The Celebrated History of the Celebrity Hotel
By David A. Wolff
Deadwood’s history seemed to swirl around the four properties that make up today’s Celebrity Hotel. Al Swearingen ran the town’s most notorious saloon, dance hall, brothel, and the Gem. Just a few doors down from the Celebrity. Jack McCall murdered Wild Bill across Main Street; and two of Deadwood’s most prominent businessmen, Sol Star and Seth Bullock, made their rise to fame just across Wall Street. While seemingly caught in the middle of Deadwood’s historic happenings, the buildings and businesses that came and went along this section of lower Main Street have their own stories to tell, and had their own brushes with Deadwood’s storied past. In fact, the activities that went on at these locations tell us much about how Deadwood changed over time. From the time of Deadwood’s founding in 1876 and into the twenty-first century, the businesses that operated at Celebrity Hotel’s current location experienced four economic transformations, associated consecutively with the gold rush boom, the expanding badlands, the arrival of automobiles, and the growth of tourism.
As gold miners, speculators, ne’er-do-wells, and entrepreneurs arrived in the newly established gold camp in April 1876 none imagined how the town would eventually look. Prospective businessmen took their chances along the roughly laid-out Main Street, hoping to find the best location for their enterprises. Most wanted to be at the center of the boom, and for a time, that center landed near the intersection of Main and Wall streets. Everyone walked past or stopped in these storefronts, part of the draw was Al Swearingen’s Gem Theater. When he opened his dance hall in May 1876, he created an attraction that few of Deadwood’s lonely miners could resist. Other saloons and gambling halls opened nearby. To capitalize on this boom, E. B. Farnum built a log structure just up from the Gem, at the corner of Main and Wall streets (629 Main St). Here he opened Deadwood’s first grocery store while leasing parts of the building to other businesses, including a drug store, creating a small commercial center.
While the variety of businesses on lower Main Street attracted customers, the ventures at the corner of Main and Wall streets gained even more traffic when Deadwood’s citizens selected E. B. Farnum as their first mayor and justice of the peace in September 1876. While he had no real legal authority, as Deadwood sat within the Great Sioux Reservation, he still managed to carry on a variety of administrative duties. Reports have him administering justice while seated on a sack of flour, and holding police court in a dugout behind the store. He helped draft Deadwood’s first ordinances, which included assessing the camp’s first taxes. When Indians seemed to threaten, he sent out pleas for army protection, and just as Deadwood’s mayor does today, he performed marriages. Most famously he married Fannie Garretson and “Banjo” Dick Brown, two entertainers who worked at the Bella Union Theater, in what some call Deadwood’s first marriage.
Farnum held this Main Street property for less than six months. In mid-October 1876, while still serving as mayor, he leased the corner of Main and Wall streets to James K.P. Miller and James McPherson, then selling it to them in March 1877. Miller and McPherson undoubtedly recognized this corner as the best location in town, and they soon put it to good use. They came to Deadwood from Montana as very experienced merchants, and at the corner of Main and Wall they opened a diverse mercantile operation, specializing in groceries and miners’ supplies. Then recognizing an unmet need, the two partners also opened a bank, only the second bank in the young gold camp.
The men took on separate roles in their new business, with Miller focusing on the commercial operations. Traveling far and wide to buy and sell merchandise, he soon had that portion of the enterprise prospering. A newspaper report from 1877 placed sales at $1000 a day, while another account stated it was the largest grocery house in the Black Hills. While Miller primarily managed the mercantile, McPherson ran the bank, taking the title of “cashier.” Operating a little differently than banks of today, Miller and McPherson’s “Exchange Bank,” specialized in gold dust. They converted it into greenbacks, stored it for safekeeping, or shipped it out of the Hills, all for a fee. Either from the bank or the store, thousands of ounces of gold dust crossed the counters at 629 Main Street in the early years of Deadwood’s history.
