In 1918, architect C.C. Gideon took the train from Minnesota to Rapid City to meet S.D. Sen. Peter Norbeck, thereby establishing a lifelong collaborative friendship that resulted in some of the Black Hills most prized landmarks.
First on the project list the in Custer State Park, constructed from 1919-1922 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A nearby sawmill provided the huge logs that were specially cut and prepared before placement. Elaborate rockwork using native stones completed the elegant exterior. During the construction period, Gideon and his family wintered in a tent on the grounds.
It was a beautiful masterpiece, and it was gone in 72 days. A suspicious fire completely destroyed the lodge shortly after it opened in 1921. Gideon showed his pioneer perseverance by reconstructing the lodge in just 72 days.
Gideon’s talent and tenacity must have impressed, because he and his wife were invited to stay on and manage the game lodge. For the next 27 years, the couple were hosts to many notable vacationers, the most prominent being President Calvin Coolidge during the summer of 1927 and President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953.
Coolidge’s wife was a strong admirer of the Game Lodge, saying, “I wish to spend my eternity nowhere but this majestic place.”
The Game Lodge was first conceived as a retreat for staff members of the Game, Fish & Parks Department, but it soon took on its present role as a vacation lodge for park visitors.
And the burgeoning tourist trade was the impetus behind the other marvelous park structures Gideon built. He mapped Iron Mountain Road with Sen. Norbeck and designed and built the scenic byway’s iconic pigtail bridges. He also designed The Needles Highway and built Coolidge Inn (in only 12 days so that Coolidge’s entourage would have a place to stay). He also built Valhalla in 1927, Norbeck’s summer home in the park.
The State Game Lodge received a facelift in 2008, with a complete kitchen redesign and upgrade, an expanded dining room and lounge. The renovation, completed in the spring of 2009, removed non-historic additions to the lodge, remodeled parts of the original building and added about 8,500 square feet of kitchen, dining area, gift shop and an artist-in-residence studio.
A new outdoor pavilion located behind the lodge was constructed at the same time, as well as the modern Creekside Lodge along Grace Coolidge Creek and the Reunion Cabin, a facility that can privately house as many as 28 guests.