Custer, SD – Twenty-nine volunteers and Forest Service employees worked to save an important piece of local history located in a quiet green valley surrounded by pines near Custer, SD recently.
Workers pounded in cedar shingles that resembled the originals, with an added “treated-wood” bonus to act as a fire retardant. Others swept out the build-up of a year’s debris from the inside. John Crane, a known artist, put his paintbrushes down and his work gloves on and sawed cedar pieces for the roof. The Black Hills Historic Preservation Trust volunteers and Forest Service crews hoisted each other building materials and tools. Also on site was the great grandson, John Meeker, of the man who started it all, Frank Cunningham Meeker.
Construction of the Meeker Ranch house began in 1887 by Meeker who homesteaded to the hills in 1879. Meeker ran a small herd of cattle on the 280 acre ranch and supplemented his income by assessing mining claims to ensure they complied with mining regulations. In 1973, the Meeker Ranch was sold to Dave and Ina Davis who sold it to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in 2004 and that same year the Forest Service purchased the ranch from the foundation.
When the Forest Service acquired the ranch, it was in rough shape said Matt Padilla, Hell Canyon Archaeologist. As a safety precaution, the Forest Service decided to remove the structure to keep people safe and also to improve elk habitat.
In 2008, John Crane piqued the interest of the public to raise funds to restore the ranch by hosting a “Plein Air” paint out. Artists from all over came to the ranch to participate in the outdoor painting event. Thirty percent of the proceeds from their sold art work were donated towards the restoration of the Meeker Ranch.
With renewed interest and funds, the Forest Service teamed up with the Black Hills Historic Preservation Trust, which was formed to preserve historic structures throughout the hills, shortly after the paint out.
“This is our third summer working with the trust on Meeker Ranch,” said Padilla. Padilla said the main focus has been re-shingling the roof on the main house and cellar to protect them from rain, snow and other elements. The last “golden” screw was put in place this summer on the roof. “It’s great seeing the old deteriorated roof re-shingled and knowing that it’s going to last and stand the test of time,” said Padilla. Some future projects include fixing the windows and doors.
Padilla said there will eventually be a walk in to the cabin along with interpretive signs.
Both the Forest Service and Black Hills Historic Preservation Trust hope that future visitors can take a step back in time to remember the Black Hills so long ago.
For more information on the Black Hills National Forest, please visit, http://www.fs.usda.gov/blackhills