As Miller and McPherson prospered at the corner of Main and Wall streets, they enhanced and expanded their facilities. The remodeling of Farnum’s original structure began soon after they took possession, and it continued through the years. By May 1877, a local newspaper described the building as a “gem” with an “elegantly fitted up” storefront, new counters and a large safe. Behind this main building, the two men constructed a fireproof warehouse. They, like all boomtown veterans, knew that gold camps frequently burned to the ground. As a precaution against loss, business owners often built brick structures, set into the ground, with nonflammable doors. If a fire came, they hoped these strongholds would guard against loss. Miller and McPherson saw the wisdom in this, and as their business grew they added on to their fireproof warehouse, with it eventually measuring 70 feet long, 25 feet wide, and 15 feet high, one of the largest in town. While many people stopped at Miller and McPherson’s enterprise, and many others passed by to visit the Gem Theater, none of the businesses between these two locations in the Celebrity Hotel Block gained as much notoriety or importance as these establishments. Immediately below Miller and McPherson’s, at 627 Main Street, George Eggert, known as California George, operated the California Chop House. As the name implies, it was primarily a restaurant. As an 1878 issue of the Black Hills Daily Times reported: “the place has always been a popular resort for the hungry.’ As part of his fare, George offered such goodies as candy, baked goods, and “oysters in every conceivable shape.” On occasion, he turned the operation over to others, but he always came back after a short absence, to again run his business and uphold his reputation.
Just below the California Chop House, “Limber Jim” Weatherspoon, described as a “well-known Deadwood character,” apparently ran a small saloon at 625 Main Street, and in the last Celebrity Hotel lot. The Butterfield Brothers operated a butcher shop at 623 Main Street. The three locations below Miller and McPherson’s operation reflect what most Deadwood businesses looked like in the early years. Hopeful entrepreneurs set up shop without the financing, business background, or the acumen that Miller and McPherson brought to theirs, and they consequently did not prosper or rise to prominence in the boomtown environment. By the summer of 1879, the peak of the Black Hills gold rush had passed, and some commentators forecast a decline, if not death, for Deadwood. Yet, Miller and McPherson, as well as California George, had confidence in the town’s and their businesses’ future. With the foot traffic remaining fairly strong along lower Main Street, George began adding a second story to his building, while Miller and McPherson anticipated replacing their wooden structure with a new brick building. Sol Star had been named Deadwood’s postmaster in the summer of 1879, placing the post office in Star and Bullock’s hardware store, just across Wall Street from Miller and McPherson’s location. In a time before mail delivery, most of Deadwood’s residents made daily visits to the post office, which ensured more foot traffic for lower Main Street merchants.
Just as Miller, McPherson and California George began enhancing their properties, disaster struck. In the evening of September 26, 1879, a fire started in a Sherman Street bakery and before morning, it had consumed much of Deadwood’s business district, including all four buildings on the Celebrity Hotel Block. Shortly after the fire, the Black Hills Daily Times estimated each business’ loss. The Butterfield Brothers (623 Main Street) sustained $1000 in damages, the Weatherspoon building (625 Main Street) $800, California George (627 Main Street) lost $1500, while Miller and McPherson (629 Main Street) suffered a $50,000 setback. Miller and McPherson’s very heavy loss not only reflected the value of their operations, but also came from the failure of their fireproof. One report states that fire smoldered on the fireproof’s contents for over two months.
The fire’s devastation brought a variety of responses. Some businessmen promptly reopened, using whatever they could find for a structure. California George setup a small tent in front of his burned building, serving food he prepared in a cleaned out portion of Miller and McPherson’s cellar. As the paper exclaimed: George was a “pioneer and a pathfinder in every sense of the terms,” adapting to whatever situation came along. Miller and McPherson also announced their plans to reopen among the ruins, and they appeared ready to rebuild with their previously ordered building material. But, Miller and McPherson did not reopen at the corner of Main and Wall streets. Instead, the two men dissolved their partnership, with McPherson leaving town and Miller finding a new business location.
As Deadwood reconstructed, it became evident that the economic center of town had moved up Main Street. Deadwood’s early boomtown crowd had given way to a more stable population of working men and families. These people wished to shop and do business away from the influences of lower Main Street, where saloons, dance halls, and brothels still dominated, an area that had become known as the “badlands.” Miller identified the new center of town as near the corner of Lee and Main streets. A wider variety of businesses operated in this area of upper Main Street, including two banks. With the promise of a better business environment and of substantial foot traffic, Miller rebuilt his grocery store near the corner of Main and Lee streets.
