Keystone Congregational United Church of Christ
The First Congregational Church of Keystone was organized in a small log schoolhouse on August 11, 1895, embracing the denomination’s tenets of a vital, involved congregation. In March 1896, members voted “to proceed at once with the erection of a church building, the probable cost of said building, duly furnished, being estimated at $2000.” The congregation’s own skilled stone masons and carpenters built the church in six months.
These days, Keystone is bustling with activity on any given summer afternoon. Visitors streaming across Winter Street, checking out the shops on Swanzey, waiting for the 1880 Train to arrive from Hill City. But in 1940, Keystone was still a sleepy little mining town with gravel streets, modest houses and a couple of stores.
We were reminded of this recently while looking through the Library of Congress online photo collection. The site has a handful of pictures of downtown -- we're using that term somewhat loosely -- Keystone in 1940. The pictures were taken by John Vachon, according to the captions, which unfortunately offer little else in the way of detail. By the looks of the photos, firewood was a big concern for Keystone residents.
In 1940, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial carving was still underway. Gutzon Borglum died in March of 1941, and the carving ceased in October of that year. The nation was still struggling to shake off the Great Depression. And on Dec. 7, 1941, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States was at war for the better part of the decade.
By the 1950s, he postwar baby boom, new prosperity and the advent of the family road trip turned Keystone into a much different town -- a bit more like the bustling burg that it is today.
But even if you are driving, you can still enjoy the scenery that abounds in the Black Hills around Keystone. In fact, three of the most scenic roads anywhere make up the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. Start with the Iron Mountain Road just west of Keystone about halfway to Mount Rushmore.
Iron Mountain Road
Iron Mountain Road, or Highway 16A, is one of the most fascinating roads in America. This winding 17-mile scenic road runs between Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park. There’s a tunnel that gives you a unique view of Mount Rushmore framed by granite. Pull over and get a picture. Along the route you’ll also find three pigtail bridges -- clever looping engineering designs to traverse steep inclines with little impact on the scenic landscape. At the road’s hilltop midpoint, you’ll find the Norbeck Overlook, a nice little area for picnicking and sightseeing. The drive is about 45 minutes, but take your time -- and your camera.
The Needles Highway, named for the spiky granite spires that rise from the forest floor, runs along the northern edge of Custer State Park. You can catch it at U.S. Highway 385 at the west end or in Custer State Park near Legion Lake. Along the way, you’ll pass through low tunnels, around sharp curves and come across an occasional grazing bison. Pull over at the Needle’s Eye, a twin spire that does indeed look like a sewing needle jutting from a pin-cushion. You’ll also pass the Black Hills Playhouse, Cathedral Spires and Sylvan Lake.
Wildlife Loop Road
Located in Custer State Park, the name says it all. You’re likely to see antelope, deer, prairie dogs and some of the park’s 1,300 free-roaming bison. You can also spot mountain goats, big horn sheep, deer, elk and wild turkeys.Don’t worry about finding the park’s famous begging burros. They’ll find you. And if your car windows are rolled down, a friendly burro will likely stick his head right inside the car to search for treats. What do burros eat? Just about anything. Apples, carrots, cookies, potato chips, crackers.
The Badlands of South Dakota is a magnificent place that changes dramatically with the setting sun. As the sun goes down and its rays become filtered by the atmosphere; it does a color- changing act that would make a chameleon jealous. The yellows, reds and oranges of the soil and clouds become accentuated and the eyes are greeted with a relaxing pallet of warm pastels. Then the stars take over and do their own tricks as the night sky darkens.