A group of down-on-their-luck gold miners laid out a new city on the banks of Rapid Creek in 1876. Their idea was to create a commercial center that would serve as the Gateway to the Black Hills, a city that would serve the miners, the timber men and the farmers and ranchers in the Hills and the plains to the east.
The group’s original encampment can be found at the base of the rocks northwest of downtown, an area known today as Founders Park. (If you notice the streets downtown are slighly askew from the true points of the compass, it’s because the founders laid out the town based on magnetic north.)
As Rapid City became established as the wholesale, retail, railroad, and highway hub of the region, the downtown area became the center of commercial activity for the growing city. St. Joseph and Main Streets became the busiest streets of Western South Dakota, and the downtown exended from East Boulevard to beyond West Boulevard.
In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, Rapid City retail patterns followed the same patterns in the rest of the country. Indoor shopping centers and suburban strip malls became the choice of convenience for shoppers. The Rushmore Mall opened in 1978, and many downtown anchors such as Sears and JCPenney left the downtown.
Downtown Rapid City survived this period, and it slowly transformed itself as a place for specialty shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment. In the 2000s, downtown Rapid City began an assent that continues today.
The City of Presidents, Main Street Square, improved parking and the Legacy Commons project in Memorial Park have all contributed to downtown Rapid City’s new role as a destination for locals, for tourists and for families seeking entertainment.