Where History Meets the Future
From its incorporation in 1877, the city of Lead has been a world technology leader in underground mining. Its Homestake Mine, the flagship of George Hearst’s Homestake Mining Co., produced gold continuously for 120 years, reaching a depth of 8,000 below the surface.
The miners, engineers and geologists made advances in everything from cyanide processing to meeting the challenges of hardrock mining more than a mile below the surface. After the mine closed in 2003, its depths found new life as a laboratory for groundbreaking experiments in physics, geology, biology and engineering.
Called the Sanford Underground Research Facility, the lab is at the 4,850-foot level, where sensitive experiments can be shielded from cosmic radiation. Researchers are exploring the most challenging questions of 21st century physics such as the origin of matter, the nature of dark matter and the properties of neutrinos.
The city of Lead, population 3,100, is firmly planted in both worlds. Its mining heritage is apparent in the elaborate historic buildings downtown, the Homestake Opera House, the Open Pit on the edge of town and the Black Hills Mining Museum, which has thousands of mining era photos and artifacts.
Yet the future is equally apparent. Each year the town celebrates Neutrino Days, a festival to celebrate the Sanford Lab. Children in grade school know more about physics than the average adult.
Meanwhile, Lead’s location as the high point of the Northern Hills brings a wealth of outdoor recreation in summer and winter. The Black Hills’ two ski areas, Mystic Miner at Deer Mountain and the Terry Peak Ski Area, are a few miles out of town. In summer, hikers and bikers tread the Mickelson Trail and other deep woods getaways that surround Lead.