Happy birthday, Dr. Valentine McGillyCuddy!
Of course, this Black Hills pioneer, one of the area’s most prominent and accomplished early-day citizens (Indian agent to Pine Ridge Reservation, president of the S.D. School of Mines, mayor of Rapid City to name a few) has been resting in peace atop Harney Peak for more than 70 years. His ashes are marked by a plaque inscribed “Valentine McGillycuddy. Wasitu Wacan” (Lakota for “Holy White Man), commemorating his impact on both the pioneer and Native American populations.
Despite the passage of time, this year his birthday (Feb. 14, 1849) is being celebrated with a “gift-giving” of sorts, as Historic Rapid City, a local historic preservationist group, opens the McGillycuddy House, built in 1888 and located at 727 South St., to the public.
It’s a gift in progress. Restoration of the four bedroom, two-story stick-style Victorian home is in the early stages. Projects still to be completed, according to Fred Thurston, member of Historic Rapid City and a contributing architect to the project, include rebuilding the second floor and roof as originally designed, rebuilding the entryway, insulating the building, new heating and electrical systems, foundation repairs, developing handicapped access and a restroom and landscaping. It’s a long list, but depending on the flow of donations and grant money, Thurston hopes the house can be completely refurbished in about a year’s time.
In the meantime, the foundation is modeling its visitor strategy along the lines of Crazy Horse Memorial, albeit on a much smaller scale. “It is like Crazy Horse where people can see the progress,” Thurston said. “We hope that seeing the work going on will encourage people to donate to it.” McGillycuddy actually was connected to Crazy Horse back in the late 1800s. Known as “Friend of Crazy Horse” by the Lakota, it was he who tended to the legendary war chief on his deathbed after he was shot by a military guard while resisting imprisonment at Fort Robinson in 1877.
The foundation is also hoping to model the McGillycuddy House on another top-rated area attraction – the Adams House in Deadwood. The group already has 11 pieces of antique furniture from the Clift House, an 1880s home located on West Boulevard. In fact, the McGillycuddy project was initiated partially because they were looking for a place to exhibit the furniture, according to Thurston. As the project moves forward, Thurston hopes others will be encouraged to donate pieces for display in the house. Recently, the grandchildren of Dr. McGillycuddy donated a couple of items, according to Thurston.
The house will also play another role when it is complete – as a research center. “We are actually working with an existing group on the house being used for researching the history of the city and people who lived here,” Thurston said.
Speaking of history, Thurston noted that the McGillycuddy homestead originally consisted of a large section of land on the southern border of Rapid City. The property dwindled to its present small lot over the years, and one of the hurdles facing the restoration effort is the need to purchase the adjoining property. “It is critical to being able to restore the house,” Thurston said. “We are still looking for someone to assist with the purchase.”
One group with a strong interest in the success of the project is the Rushmore Road Beautification committee. What started as wide-open prairie is today a busy and crowded commercial corridor in need of an upgrade, according to many of its business owners. “We have presented to the Rushmore Road Beautification committee, and we give them regular updates,” Thurston said. “It would be an amazing addition to the beautification project.”
As Historic Rapid City works to complete this keystone project, tours of the McGillycuddy House will be available upon request and should be easy to schedule when the house is open. On Valentine’s Day, the house will be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Through March, hours are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Saturday, or by appointment. Starting in April, hours will be determined depending on construction. To make a donation or for more information, call Jean Kessloff at 341-5398.