SPEARFISH — According to the U.S. Census, the city of Spearfish has grown an average of 24.9 percent in population since the 1900s.
In 1880, the population was listed at 170; by 1890, 678 people were listed as living in Spearfish on the census, and by 1900, 1,166 people resided in the Queen City. In 1950, there were 2,755 residents; in 1980, 5,251; and in 2000, 8,606. The last census in 2010 recorded 10,494 residents in Spearfish, and the estimate for 2013 was 11,107.
“The statistics show that Spearfish has and is growing at the same stable rate over the past 100 years,” City Administrator Joe Neeb said.
One longtime resident who has witnessed this growth and contributed to development in Spearfish is Joe Jorgensen.
Jorgensen moved to Spearfish in 1963, and over five decades, he’s seen many changes to the city. When he first arrived, the only paved streets in town were Main Street, Lower Valley Road (Evans Lane), the highway to Belle Fourche, and some streets up to the college. The interstate did not yet reach Spearfish, at that point. Then-Mayor Don Young started the process of paving all of the side streets in town soon after Jorgensen arrived. He remembers that when the hospital was built, it was considered “way out of town.”
Today, the city maintains about 81 miles of streets — about 79 of which are paved.
This is just one of the changes that Jorgensen has seen, and there is one constant that remains through all the years.
“Spearfish has always continued to grow,” Jorgensen said, acknowledging that some years it’s greater than others, depending on the economy and other effecting factors.
He said one of the major factors that limited Spearfish’s growth prior to the 1960s was that two landowners controlled almost all of the land surrounding Spearfish: Joseph Meier of Black Hills Passion Play fame and the Homestake Mining Company.
“They owned most of the land that was adjacent to Spearfish that you could develop,” Jorgensen said, explaining that Homestake bought land around Spearfish in the 1930s to control the water rights to ensure its hydroelectric plants along Spearfish Creek could continue to power its operations.
Jorgensen was a teacher before getting drafted during the Vietnam War and serving for two years in the Army. He returned to Spearfish, getting his real estate license while he was teaching for another year, and then decided to go into real estate full time. He entered the field at a pivotal point in Spearfish’s history.
Homestake eventually agreed that if residents could prove that its land ownership was keeping the city from growing, it would consider selling property around Spearfish, and a group of locals formed that convinced the company to release some of the property. A residential area (the subdivision near the current Safeway) was purchased by Buckingham Products of Rapid City, which put in the streets, and Jorgensen sold most of the lots in the residential area. The commercial lots became the Safeway store and a Chevrolet dealership, and Jorgensen said that when he was on the school board, a group went back to Homestake to acquire the land for the current Spearfish High School, which started hosting classes in January of 1980.
In 1985, Jorgensen bought the 70 acres that would become the Jorgensen Addition. After the city built the wastewater treatment plant in 1982 at its current location off of Highway 85 north of Spearfish, the sanitary district formed in Spearfish Valley, resulting in quite a bit of residential growth in the valley, and it also allowed for its past location (where Jorgensen Park is currently located) to open up for other purposes.
The next subdivision Jorgensen developed was the 84-lot Evans Addition off of Evans Lane, purchased from Homestake in the 1990s, which sold out in four years.
In 1990-91, Jorgensen sold all of the commercial property fronting North Avenue/Highway 85. In the same year, Walmart came to town (which used to be in the building that is now the rec center), Spearfish Motors moved, and the Forest Service built a new headquarters in that area.
Jorgensen was also part of the Sandstone Hills Addition, which is practically built out on Lookout Mountain, which had also been Homestake property.
Jorgensen has heard similar comments about Spearfish’s growth spanning his career.
“Everyone still says the same thing: It’s the greatest place in the world to live, (and) we can’t grow any more,” he added. “Whether it was 3,000 people or 13,000 people, they say the same thing. It’s just (a) beautiful, clean, wonderful community to live.”
See Monday’s Pioneer for the next installment of the series.
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