Dr. David Wolff, Black Hills State University dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Black Hills historian, talks about the founding of BHSU.
Black Hills State University faculty, staff and students were taken back in time to the University’s beginning years during a recent luncheon featuring talks by Dr. David Wolff, BHSU dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Black Hills historian, and Bobbi Sago, BHSU Special Collections librarian and University archivist.

The event was part of the City of Spearfish’s 125th birthday festivities.  BHSU, which just celebrated its 130th anniversary, partnered with Spearfish to provide a variety of family-oriented activities throughout the weekend celebration.

“We are extremely proud of the partnership that we have with the city. We have a legacy of working together for the greater good of our community,” said Dr. Jane Klug, director of Student Services at BHSU.

During his talk, Wolff discussed how plans for what is now BHSU started several years before its founding in 1883. The arrival of the railroad in 1878 spurred a rush for land, known as the Great Dakota Boom. In 1881, looking for economic stability, territorial legislators began plans to open five normal schools. Legislators, however, provided no funding and relied on settlers to give land for the school. In 1883, with hopes of soliciting support for the move of the capital from Yankton to Bismarck, Dakota Territory Gov. Nehemiah Ordway approved $7,000 for the Dakota Territorial Normal School. Joseph Ramsdell, one of the original pioneers of Spearfish, identified 40 acres of land where the school could be built and, along with local merchant John Wolzmuth, raised money to buy the land.

Wolff went on to explain how Fayette Cook, the “principal” of the Dakota Territorial Normal School from 1885–1919, helped strengthen the school’s academic credentials and laid the foundation for the successful institution BHSU is today.

During the luncheon, Sago also introduced a new self-guided historical walking tour of campus which includes stops at Ida Henton Park, Lyle Hare Stadium, the various residence halls and the David B. Miller Yellow Jacket Student Union, the former location of Vetsville – a housing area for married veterans returning home from World War II. Walking tour brochures are located in the Student Union.

Spearfish’s birthday celebration also included a historic cemetery walk, downtown music and entertainment, a history game show, and birthday cake.