‘Powering Homestake’ tells history of Spearfish’s hydroelectric plant

SPEARFISH, SD — The hydroelectric plant along Spearfish Creek near the Spearfish City Campground been producing electricity since 1912, and its story is now compiled in the booklet, “Powering Homestake,” published by the Spearfish Historic Preservation Commission and written by Paul Higbee. Greg Dias, chairman of the commission, presented the booklet to the Spearfish City Council Tuesday, describing the printing of the booklet as the completion of a project the commission has been working on for about three years.


“We’re really proud of this piece of work,” he said, acknowledging the South Dakota State Preservation Office, South Dakota Historical Society, Spearfish Area Historical Society, Deadwood History, Inc., Homestake Adams Research and Cultural Center, Black Hills State University Case Library, and Gary Lillihaug, hydroelectric plant superintendent, for their assistance and resources shared to make the booklet a reality. Dias also acknowledged the Spearfish Historic Preservation Commission members, who, including Dias as chairman, are Rebecca Rodriguez, vice-chairwoman; Patti Dias, secretary; Gloria Clark, Dorothy Honadal, Lennis Larson, Kaija Swisher, and Paul Thomson. Dias also extended the commission’s sincerest appreciation to Higbee for his work on the publication. “He brought a lot to the table,” Dias said, describing that Higbee was right on board with the project as soon as he was asked about it. “He did a wonderful job on this.”


Higbee took a moment to address the council, as well. “I really wanted to tell this story from Spearfish’s perspective,” he said, explaining that in addition to the above resources mentioned, archives of the Queen City Mail newspaper, area residents whose family members were involved in the hydroelectric plant project, and Jerry Krambeck, both as the former Spearfish mayor and as a former Homestake employee, were incredibly helpful during the research portion of the project.

“The favorite fact of mine that I learned about this was in the spring of 1909, two big construction projects began: Development of the Titantic, and that same season, the development of the Homestake hydro system,” Higbee said. “And sure enough, exactly three years later, the same week in April 1912, both the Titanic and the hydro plant fired up. We all know what happened to the Titanic’s technology; it’s all at the bottom of the Atlantic, but 105 years later, we still have the power plant producing electricity, with some of the very same technology that fired up in 1912. So it was a fun story to explore, and I thank you for the opportunity to do so.”


The plant was built to provide power to the Homestake Mine, and when it was constructed, water was diverted at the Maurice intake located in Spearfish Canyon. From there, the water flows into pipes that deliver it approximately 4.5 miles to the plant, where it turns twin turbines, and the water then exits the plant, flows through Spearfish and onto its confluence with the Redwater River north of town. The city of Spearfish bought the plant in 2004 for $250,000 and received a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permit in 2011. The permit allows the city to operate the plant, maintaining and providing a stable source of energy, and allows it to enter into purchase agreements with utility companies. In 2005, the revenue from the plant totaled $258,635, and after renewing a contract with Black Hills Power in 2014, the revenue has more than doubled since then: According to the city’s 2015 Annual Department Operations Report, the revenue from the hydroelectric plant was $889,088 that year.


The Spearfish Historic Preservation Commission provided booklets to members of the council, staff, and community members present at the meeting Tuesday, and Dias added that the booklets would be freely available to the public at city hall, the Spearfish Area Chamber of Commerce, Visit Spearfish, and the hydroelectric plant, as well as electronically on the city’s website. “Part of a city is its past, and what you’ve done here is protect the past and gives us and the future an idea of what has happened with the hydro plant, and I want to thank you and your dedicated members for standing fast on this,” Council Vice President Doug Schmit said. “It’s fantastic, everything that you’ve done,” Mayor Dana Boke added.


Thanks Ron