By ANDREA J. COOK
Rapid City Journal
BLACK HAWK, S.D. (AP) _ From a distance, Black Hawk might seem like nothing more than a random cluster of housing developments intermingled with a few businesses along Interstate 90.
But there’s a strong sense of unity in this unorganized community.
Black Hawk’s residents take pride in their history, their independence _ even their 57718 ZIP code. And they do it without the need for a mayor or any of the regulations and taxes that come with city living, the Rapid City Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1283OBg ).
The Meade County community has twice resisted incorporation efforts.
“We really don’t want to be incorporated. We have no desire,” said Cindy Swanson, manager of the Black Hawk Water User District, which serves more than 1,300 homes and businesses, providing water for more than 4,400 people.
Black Hawk residents have happily sacrificed services for lower taxes, according to Dennis Mather. A retired Air Force flight controller, Mather settled in Black Hawk in 1986. His family discovered Black Hawk when he was assigned to Ellsworth Air Force Base.
The area’s location on the lee side of the Black Hills creates a perfect environment, Mather said. Winters are mild and summer nights cool quickly. The humidity is minimal and there are hardly any bugs, he said.
Best of all, “a lot of people don’t know about Black Hawk,” Mather said.
Black Hawk may be considered a bedroom community, but its roots run deep _ 126 years deep.
The southern end of the Piedmont Valley, with its grassy meadows and flowing springs, felt like home for a group of immigrants from Lillherredal, Sweden, who settled here in 1887, according to Fran Prestjohn. The Prestjohn family is considered one of Black Hawk’s founding families. Several Prestjohn descendants still live in the area.
Ed and Fran Prestjohn raised two sons in Black Hawk and operated a variety of small businesses.
There are conflicting stories about the origin of Black Hawk’s name, Prestjohn said. Some say it has a Native American origin. One of the early applications for a post office locates the site along the “Black Hawk Creek.”
Its name long forgotten, the creek is nothing more than a marshy draw today, Prestjohn said.
In those early days, flowing springs and tall grass provided a perfect setting for a thriving dairy industry.
“A lot of Rapid City’s milk came from the Black Hawk area,” said Jesse Lewis.
The dairies are gone, but a few of Lewis’ registered Angus cattle still roam the foothills. Lewis raises registered bulls and confessed that he, too, caught the “development bug.” A residential area dubbed “Angus Lane” flanks his barnyard.
Homes have gradually chipped away at the grasslands surrounding Black Hawk as developers take advantage of Meade County’s lower taxes and the area’s proximity to Rapid City.
Black Hawk Elementary School, which is part of the Rapid City Area Schools district, serves nearly 500 students.
“We have a nice school,” said Chad Neiger, who operates his custom tile business from his Black Hawk garage.
Although there’s no formal business district or industrial park, several small businesses have found their niche in Black Hawk. There’s a surprising diversity of businesses.
“It’s not as congested as in the city,” said Wade Stebbins.
His East West Trucking business is located near the local cafe, but there’s ample room for customers and trucks. “There are a lot of good people here,” he added.
Like many locals, Neiger and Stebbins start their day with a “home-cooked” breakfast at Connie’s Place.
In business for just 18 months, Connie Royer has created a unique hometown dining experience in a space she shares with Tammy Schaeffer’s Garage Sports Bar. Royer closes at 2 p.m., about the time Schaeffer opens. Their common space gives both businesses more capacity.
“I love it here,” said Royer, who has lived in Black Hawk for 35 years. “It’s more of a community than a town. I love the people.”
Although loosely connected, Black Hawk’s residents have a strong sense of community, according to Thelma Steele, who operates Thelma’s Treasure’s a few doors down from the Garage and Connie’s Place.
Whenever someone needs a helping hand, there’s always somebody ready to offer help, Steele said.
Black Hawk’s population increased more than 18 percent in the 10 years between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. The growth has brought a lot of new people to the community, but there’s still a solid core of “old-timers” who like the no-frills lifestyle.
“This is still a place where you can appreciate a paved road,” explained Glennies Smith, who has lived in Black Hawk for 52 years. Smith owns a custom lawn ornament business specializing in a variety of concrete ornaments.
Smith has seen decades of change since she and her late husband moved to Black Hawk because “land was cheap.” She has no plans to leave.
“I have some very dear, longtime friends here,” Smith said. “And good friends are important.”
Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com