Despite Miller leaving lower Main Street, other merchants still saw opportunities there. A few new entrepreneurs moved in, and some of the past occupants rebuilt. In early 1880, brothers William E. (W.E.) and James Adams purchased Miller’s former lot at the corner of Main and Wall streets. These men had previously operated Adams’ Banner Grocery across the street and a little below this location on lower Main Street. The fire gave them the chance to improve their position in Deadwood, and they saw 629 Main Street as that spot. Here they built a one-story brick structure that measured 100 feet long, 25 feet wide and 16 feet high, with a full basement. To make it as fireproof as possible, they added a variety of protective features, such as a roof layered with twelve inches of sand, covered by tin. When the Adams Brothers opened their new grocery, the newspaper poured on the praise, stating that the “shelving is an attraction and the counters are things of beauty, being the most costly and best finished in the city” The paper further claimed that the shop had an “immense stock of goods,” and is the “best grocery stand in the territory.” For almost a decade after this 1880 opening, the Adams Brothers flourished at the corner of Main and Wall streets, and the brick building they built became known as the Adams Brothers Building, a name it carried through much of its history.
Just as in the years prior to the 1879 fire, the businesses below the Adams Brothers did not have great success. California George Eggert built a two-story wooden structure at 627 Main Street and opened California George’s Great Eastern Hotel. His advertisements claimed that he “set a good table,” had “accommodations for families,” and was “open day and night.” A patron could receive lodging and board for $7 a week, or could spend one night, meals not included, for 35 cents. The local newspaper called George an “old restaurateur,” who “set just as good a table as can be found in the camp,” and who has a bar “supplied with wines, liquors, beer and cigars.” At times, the Great Eastern Hotel hosted special events. For instance, in early 1880, Emma Brissboise sponsored a masquerade ball for Mollie Solas, hoping to raise enough money to send her home. The hosting of the masquerade ball seems to indicate that California George had opened a brothel. Such charitable events, as this one for Mollie Solas, were often associated with ladies of the night, and other newspaper tidbits seem to reinforce the notion that prostitution went on at the Great Eastern Hotel. One story reported that French Emma and Mollie Solas had a “little private hair pulling matinee” at California George’s, and other accounts stated that George had to appear in court on two different assault and battery charges. Both cases involved women. The paper identified one as Mary Beyersdorf and the other as “his woman.” His exact relationship with these women is unknown, but the evidence seems to indicate a special type of business partnership. Nevertheless, George apparently spent time in jail because of these difficulties. By mid-1882, George seemed to have had enough as he abandoned Deadwood, leaving his business and reported wife behind. The businesses just below California George’s Great Eastern Hotel rebuilt after the fire of 1879, but attained little prominence. A saloon opened in 625 Main Street, but little must have happened there, as it did not make the news. At 623 Main Street, the Butterfield Brothers reopened their market, selling meats of various kinds, such as beef, venison, veal, mutton, and occasionally bear. By early 1883, the Butterfields changed course, and opened the “Home Restaurant.” A newspaper promotion claimed that they served meals “fit for a king” and that people could get their fill “all hours day or night, regardless of wealth.”
Not long after the businesses on lower Main Street had recovered from the fire of 1879, another natural calamity hit Deadwood. In May 1883, Whitewood Creek surged out of its banks and wreaked havoc on the structures that sat along its course. Since the Celebrity Hotel Block sits on the west edge of the creek’s channel, the flood damaged all of the buildings. The losses were, however, not as severe as from the fire of 1879. Combined, the four business properties reportedly lost a total of $7000 in the flood, compared to $55,300 in the fire. Where the fire had destroyed nearly everything, the flood primarily ruined inventory and damaged personal belongings.
