CCC Museum of South Dakota to open this month

References to the Great Depression have been numerous during the current economic recession as media commentators have continually reminded us that we could be slipping into the worst economic downturn since that time. One of the positive things that has arisen from those continual references is a renewed interest in the Great Depression and the people who lived through it.

I don’t know if the rebirth of interest in the Depression is what spurred the development of a Civilian Conservation Corps museum in Hill City, but the museum certainly is coming along at an auspicious time, regardless of the motivations for its founding. The grand opening is scheduled for May 16.

If you’re not familiar with the CCC, here’s a description from Wikipedia:

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a public work relief program for unemployed men, focused on natural resource conservation from 1933 to 1942. As part of the New Deal legislation proposed by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), the CCC was designed firstly, to aid relief of high unemployment stemming from the Great Depression and secondly, carry out a broad natural resource conservation program on national, state and municipal lands.

According to South Dakota author and historian Peggy Sanders, who appears to have been instrumental in the founding of the new museum, there were about 50 CCC camps in South Dakota over a nine-year period. She maintains a CCC blog and a Web page that contain some information about the new museum, and she has written a book about the CCC in and around the Black Hills. Other information about the museum is difficult to find on the Web. I found information about the museum’s grand opening on the Web site of the Tri-State Neighbor.

From what I’ve been able to find quickly in print and on the Internet, it appears that the lookout tower atop Harney Peak and the Norbeck Visitor Center in Custer State Park were among the many CCC projects. The CCC also built many bridges and dams in the state and planted many shelterbelts to ward against the wind erosion that wreaked so much havoc during the Dust Bowl years.

If you’re thinking of checking out the new museum, rest assured you’ll find plenty of other things to do in Hill City. The vintage 1880 Train makes daily summer trips between Hill City and Keystone, and there is a trailhead for the Mickelson Trail in Hill City. Many other Black Hills attractions are within short driving distance. 

About Author

Seth Tupper

Seth Tupper was born and raised in South Dakota and earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from South Dakota State University in 2001. After college, he worked at a newspaper in Minnesota and then returned to South Dakota in 2003 to join the staff of The Daily Republic in Mitchell, where he is currently the publisher. Seth has won numerous awards for his writing, including the 2007 Outstanding Young Journalist award in the daily newspapers category of the South Dakota Newspaper Association's Better Newspapers Contest. Seth's day-job and freelance work have granted him opportunities to meet hundreds of South Dakotans and travel across much of the state. He also spends a lot of his free time exploring South Dakota's state and national parks, hiking trails and kayak-friendly rivers.


  1. Cindy Burich
    Cindy Burich 21 June, 2011, 16:12

    Can anyone give any information about the formation under Pactola Lake that was revealed 2 summers ago when the water was so low that looks like a add-on monument make out of concrete? It has date marked on form the 1930’s and 40’s. It appeared to be a type of reunion marker that was added to every year. We took pictures of it 2 summers ago. We thought it might have something to do with the CCC camps.

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  2. Seth Tupper
    Seth Tupper 21 June, 2011, 16:13


    From what I can find on the Internet, I’m guessing you might be seeing the remains of the town of Pactola. From Wikipedia: “At the bottom of Pactola Lake is the submerged town of Pactola, an old mining camp and site of several military bivouacs during the original settlement of the Black Hills in the mid-1870s.”

    I found two sources that say the Pactola dam was built in 1956, so that would make it too new for a CCC project. But there was a CCC camp in the area before the dam was built,E according to info from the U.S. Forest Service ( “Pactola Valley included the community of Pactola, Camp Wanzer (a health facility for TB patients), and CCC Camp Pactola. The name ‘Pactola’ derives from the River Pactolus in Greek mythology. When Pactola Dam was built in 1956 these historic sites were buried under the reservoir.”

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  3. Cindy Burich
    Cindy Burich 21 June, 2011, 16:14

    We talked with a forest service employee at the Visitors Center @ Pactola and he said it was from a church camp and every year they meet for a reunion they would add more rocks and a date! We were just kayaking there this weekend and it is all underwater again, but that is a good thing!

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    • Joyceann Kroger
      Joyceann Kroger 13 October, 2014, 22:50

      Yes, there was a Methodist Church camp there for many years. There are still some older United Methodist people throughout the state who remember camping there, and I know some of them went back there when the old water was so low a few years ago. The camp was moved to the Rockerville area when the dam was built for Pactola. The United Methodist Church of the Dakotas Annual Conference has continued to this day, and is now called Storm Mountain Center; easily reached from Highway 16 near Rockerville. The camp hosts many church and non church events and is open year-round.

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  4. Steve Burger
    Steve Burger 21 June, 2011, 16:14

    The tower on Harney Peak is definitely a CCC project. My father, Paul Burger, helped build it. He says they hauled cement up the mountain in a wheeled cart with 55 gallon drums cut in half and powered by a mule.

    My father is still alive, living here in Evansville, if you have any questions about the CCC in the Black Hills.

    Steve Burger
    Evansville, Indiana

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    • Peggy Sanders
      Peggy Sanders 26 October, 2011, 13:05

      Hi Steve,
      I would like to get in touch with your dad. Can you please give me his address? I’m the author of the book “The Civilian Conservation Corps Iand and Around the Black Hills,” and I was very involved in creating the CCC Museum of South Dakota in Hill City.

      Thank you,

      Peggy Sanders

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  5. Melissa Owen
    Melissa Owen 21 June, 2011, 17:57

    Hi Steve, I am doing a research project on the CCC in the Black Hills for a Mountains of History course for educators in Rapid City. I would love to have additional information from your dad in regards to the projects, working conditions of the time and any other insite he would like to share. I am just beginning my project so more questions may arise as I get deeper into the information. I will need a signed consent to show that your dad agreed to sharing the information and knows it may be included in a research project (the information would be shared with other historians in the area) Thank you so much.

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  6. Jennifer Roe
    Jennifer Roe 21 June, 2011, 17:57

    Melissa – my father in law (who turned 90 last week) also helped build Harney lookout when he was in the ccc and has shared the same story that Steve posted. If you are still looking for info. feel free to email me at

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  7. Syd Crawford Reyes
    Syd Crawford Reyes 29 July, 2011, 04:55

    I have a picture of Iron Creek Lake from about 1936. we think as it was filling for the first time. The dam was built by the CCC. I am curious about where their camp was and why the dam was built. I have heard conflicting stories about it.
    Thank you for any info.
    Syd Reyes

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  8. Mary Bertrand
    Mary Bertrand 24 March, 2013, 15:36

    I am writing about my sister, Alice Pinsch who I believed went to Camp Wanzer sometime in the 1930’s. I would like more information if possible. Her older sisters said she came home and taught them songs she had learned. Was the camp for disadvantaged children?
    I would appreciate any information you can provide.
    Thank you so much.
    Mary Bertrand ( I was a younger sister who was born 1932)

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