The fire that changed Deadwood

Thirty years ago this week, Deadwood was cleaning up the aftermath of the Syndicate Fire, an event commemorated by the production of a documentary and public showing Monday, sponsored by the city of Deadwood and the Deadwood Historic Preservation Office. Pioneer photo by Jaci Conrad Pearson

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DEADWOOD — The Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission debuted a recently produced documentary video commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Deadwood Syndicate Fire in the Charles Utter Theater at Saloon No. 10.

A group of about 40 people gathered Monday to preview the piece, with Historic Preservation Officer Kevin Kuchenbecker offering a few welcome remarks.

“While Deadwood was designated a National Historic Landmark on July 4, 1961, in many ways, the event of the Syndicate Fire is the reason that Deadwood has a Historic Preservation Officer,” Kuchenbecker said. “As you will hear in the video, the fire has shaped and reshaped Deadwood. While the fire of Sept. 26, 1879 is known as one of the most significant fires, with Deadwood changing from the traditional boom town architecture to the more permanent Victorian architecture. I would venture to state the Syndicate Fire is equally as significant historically in shaping and ultimately protecting Deadwood and that very same Victorian architecture that we enjoy and promote today.”

Several members of the Deadwood volunteer fire department were in attendance and asked to stand for recognition and thanks.

The documentary, titled “Deadwood’s Second Gold Rush,” weaves a series of personal interviews, historic and contemporary photographs, and ephemera together to chronicle the history behind the Dec. 15, 1987 Syndicate Fire that destroyed three buildings along Deadwood’s Historic Main Street — the Syndicate, JPK Miller, and Deacon. 

Local historians and longtime Deadwood residents help recount the history of the buildings, the night of the fire, its aftermath, and the revitalization of Deadwood through limited gaming.

Featured in the documentary are interviews with and commentary from Dr. David Wolf, Margaret Sulentic, Louie Lalonde, William Glover, Kenneth Hawki, Mary Dunn, and Thomas Blair.

December 15, 1987 Syndicate Fire dispatch recreation was done by Rene Larson and Paul Thomson of Lawrence County Mangement, Sue Black, Lawrence County Dispatch Coordinator, and Kenneth Hawki of the Deadwood Volunteer Fire Department.

The Syndicate Fire became a driving force to help legalize gaming in Deadwood.

“The Syndicate Fire is one of those defining events that helped shape the Deadwood we know today,” said Kuchenbecker.

The documentary was created through the work of executive producer/production manager Mike Runge, producer Grant Welford, and videography by MacroVision, LLC.

For those who did not make the presentation and wish to view the video, it will be placed on the HP Facebook page and YouTube channel, Deadwood HP.

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