With only minor losses, business activity soon returned to the Celebrity Hotel Block, but with some reshuffling. While the Adams Brothers continued to operate at the corner, they gained a distinctly different neighbor. Deadwood businessman Tom Manning lost his livery barn on upper Main Street during the flood and he saw California George’s closed hotel as a good place to reestablish his business. But one problem existed. California George’s alleged wife still occupied the upper portion of the building, although the mortgage had lapsed. After the police failed to coax her out, they removed her, but with what the paper called a “lively fight.” Once she was gone, Manning remodeled the Great Eastern Hotel into a “good, substantial and commodious” livery stable. For seven years, until 1890, Manning and Company operated a livery at this location.
The business fronts just below Manning’s new location witnessed a variety of enterprises in the years after the 1883 flood, with liquor being one of the primary commodities. In 1884 Urban Gutting opened a beer hall at 625 Main Street, which the paper described as “one of the most attractive resorts in town.” In 1886, two other individuals took over the establishment, operating, as the paper reported, a “first class club house.” Then in the 1890s, the location became known as the “Health Office” a euphemism for a saloon. As the century ended, other businesses tried their luck at 625 Main Street. The Omaha Meat Market opened for a time, followed by Black Hills Tailoring, but neither had a long tenure. 24 In the Butterfield Building at 623 Main Street, George Welcker opened the City Meat Market in 1884, which advertised “all kinds of sausage, head cheese, and everything pertaining to a meat market.” It too had a relatively short history as it apparently closed when the building was severely damaged in an 1887 fire. The structure was reconstructed, and over the next decade businesses came and went, including George Holzbauer’s saloon and dance hall. During the 1890s, the businesses that made up the Celebrity Hotel Block became more firmly connected with their “badlands” neighbors. Tom Manning closed his livery stable, and he and his partner, Mike Heffron, converted the building at 627 Main Street into a saloon in 1891. To set the proper decor, the paper reported that the two men put “a plate glass front to their livery stable … the first one of its kind in the Hills.” (It can only be assumed that the reporter meant that the plate glass front was the first of its kind in Deadwood, instead of meaning that a livery stable with a plate glass window was the first of its kind.) While a saloon initially opened in the remodeled facility, a Chinese restaurant known as the “Only” eventually replaced it. The paper described the Only Restaurant as a “well-known café” overseen by the “popular Mr. Merk from Hong Kong.” In 1889 the Adams Brothers closed their store at 629 Main Street. While James Adams left Deadwood, W.E. Adams opened a new grocery store near the corner of Main and Lee streets, on upper Main Street, closer to the town’s more respectable businesses. WE. Adams, however, continued leasing the building at the corner of Main and Wall streets to use as a warehouse. Eventually, he would consolidate all of his business activities in three large buildings he built on Sherman Street. From there he would go on to operate the region’s largest wholesale grocery, and become one of the Black Hills’ wealthiest merchants. His ownership of the Historic Adams House and his gift of the Adams Museum to the city would permanently attach the Adams name to Deadwood’s storied past.
Once Adams moved his warehouse off of lower Main Street, Black Hills pioneer, James W. Allen, opened a saloon in the Adams Brothers Building at 629 Main Street in 1892. To set his business apart from the other badlands enterprises, Allen decided to develop a more upscale atmosphere. He improved the building’s appearance by installing new bar fixtures and an iron and plate glass front. To gain additional space, he added a second story in 1893, where he offered rooms for private meetings, parties, and lodging. To better reflect what he was trying to do, he called his business the “Club Room,” instead of a saloon, implying a more refined environment, and his advertisements claimed he offered the finest in wines, liquors and cigars. In actuality, since Allen’s business occupied one of the few brick buildings on lower Main Street, most of his customers just called it “The Brick.” Natural disaster again visited that area of town when a fire started in a building that sat above and across Main Street from the Celebrity Hotel Block in 1894. Before it could be stopped, the inferno took down all of the buildings on the west side of lower Main Street, and parts of the buildings across Wall Street, just above the Adams Brothers Building, including the front of Star and Bullock’s hardware store. The structures that sat on the Celebrity Hotel’s four lots, however, survived. With such an intense fire and fairly widespread damage, this apparent miracle happened because of the Adams Brothers Building at 629 Main. The two-story brick wall facing Wall Street resisted the fire, and the fire department ensured its survival by pouring two streams of water on it, keeping the bricks cool. With the Adams Brothers Building acting as a firebreak, the structures below it were saved, although their wooden fronts were badly scorched, and the heat shattered all of their windows. Despite the damage, the structures were eventually repaired and businesses reopened.
