Hill City, South Dakota facts for kids

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Hill City
Hill City, South Dakota
Motto: The Heart of the Hills
Location in Pennington County and the state of South Dakota
Location in Pennington County and the state of South Dakota
Country United States
State South Dakota
County Pennington
Established 1876
Incorporated 1945
 • Total 1.27 sq mi (3.29 km2)
 • Land 1.26 sq mi (3.26 km2)
 • Water 0.01 sq mi (0.03 km2)
Elevation 5,159 ft (1,572 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 948
 • Estimate (2015) 995
 • Density 752.4/sq mi (290.5/km2)
Time zone MST (UTC-7)
 • Summer (DST) MDT (UTC-6)
Zip Code 57745
Area code(s) 605, NXX Exchange 574
FIPS code 46-29100
GNIS feature ID 1267029
Website City of Hill City

Hill City is the oldest existing city in Pennington County, South Dakota, United States. The population was 948 at the 2010 census. Hill City is located 26 miles (42 km) southwest of Rapid City on State Highway 16 and on U.S. Route 385 that connects Deadwood to Hot Springs. Hill City is known as the "Heart of the Hills" which is derived from its close proximity to both the geographical center of the Black Hills, and the local tourist destinations.

The city has its roots in the Black Hills mining rush of the late 19th century. Tin mining was dominant in the 1880s and led to an influx of capital and people into the area. As the mining industry subsequently waned, tourism and timber became increasingly important to the area. With the establishment of Mount Rushmore in the 1940s, Custer State Park, and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the Black Hills became known as a tourist destination which Hill City benefited from. In recent years the city has diversified to become a center for the arts in the area featuring several art studios and festivals.


Human history in the area that became Hill City, and the greater Black Hills in particular, started by at least 7000 BC. The Arikara arrived by 1500 AD, followed by the Cheyenne, Crow, Kiowa and Pawnee. In the 19th century, the Lakota Sioux claimed the land, calling it Paha Sapa. In 1874, Major General George Armstrong Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills, during which gold was discovered in French Creek, 13 miles (21 km) south of Hill City. The discovery of gold opened the Black Hills, and the Hill City area, to mining. Hill City was first settled by miners in 1876, who referred to the area as Hillyo. This was the second American settlement in the Black Hills. Hill City is the oldest city still in existence in Pennington County. A post office was constructed and opened on November 26, 1877. The city almost became a ghost town when miners relocated to the northern Black Hills after the discovery of gold there.

In 1883, tin was discovered near Hill City, and the population rebounded. The Harney Peak Tin Mining, Milling, and Manufacturing Company made its headquarters on Main Street. The company was backed by English financiers and bought 1,100 prospecting sites around the area. As mining grew, the city became known for its wild living and was once referred to as "a town with a church on each end and a mile of Hell in between." At one time, 15 saloons were located on Main Street. The company built the Harney Peak Hotel on Main Street to entertain its management and executives. Upon realizing the tin market was unsustainable, the company ceased operation in 1902.

Although a small school building was established previously, a main school building was constructed on Main Street in 1921. This school building was replaced in 2001 with the current high school. On July 10, 1939, a fire started 10 miles (16 km) outside of Hill City. Among those who battled the blaze was Hill City High School's entire basketball squad, as well as several teachers and administrators. The United States Forest Service named the school boys one of the best crews who fought the fire. The school team name thus became the Hill City Rangers and was privileged as the only school district in the United States allowed to use Smokey Bear as its official mascot. Hill City was incorporated on March 21, 1945. The Harney Peak Hotel remained in operation until 1934. The building has been restored and is the current location of the Alpine Inn. This building is on the List of Registered Historic Places in South Dakota. The Black Hills Institute of Geological Research opened in 1973 and is involved in the excavation and display of dinosaur and other fossils. In 1992, the institute was engaged in a legal battle over ownership of the Tyrannosaurus rex fossil named "Sue".

This city was one of the filming locations for TNT's 1994 film Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee.


