaper articles, documents, and photographs of community events and celebrations hosted by the Rapid City Public Library from the mid to late twentieth century.
- Infrastructure Damage: A Rapid City Flood Collectiondocuments the aftermath of the Rapid City Flood of 1972. This collection contains photographs of the damage to infrastructure including bridges, building, vehicles, and roads.
- Pictures: A Rapid City Public Library Collectionincludes photographs of the 1972 construction of the downtown Rapid City Public Library. The collection offers images of patrons, architecture, technology, and various features of the library.
- Politics and Industry: A Rapid City Collectionfeatures photographs, pamphlets, and reports of civic participation in South Dakota public policy. The collection looks at issues and concerns in education, race relations, agriculture, healthcare, the Mountain Pine Beetle, and other community matters.
- Postcards: A Rapid City Collectioncontains postcards depicting various South Dakota landscapes, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the Needles, Spearfish Canyon, and other natural wonders. The collection also includes postcards and photographs of the 1934 Stratobowl balloon, gondola, and crew.
- Powertech: A Rapid City Collectioncontains numerous legal documents, maps, and independent research surrounding the contemporary Powertech uranium mining case. The collection includes official documents from the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and the State of South Dakota.
- Rapid City Flood: Commercial Damagedocuments the aftermath of the Rapid City Flood of 1972. This collection contains photographs of the damage to commercial properties and the subsequent reseeding efforts.
- Rapid City Flood: Community Damagedocuments the aftermath of the Rapid City Flood of 1972. The images capture the damage to public spaces and include the devastation of creeks and canyons, husbandry, vehicles, and various structures. The collection also examines the effort to memorialize the 283 men, women, and children who lost their lives in the flood.
- Rapid City Flood: Residential Damagedocuments the aftermath of the Rapid City Flood of 1972. The collection contains photographs of the destruction to residential properties such as houses, mobile homes, exposed foundations, and displaced structures.
- Rapid City History: Black Hills, South Dakotaoffers photographs, newspaper articles, pamphlets, and reports that document the civil history of Rapid City and the surrounding Black Hills region during the twentieth century. The collection also contains images of local arts, attractions, and recreation, including segments on Storybook Island and the Journey Museum.
- Rapid City Journal: 1930-1969is an anthology of articles from the Rapid City Journal that reports on events from the failed Stratobowl mission in 1935 to the Cold War missile construction in the 1960s.
- Rapid City Journal: 1990-Presentis an anthology of articles from the Rapid City Journal that reports on events between 1978 and the present. Topics range from the success of the Civic Center to the development of the Main Street Square.
- Rapid City Journal: The Creation of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Centeris an anthology of newspaper articles from the Rapid City Journal from 1970-1978. The collection documents the development of the civic center and sports complex and details the planning, financing, politics, and construction of the facility.
- Rapid City Public Library News: A Rapid City Collectionis an anthology of newspaper articles that documents the development of the library from 1905 to the present. The articles report on various events, staff, and expansion throughout the twentieth century.
- Rapid City: Flood Victims: Flood Victimsdocuments the aftermath of the Rapid City Flood of 1972. The collection focuses on community efforts to memorialize the 238 men, women, and children who lost their lives in the flood and includes photographs, newspaper articles, biographies, and lists of the victims.
- Reports & Correspondence: Rapid City Public Library Collectionis an anthology of letters, annual reports (1923-2012), programs, and histories written throughout the twentieth century. The collection contains letters between the Carnegie Corporation and library officials.
- Reports & Media Coverage: A Rapid City Flood Collectiondocuments the aftermath of the Rapid City Flood of 1972. The collection includes official reports, photographs, newspaper articles, KOTA coverage, and correspondence. The official reports feature government studies, agendas, critiques, and memos of the event.
- Reseeding Efforts: A Rapid City Flood Collectiondocuments the aftermath of the Rapid City Flood of 1972. The collection includes photographs, newspaper articles, and a KOTA transcript of initiatives to restore landscape damaged by the flood. The images capture the process of preparing, drilling, shaping, and reseeding areas in and surrounding the city.
- Stratobowl: A Rapid City Collectionoffers photographs, newspaper articles, pilot logs, and scientific diagrams of the Explorer I and Explorer II missions during the 1930s. The collection documents the missions, pilots, community response, and commemorative landmarks of the groundbreaking manned balloon flights.
