A Marvelous Hundred Square Miles: Black Hills Tourism, 1880–1941
by Suzanne Barta Julin '01 PhD :: South Dakota State Historical Society Press :: Reviewed by Larry Clark ’94
The faces of four presidents gaze down on the Black Hills of South Dakota, a fitting vigil for a tourist destination carved, like Mount Rushmore itself, by public policy, political machinations, and private investments.
Historian Suzanne Barta Julin has documented the rise of the Black Hills tourism industry, which grew from the efforts of state and federal politicians at the shift to automobile-driven vacations in the early twentieth century. The themes of A Marvelous Hundred Square Miles reverberate far beyond western South Dakota to the growth of tourism as an industry and the alterations of natural landscapes to achieve it.
To tell the story, Julin focuses on seminal figures such as Peter Norbeck, a South Dakota governor and U.S. senator, and his near-obsession with creating a tourist destination out of the pine-covered hills. The book ranges across the patchwork of state parks, national monuments and parks, and “Wild West” towns, as they enveloped the caves, lakes, and wildlife of the area.
As more vacationers traveled by car, the Black Hills’ appeal spread beyond regional tourists after World War I. When President Calvin Coolidge spent three months there in 1927, even more people flocked to the canyons and winding roads. The completion of Mount Rushmore’s carvings by sculptor Gutzon Borglum furthered the region’s popularity.
Numerous historical photos portray the dramatic landscapes of the Black Hills, while Julin’s prose propels the story with details and insights.