Fires in 1899 and in 1900 did even more damage to the four Celebrity Block properties. In 1899, a fire started in the Gem Theater, destroying that building, and sweeping up the street it seriously damaged the structures at 623 and 625 Main Street. They, however, were repaired. Then in 1900 a fire started somewhere in the Celebrity Hotel Block and in short order it destroyed the three wooden structures that ran from 623 to 627 Main Street. At the Brick Saloon (the Adams Building), which had just been remodeled, the fire burned holes through the roof and charred the rafters, but the building remained intact. Still, the paper reported that the wall closest to the fire suffered considerable damage, with the bricks showing signs of crumbling. Along the building’s front, 10 to 15 tiers of brick fell from the wall. The charred rafters and burned furnishings filled the main floor with two-feet of ashes, cinders and other debris,
After this last fire, only the brick Adams Brothers Building at the corner of Main and Wall streets still stood on the Celebrity Hotel Block, while vacant lots sat below it. New proprietors had taken over the Brick Saloon just before the 1899 fire, but they seemed undaunted by the recurring disasters. By necessity, they repeatedly remodeled the two-story structure, with the idea of having wine rooms, lodging spaces, parlors, and a stage that could hold a three-piece orchestra. The reopened Brick occasionally made the papers, once for putting in a “private wire” to receive the 1900 election returns, and another time for running a crooked faro game, which resulted in a police raid. The survival of this 1880 building, through the flood of 1883, and the fires of 1894, 1899 and 1900, makes it the oldest surviving building on Deadwood’s lower Main Street.
In 1901, Michael Heffron, Tom Manning’s former partner in the livery stable, built a new stone and brick building at 627 Main Street, next door to the Adams Brothers Building, known as the Heffron Building. Heffron decided to use stone for much of his structure because it was less expensive and more readily available than brick. To save even more money, he tied the new edifice directly into the Adams Building, allowing the two structures to share a common wall, and spare him the expense of constructing one wall. In reality, future occupants would remove sections of the common wall for easy access between the two buildings, and with this, the destinies of these two facilities became permanently tied together.
Soon after completion, the Heffron Building became Deadwood’s newest theater: the Combination Theater. Just as the name implies, the proprietors initially focused on running a variety theater, where they offered sketches, burlesques, and musical comedies. The even had a trapeze show by a gentlemanThey soon, however, joined with the Brick saloon and expanded their operations. In this arrangement, the Adams Brothers Building at 629 Main Street, continued to have a saloon, dance hall and gaming tables, while the Heffron Building at 627 Main Street housed the variety theater, with the entire business simply known as “The Combination.” Johnny Ryan, who had experience managing other badlands resorts, would emerge as the primary operator of this joint venture, and he set the tone for the enterprise.
A Theater, saloon and gambling hall operated on the first floor and a variety theater occupied the second. The opening show at the theater was unusual, to say the least. The bill included “The DeClairvilles, world renowned aerialists; Carroll & Nealey, America’s greatest exponents of knock- about comedy; the Kennison Sisters, acrobatic singers and dancers; Miss Kittie Dixon, pleasing soprano vocalist; Edith Howard, soubrette; Jim Black, regular singer, dancer and acrobat, without legs; and Lottie Thorne, song and dance artist.” And on Sundays, the local Baptist Church met here.
While the Baptist church met in the Combination’s theater in its first years, much of what went on there had little association with church. Fights and violence seemed to erupt fairly frequently, with Combination employees generally in the mix. Bartenders broke glasses over patrons’ heads and on occasion a knife would come into play. In one case, Johnny Ryan was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. He had pulled a six-shooter on man he claimed was attempting to “run his house.” Most notoriously, at least in the eyes of Deadwood’s mayor, Johnny Ryan and another bartender were accused of beating women employees. These women probably worked as prostitutes for Ryan, but the newspaper did not explain what moved the men to violence. Nevertheless, Mayor McDonald would not stand by while women were beaten, and he ordered the business closed. He had the saloon’s license revoked based on its “disorderly nature.” A 1903 editorial cheered the mayor’s actions, calling the Combination “one of the worst resorts in the whole country” .
