The second most common question among visitors to Deadwood (number one being “where are the bathrooms?”) is “where is old Deadwood?” Many visitors are looking for the Deadwood portrayed in the new HBO series Deadwood, old movies and illustrated in the history books. Deadwood is pictured as a rough and tumble mining camp made up of one-and-two story wood and canvas buildings, boardwalks and mud streets. The visitors are looking for the buildings and characters that made Deadwood a distinctive early western frontier/mining town.
The town that the visitor is searching for would have disappeared through the normal course of development but in Deadwood this evolution was hastened by the fire of 1879 that destroyed the commercial heart of Deadwood. Deadwood was rebuilt as we see it today primarily of brick and stone, with paved streets and other big city amenities. Since the start of limited gaming, the city has led the way in the restoration of historic buildings in both the downtown and residential areas. Since the existing buildings are historic, there has been no need to remove them to return to some earlier period of Deadwood history. The question by visitors, however, is quite legitimate. “Where is old Deadwood?” and how can they discover what it was like?
The Deadwood Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau will be providing a partial answer to the question this summer with a reconstruction of typical building facades from 1876. This is being done to provide visitors with an accurate representation of what Deadwood would have looked like in 1876 when Seth Bullock, Sol Star, Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane walked the streets. There are numerous photos that exist of historic Deadwood and many of these were used to create the set that is used in the Deadwood series. The Chamber is proposing to build approximately 200 feet of building facades that will be typical of historic Deadwood and will combine the most visible features and details from historic photographs and the set of the television series. This will provide a photo opportunity for visitors and allow them to see what historic Deadwood would have looked like. There will be interpretive information available at the site in the form of printed materials and live interpretation. It is proposed that Deadwood Alive and its historic re-enactors will perform at the site on a regular basis.
The Old Deadwood façade will be located on the north end of the Bullock parking lot across the four-lane U.S. Highway 85 behind the Bullock and Celebrity Hotels. It will be visible from both the four-lane highway and from Main Street and will provide a magnificent photo opportunity for both residents and visitors. The site has not been occupied by historic buildings and involves no demolition of existing structures. It is a new and additional method of interpreting Deadwood’s history and will provide an opportunity to better tell the story of how Deadwood developed from lawless mining town to the economic and retail center of the northern Black Hills.