CUSTER, S.D. (KELO) — For 100 years, CusteFor 100 years, Custer State Park and the Black Hills have been home to the State Game Lodge. Thousands of visitors stop by the building not only to admire the history behind it but also to vacation in it.
One century ago, former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck wanted a place where the Game Commission could stay in Custer State Park that would match the natural beauty of the area.
“As per future aspirations, I foresee the construction of a gamekeeper’s residence and perhaps a hotel. Aesthetically. I feel this very value would be a perfect place for this project. I always feel this area to be rather romantic. Perhaps that sounds sentimental but for that, I do not apologize. Nevertheless, if and when a gamekeeper residence in this park, it must be in harmony with the scenery surrounding you today,” Lydia Austin, Visitor Services Manager, said.
Those were words from Norbeck himself when proposing the idea for the State Game Lodge. It wasn’t until 1927 that U.S. President Calvin Coolidge was invited out to the park and quickly fell in love with the Black Hills.
“Norbeck was really starting to put tourism into the Black Hills. Coolidge came out and just fell in love with the area. And he decided to stay. His couple weeks turned into 3 months. They actually took the high school up in Rapid and turned it into a presidential office. The general store down the way was built to house all the secret service and all the staff that president would need,” Austin said.
From fancy dinners and gorgeous parties to important business meetings, the State Game Lodge has seen it all.
“They really brought that roaring 20s feel to the park. If you think about it, the Needles weren’t built, the highway wasn’t built, Iron Mountain Road wasn’t built, we didn’t have cabins, we didn’t have park visitor centers, it was in the middle of nowhere, to be honest with this beautiful facility,” Austin said.
It was nicknamed the Summer White House and was briefly home to President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953.
During the same time, the Lodge served the gamekeepers, Presidents and their families, it was also a vacation spot for other visitors.
“We have a hundred and four rentable rooms here now. So we’ve changed, remodeled the whole place over the span of its time,” Jason Krulish, General Manager, said.
Millions of people have stayed at the State Game Lodge over the years and continue to come back. The building is listed as a National Historic Site and still has some of the original furnishings including the stone fireplace and these Tiffany chandeliers.
“And we’ve actually used some of the old siding to in remodeling and re-purposing the Event Barn that’s been here almost as long as the State Game Lodge. So it’s neat to see that. We incorporated some of the wood from the Legion Lake fire and even some of the bug wood. So capturing some of that history as we improve the facilities is important to all of us,” Gina Konechne, Marketing Director, said.
This year marks 100 years since the State Game Lodge was built. In honor of that giant anniversary, the Park is celebrating for the rest of the year.
Staff at Custer State Park are hopeful this is just the beginning for the State Game Lodge.
“Whether you just want to get out and enjoy nature or if you want to enjoy some of the restaurants and the facilities and resort that we operate. And that matched with wildlife sighting, I would say the biggest hopes for the future is more of the same. Just to maintain that and be able to offer the memories for everyone and keeping it special and hope that everything is here for the next hundred years,” Konechne said.
Providing opportunities for all to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds the lodge.