The Combination did not remain closed for long, and Johnny Ryan managed to maintain control. Violence, however, seemed to be less prevalent after the 1903 closing. But other problems soon came the Combination’s way. In 1905, South Dakota banned gambling. With faro and roulette a good part of the Combination’s business, Ryan ignored the ban, as did many other Deadwood saloon operators. This decision resulted in the state’s attorney leading a raid against forty illegal gambling halls in Lawrence County, including the Combination. Despite his arrest, Ryan persisted. He could not afford to be without the proceeds, and he ran the games illegally, as did other Deadwood saloons. One paper labeled what went on at the Combination as “raw bunco.”
Despite his efforts to keep afloat, Ryan struggled to make ends meet. As he sought ways to generate more revenue, he seems to have focused the business more on the variety theater, returning The Combination to its original intent. From the theater’s opening in 1901, it had offered sketches and burlesque acts, and this type of entertainment continued. But by 1906 Ryan began offering more elaborate productions. Newspaper ads appeared promoting a “4-Act Sensational Drama” or announcing “one of the strongest bills” in the theater’s history. Despite the improved offerings, Ryan was unable to meet expenses in 1905 and 1906, and the illegal gaming was causing more problems. He had heard rumors that his liquor license would not be renewed for 1907. Realizing that the end had come, Ryan closed the Combination in early 1907.
The Combination’s assorted and sorted operations fit well with what went on elsewhere in the badlands, but its closing did not end the unsavory activities at the Adams Brothers or Heffron buildings at 629 and 627 Main Street. The two structures sat empty for a time, and on occasion a small merchant would move in, such as a shoe cobbler: Then in 1909 a new saloon, dance hall, and brothel known as “The Topic” opened. This operation soon gained a reputation as bad, if not worse than what the Combination had. The drinking and dancing primarily occurred in the Heffron Building at 627 Main Street, while 629 was used more for storage, but all of the upstairs rooms seem to have been part of the brothel. A new front stairway, with an outside entry, was added, apparently to ensure easier access for the upstairs’ clientele. The paper, however, did not carry many stories about The Topic. One of the few newsworthy events came in early 1911, when a group of angry citizens circulated a petition asking the city to close The Topic as well as another disreputable dance hall known as the Green Front. The city did not take immediate action, and in the case of The Topic, it did not need to. Just a few months later the paper reported that the saloonkeeper had closed the business down and left town as he had failed to make a profit.
While the two buildings that became part of the Celebrity Hotel had a “colorful” existence in the first years of the twentieth century, the two lots that sat immediately below them, at 625 and 623 Main Street, remained empty. At times, however, special events took place there. For instance, as part of the 1903 July 4th celebration, these lots were the site of a balloon launch. During this era of air travel, people with hot air balloons toured the country, offering to put on an exhibition of flight and acrobatic daring, for a price. These two Main Street lots offered the perfect location for such a show, with plenty of room and good visibility. On the morning of July 4th, the balloon operators, known as the LaFays, laid out their equipment, dug a hole for a fire, and slowly inflated the balloon. A large crowd of onlookers gathered, and a little after 2pm the balloon lifted off, with Miss LaFay dangling from a trapeze below. The balloon and Miss LaFay rose rapidly, and with the crowd anxiously watching, they crossed over White Rocks. As the balloon nearly disappeared from sight, Miss LaFay cut herself loose and gracefully parachuted to earth. Once the LaFays had recovered their balloon, they orchestrated a second successful launch just before sunset.
As the second decade of the new century began, much had changed for the buildings and empty lots that ran from 629 to 623 Main Street. They had been in the middle of the excitement during Deadwood’s earliest days, and as the center of the business district migrated up Main Street, these locations became fully integrated into the badlands. But when The Topic saloon closed the badlands connection came to an end. For a time, the two buildings again sat empty. Then as the automobile era arrived in Deadwood, these lower Main Street properties felt the effect. Sitting outside of the primary business area, and with lower property values, dealerships, mechanics and gas stations set up shop throughout lower Main Street, and the buildings that became part of the Celebrity Hotel Block housed a series of businesses related to this new industry.