BHC RR in 2001
A Black Hills Central Railroad train steams out of Hill City in 2001, bound for Keystone, South Dakota.

The main railroad lines that intersected Hill City were the Burlington Northern Line (also called the High Line), previously the Grand Island and Wyoming Central, operated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company; and the Black Hills Central Line, a spur that extended from Hill City to Keystone. The High Line extended from Edgemont north through Hill City and terminated in Deadwood. This line reached Hill City in 1893, and the Black Hills Central Line was extended and reached Keystone on January 20, 1900. Narrow gauge trolley cars were operated at 45-minute intervals during the day on the High Line. The High Line discontinued its passenger service in 1949 and was fully abandoned in 1983. It is now the George S. Mickelson Trail, after being converted to a bike trail during the 1990s.

In 1957, the Black Hills Central Railroad, also known locally as the 1880 Train, opened a tourist passenger train on the Black Hills Central Line. In 1972, a flood destroyed the last mile of the Burlington Northern and Black Hills Central Lines that extended from Hill City to Keystone. This final mile was restored in 2001. The Black Hills Central Railroad restores era-style locomotives and train cars. It has been featured on television shows such as the Gunsmoke episode "Snow Train", General Hospital, and the TNT mini-series Into the West. The railroad also made an appearance in the movie Orphan Train.

Sue controversy

On August 12, 1990, Sue Hendrickson, an American paleontologist working for the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research discovered the fossil of what would become the most complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered. The fossil was named "Sue" after the woman who discovered it. After discovery, excavation, and transport to the institute's facilities in Hill City, controversy arose as to who the rightful owners of the fossil was. The parties in dispute were the land owner, Maurice Williams; the tribe, and thus the federal government; and the Black Hills Institute. On May 12, 1992, FBI agents seized Sue from the institute over the course of three days. The fossil was shipped to South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Through the ongoing court battle, it was finally decided that Maurice Williams was the owner of the fossil. The federal government later brought a 39-count, 153-charge indictment against the institute and several of its members, which was related to this case and other fossils. This case turned into the longest criminal trial in South Dakota state history. Peter Larson, the president of the institute, was convicted on two counts of customs violations, for which he served two years in federal prison. Sue was finally auctioned off by Sotheby's auction house and sold by Maurice Williams to the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois for $8.36 million.

Geography and climate

Hill City is located in the Black Hills at 43°56′01″N 103°34′17″W / 43.933675°N 103.571415°W / 43.933675; -103.571415 (43.933675, -103.571415) near the geographic center of the Black Hills, which is where the cities motto "The Heart of the Hills" originated. Spring Creek runs through the east side of town.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 1.27 square miles (3.29 km2), of which, 1.26 square miles (3.26 km2) is land and 0.01 square miles (0.03 km2) is water.

Hill City has been assigned the ZIP code 57745 and the FIPS place code 29100.

The climate of Hill City is dry with an average of 20 inches (510 mm) of precipitation annually. The presence of the hills surrounding the town leads to cooler weather in winter and summer and makes for calm conditions with little wind compared to areas outside of the Black Hills. The Köppen climate type of this location is Dwb, often described as the dry-winter version of the Warm Summer Humid Continental climate. Climates that feature a winter dry season like this one are rare in non-tropical areas of the United States, with appearances limited to isolated areas of the Great Plains states.

Climate data for Hill City, South Dakota
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 66
Average high °F (°C) 36
Average low °F (°C) 7
Record low °F (°C) −26
Precipitation inches (mm) 0.32
Snowfall inches (cm) 5.4
Source: The Weather Channel, Western Regional Climate Center (snowfall)


Historical population
Census Pop.
1890 470
1910 271
1950 361
1960 419 16.1%
1970 389 −7.2%
1980 535 37.5%
1990 650 21.5%
2000 780 20.0%
2010 948 21.5%
Est. 2015 995 5.0%
U.S. Decennial Census
2015 Estimate

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 948 people, 394 households, and 244 families residing in the city. The population density was 752.4 inhabitants per square mile (290.5/km2). There were 473 housing units at an average density of 375.4 per square mile (144.9/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 82.1% White, 0.6% African American, 4.0% Native American, 0.1% Asian, 10.4% from other races, and 2.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 18.9% of the population.

