The Black Hills area became important as a commercial center for transient miners in the 1870s, but later served the needs of more stable social-economic groups. The district’s structures are of late 19th and early 20th century origin and reflect typical period architecture. Rapid City was founded with the idea that it would be a service center for people and materials destined for the gold fields. John R. Brennan persuaded a group of unsuccessful miners to establish a town on the eastern slopes of the Black Hills where he and his followers had discovered an adequate water supply in Rapid Creek.
Rapid City was founded on February 25, 1876 and was named for the nearby stream
At first, the city failed to grow in population and economic strength despite its location on freight routes from Nebraska and eastern South Dakota. As corporate mining replaced individual prospecting, and stable homesteading and ranching elements settled the surrounding areas, Rapid City became a permanent consumer market. It soon aspired to be the wholesale center for western South Dakota and the gateway city for the Black Hills.
Better transportation was necessary to achieve commercial primacy; municipal bond sales induced the Missouri, Fremont, and Missouri Valley Railroad to enter the city on July 4, 1886 creating new business opportunities and a quadrupling of the population between 1880-1890. Three additional railroads followed the Missouri, Fremont, and Missouri Valley and contributed to the economic security of the region.
Commercial success was manifested in the historic district’s architecture. Rapid City’s earliest buildings normally consisted of non-descript frame structures. Prosperity soon stimulated more elaborate construction consisting of brick, cut stone, and limestone. Italianate, Neoclassical, and Renaissance designs dominated throughout the district. The period architecture and historical importance of these buildings create an impressive historic district.
The characteristics of the buildings create the appearance of a late 19th and early 20th century city
The Rapid City Historic Commercial District consists of thirty-eight buildings in the center of the town’s business area. This district includes one complete rectangular block and portions of five others. Most structures are two stories, along with one and three-story structures. A single eight story building towers over the district. All roof tops are flat and usually are covered with tar. Although roofing materials are similar, exterior wall coverings vary. Most buildings are brick of different color, texture, and shape. Limestone, cut stone, clapboard, stucco, and modern siding are used in the facing.
512 6th Street – 1911 this structure was one of the three main buildings in the district used for professional offices. The building was built by the Elks for a meeting hall. It is of the Neoclassical type and is three stories high. Brick and masonry are the main facing materials used. The building features pilasters, dentils, brackets, cresting and masonry ornamentations.
601 Main – 1916 a two-story structure of Neoclassical design situated at the corner of 6th and Main Streets. This building is the Pennington County Bank and is constructed of limestone. The building has always been a bank and reflects the district’s commercial importance.
610 Main – 1915 this structure still houses a fire station; one of few such fire stations left from this era. It is a two-story brick veneered building with masonry materials used as decorative features It still has the fire house doors and the only alteration has been the addition of another vehicle door on the west side.
523 6th Street – 1927 an eight-story structure and one of the earliest tall buildings in the state. It has served as a hotel throughout its existence. It is constructed of brick facing with masonry as decoration.