Four years after The Topic closed, a motorcycle agency, which featured such brands as Harley-Davidson, Indian and Excelsior, opened in the Adams Brothers Building. It, however, did not last long. In late 1915, Will Jordan opened an auto and carriage paint shop. While Jordan listed his address as 627 Main Street, or the Heffron Building, he also took over the Adams storefront. His newspaper advertisements promised to give “your motor car” a “fine handsome durable job” with “Valentine’s Vanadium Varnishes.” Another change came for these buildings not many years later when an auto wrecking and junk operation took over the Adams Building while the Heffron Building was used for automobile storage. The quick turnover of these businesses may reflect the uncertainty that existed in the transportation industry at this time as people transitioned from the horse and buggy to motorized vehicles.
When a family operation known as the Ruth Brothers purchased the two buildings at 629 and 627 Main Street in 1927, they finally brought stability to these properties. The Ruth Brothers had previously run a machine shop, specializing in auto repair, further down Main Street. A growing clientele, however, made them seek larger quarters, and the Adams and Heffron buildings fit the bill. According to the paper, the Ruth Brothers made “extensive alterations” to the two structures in preparation of opening “one of the largest” machine shops “in this part of the state.” The remodeling included redoing the building fronts and cutting a new larger entrance in the Heffron Building to provide for easier automobile access. In their advertisements, the Ruth Brothers promised to fix nearly any engine problem, including “fouled spark plugs, loss of power and pep, smoking and excessive use of gas and oil.”
Once the machine shop got established, the Ruth Brothers soon expanded their activities to selling “White Eagle Gasoline and Keynoil,” and by venturing more and more into auto accessories. These additions required even more space, and the Ruth Brothers purchased the two empty lots at 625 and 623 Main Street in 1928. Then in 1930, they constructed the one story brick building at 625 Main Street, embossing “Ruth Bros.” in the lintel above the door. With this addition, the Ruth Brothers changed their setup. They placed the machine shop in the new Ruth Brothers Building and used the other two buildings for their growing auto accessory and supply business.
After six years of running a diverse automotive supply operation and machine shop, the Ruth Brothers seemingly wished to return to their roots. In 1934, they sold the automotive supply part of their business and leased out the Adams Brothers and Heffron buildings to the Hendrie & Bolthoff Manufacturing & Supply Company of Denver. The Ruth Brothers, however, kept their machine shop and continued operating out of the Ruth Brothers Building. For the next twenty years, Hendrie and Bolthoff ran their business from 629 and 627 Main Street while the Ruth Brothers operated from 625 Main Street. Then in 1954, the Ruth Brothers sold their machine shop and the empty lot next door to Hendrie & Bolthoff, and that company then controlled all of the property that became the Celebrity Hotel Block. Often referred to as H&B, the Hendrie & Bolthoff Company claimed to have started with the Colorado gold rush of the 1850s, initially supplying mining machinery and various machine parts. In 1915, they entered the auto supply business in an effort to capitalize on that new industry. Over the years they would continue to expand, both in their product line and number of locations. When they came to Deadwood, they offered all varieties of mining, milling, and electrical supplies, along with automobile supplies and accessories, including tires. From 1934 to 1961, Hendrie & Bolthoff were a mainstay of Deadwood businesses. Not only did they sell merchandise to the local market, the Deadwood store also serviced all of the Black Hills, North Dakota, South Dakota, and parts of Wyoming and Montana, requiring a large and diverse product line. One of their more unique items was the “Gun-Type Scintillation Counter.” It detected radioactivity. When uranium prices skyrocketed in the early 1950s a number of would-be uranium prospectors undoubtedly picked one of these up at H&B for the advertised price of “only $300.00” – a large amount of money for the 1950s.