There were 394 households of which 33.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.2% were married couples living together, 7.9% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.8% had a male householder with no wife present, and 38.1% were non-families. 30.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.41 and the average family size was 3.05.

The median age in the city was 37.9 years. 25.8% of residents were under the age of 18; 8.7% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 24.7% were from 25 to 44; 27.6% were from 45 to 64; and 13.4% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 51.2% male and 48.8% female.

2000 census

As of the census of 2000, there were 780 people, 298 households, and 213 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,013.5 people per square mile (391.1/km2). There were 340 housing units at an average density of 441.8 per square mile (170.5/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 89.74% White, 3.46% Native American, 0.26% Asian, 4.36% from other races, and 2.18% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 7.05% of the population.

There were 298 households out of which 39.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.3% were married couples living together, 13.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.2% were non-families. 24.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.62 and the average family size was 3.11.

In the city, the population was spread out with 31.2% under the age of 18, 7.6% from 18 to 24, 30.3% from 25 to 44, 20.4% from 45 to 64, and 10.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 94.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $32,500, and the median income for a family was $37,500. Males had a median income of $30,114 versus $17,000 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,789. About 12.5% of families and 13.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 17.5% of those under age 18 and 13.3% of those age 65 or over.

Culture and religion

Hill City is becoming a center for the Black Hills visual arts community. The Hill City Arts Council oversees the promotion of the arts in the city, Styles highlighted are sculpture in bronze and stone, watercolors, painting, and framing. Native American artwork and jewelry are also prominent.

The Hill City Slickers is a musical group that plays country, folk, and bluegrass music as well as original music. In 2003 they were featured artists with the Black Hills Symphony Orchestra. Thus far they have produced three albums.

Hill City is home to the Black Hills Museum of Natural History, which came out of the vision of the Black Hills Institute for Geological Research. The museum was incorporated in 1992. The collection on display includes dinosaurs, fossil fishes, mammals, birds, reptiles, and fossil invertebrates, as well as gemstones, minerals, and meteorites. The highlight of the collection is the Tyrannosaurus rex specimen named "Stan" which is one of the most compete skeletons unearthed with 65% of the bones unearthed. The museum is also a leading contributor to Hill City's Natural History Days celebration that focuses on fun and education, with guest speakers, and a fossil hunt for children.

Wade's Gold Mill and Mining Museum offers a look back on the history of mining in the Black Hills. The museum has worked to collect and preserve equipment used of mining in the Black Hills and hosts a one-stamp gold mill.

Although people of many faiths live in Hill City, five groups have established church buildings in town. These include Assemblies of God, Catholic Church, Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and one non-denominational Christian church.

Sports and recreation

Coach Gins Court in Hill City, SD. Home to the Rangers.

Hill City High School is a member of the South Dakota High School Activities Association and competes in class "A". Because students helped to fight a wildfire that threatened the community in 1939, the school's mascot is Smokey Bear, and the fight song is Marines' Hymn. High School Boys compete in basketball, football, track and field, cross country, and wrestling. High School Girls compete in basketball, volleyball, cheerleading, track and field, cross country, and golf.

Outdoor Sports popular in the area include hiking, mountain climbing, snowmobiling and dogsled racing. Hill City is the ninth trailhead on the George S. Mickelson Trail that runs from Deadwood, to Edgemont. This trail is often used for running, cycling, and snowmobiling in the winter.

Snowmobiling is also enjoyed in the area with groomed paths running through Hill City and the surrounding Black Hills. There are 350 miles (560 km) of groomed trails in the area. Two snowmobiling magazines have rated the Black Hills as one of the best places to ride in North America.

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