- The Lamplighter Newsletter: A Rapid City Collectionis an anthology of the monthly newsletter published by the Black Hills Power and Light Company between 1968 and 1971.
- Western South Dakota Photographs: A Rapid City Collectiondocuments the diverse industries, monuments, people, and events of the region throughout the twentieth century. The images also capture the aftermath of the Rapid City Flood of 1972.
Museums, Libraries & Archives
The Journey Museum :The Journey Museum is a natural history museum that takes visitors on a 'journey' through the history of the Black Hills. There are 5 different institutions that form the Journey Museum: The Museum of Geology at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology; the South Dakota Historical Society's Archeology Research Center; the US Department of Interior, Indian Arts and Craft Board's Sioux Indian Museum; the Minnilusa Historical Association and The City of Rapid City Duhamel Plains Indian Artifact Collection.
Museum of Geology:Part of the Journey Museum and located on the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology’s campus, the Museum of Geology offers displays on paleontology and mineralogy. You can find fossils or dinosaurs and other creatures from prehistoric times, as well as mineral displays – many sourced in South Dakota. Admission is free!
Apex Gallery: Located on the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology campus, the Apex Gallery features exhibitions that demonstrate the melding of art and science. The gallery hosts a new exhibition every four to six weeks.
The Dahl Arts Center: The Rapid City Arts Council operates out of the Dahl Arts Center, which hosts a variety of events and art exhibits year-round. Opened in 1974, the Dahl was gifted to the city by Mr. & Mrs. A. E. Dahl. The Dahl houses an event center, five visual arts galleries, a children's gallery, the Cyclorama Mural of American History, a gift shop, classrooms for artists of all ages and abilities, and an Emerging Artist performing space.
Outdoor Campus West: Located in Rapid City, the Outdoor Campus is operated by the South Dakota Game, Fish, & Parks Department and provides educational classes about outdoor skills, wildlife, and conservation. Classes are available for people of all ages during the summer and fall seasons.
South Dakota Air & Space Museum: Located at Ellsworth Air Force Base, the South Dakota Air & Space Museum displays over thirty vintage military aircraft, as well as missiles from throughout history. Exhibits also tell stories of aerospace pioneers, visionaries, and heroes. The Museum’s exhibits serve to educate, entertain, and inspire further aviation and innovation in South Dakota and the United States.
Rapid City Public Library: The Rapid City Public Library has been a cornerstone of the Rapid City community since its founding as Library Hall in 1888. A new Carnegie Library was built in 1903 on the corner of Kansas City Street and 6th Street, followed by the building of the Downtown Library in 1972 on Quincy and 7th Street. The Rapid City Public Libraries today have two branch locations, RCPL Downtown and North at General Beadle Elementary, as well as an online branch.
Hill City Public Library: Located at 342 Main Street, the Hill City Public Library is open to the public and offers an extensive collection of Hill City memorabilia.
Wall Community Library: Located at 407 Main Street, the Wall Community Library offers access to the South Dakota State Library Database and services from South Dakota Titles To Go. Community members can also join book club or attend story time when available.
Rapid City Historic Preservation Commission: The Rapid City Historic Preservation Commission works to preserve historic buildings and archeological sites in the Rapid City area through education and public policy. The Commission surveys local historic properties, conducts educational programs, and recommends policies that will benefit the preservation and restoration of historic properties and areas in Rapid City.
Keystone Area Historical Society:The Keystone Area Historical Society operates the Keystone Historical Museum, based in the former Keystone Schoolhouse, built in 1900. The Museum serves as a repository for historical documents, photos, and memorabilia.
According to a national survey of congregations conducted in 2010, a majority of people (59,336) were not identified with a specific religion or denomination. Of those who did respond, Evangelical Protestants comprise the largest single denomination or faith in Pennington County. At that time, there were 16,338 Evangelical Protestants in the county. The next largest group was the Mainline Protestants with 14,196 members. Between 2000 and 2010, a major decline in membership in the Catholic Church and a major increase in people with unclaimed faiths marked the most important trends. Access the county profile from the Association of Religion Data Archives here. To see a chart with the data from 2000, click here.