In 1961, the Hendrie & Bolthoff Company sold to Gulf & Western Industries out of Houston, Texas. Described as a “leading wholesale distributor in the Southwest,” Gulf & Western outwardly made few changes to the business, including keeping the H&B name. Inwardly, however, the changes were significant. Some long-time H&B employees quit their jobs as Gulf & Western imposed new corporate rules. The changed business atmosphere must have soured more than the employees, for Gulf & Western gave up the Deadwood store in 1965. In that year two local men, Walt Wiswell and Wallace R. Robidou took over the auto supply business in 629 and 627 Main Street and renamed it “Car Parts, Inc.” changing that to “W. R. Auto Parts, Inc.” in 1969. Johnny Clauser and Jerome Hall took control of the Ruth Bros. Building at 625 Main Street also in 1965 and opened Hall & Clauser Machine Works. Hall operated a welding shop in the back of the building, while Clauser ran the machine shop in the front.
By 1975, Wiswell and Robidou had moved W&R Auto Parts to another location, and the Adams Brothers and Heffron buildings fell empty. Hall & Clauser still ran their machine shop in the Ruth Bros. Building, but in that year, Don Clowser bought all three of the buildings and the empty lot at 623 Main Street. The welding and machine shop soon moved out. Clowser was no stranger to Deadwood or its business community. For some years after World War Il, he had operated a business known as the Trading Post that dealt with everything from army surplus to Western History artifacts. He sold that operation in the 1960s, and then in 1975 he reopened what he called the Deadwood Trading Post in the Adams and Heffron buildings. Just as he did when he ran the earlier Trading Post, Clowser offered a wide variety of merchandise, including used furniture, army surplus, and he had a large collection of Western history and Native American memorabilia. While Clowser also owned the Ruth Bros. Building, for a time it housed businesses that operated independently of his main operation. For instance, a water bed store was in there in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and this was replaced by a store specializing in vintage clothing, which fit well with the Deadwood Trading Post’s wide mix of merchandise.
The assortment of goods and the unique Western History collection brought many visitors, including tourists, to the Deadwood Trading Post for the fourteen years Clowser operated at this location. He, however, closed his business with the advent of legalized gambling in 1989. Clowser at first rented his properties to the operators of Gold Diggers Hotel, Casino and Restaurant, the first gaming hall to occupy these buildings.
With no place to display his large Western History Collection, the City of Deadwood purchased it from Don Clowser, recognizing that it should be preserved and put in a museum. Much of it is currently on display at the Days of’76 Museum in lower Deadwood. Nine years after Gold Diggers opened, the Celebrity Hotel purchased the Adams Brothers, Heffron, and Ruth Brothers buildings in 1998 from Don Clowser took over. Then in 2005 the owners of Celebrity expanded the hotel building onto the lot at 623 Main Street, which had been empty since 1900. For a time, Nelson’s Garage Car and Motorcycle Museum occupied a portion of these buildings, an appropriate setting when considering the significance that automobiles played in their history. The Celebrity portion of the casino’s name refers to the entertainment memorabilia that is displayed throughout. In more recent years, the car museum has been scaled back, but the music and movie memorabilia remain. When reflecting on early Deadwood and on how many famous and infamous people came by and through these locations, it seems very appropriate to recognize celebrities in the current operations.
Since the time of the Black Hills gold rush and Deadwood’s founding, the businesses that came and went in the Celebrity Hotel Block reflected four different economic eras. The first era started with the gold camp’s founding, and the scramble that came with merchants seeking the best business locations. With some of Deadwood’s liveliest saloons just down the street, the entrepreneurs who set up shop on the Celebrity Block lots found themselves at the center of the action. Grocery stores, hotels and bars all flourished, at least for a time. The second era came in the 1890s, when the badlands influence caught up with the Celebrity Block businesses. Saloons and brothels soon dominated the locations, such as the Combination and the Topic. By the second decade of the twentieth century, the burgeoning automobile industry brought the third era of economic activity to the Celebrity Block. The auto related businesses lasted for sixty years, the longest of any specific type of activity at these locations. The fourth era began in the 1970s, when the Deadwood Trading Post started attracting tourists to these business fronts. The arrival of gambling in 1989 then brought the full integration of the Celebrity Hotel Block into the tourist industry. While none of the businesses that operated from 629 to 623 Main Street gained as much fame as other Deadwood establishments, they still contributed to Deadwood’s storied past, while demonstrating how Deadwood changed over time.