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Home Places to Visit Museums Discover the Real Story of Deadwood at the Adams Museum and House

Discover the Real Story of Deadwood at the Adams Museum and House

HBO's Deadwood Sparked a Renewed Interest in the Old Black Hills Gold Rush Town. But What's Legend and What's Fact?

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The popular HBO TV series Deadwood did much to create spark a renewed interest by viewers in the Black Hills gold rush town of the 1870s, and the gunfighters, miners, gamblers, and even Old West legends such as Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, who lived there.

But how do you discover what is Hollywood, and what is real? How do you experience Wild Bill's Deadwood? The answer is the Adams Museum and House in Deadwood, South Dakota.
 
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"People come to the museum and the house and feel that they are being told the truth," Mary Kopco, director of the Adams Museum and House, told OldWestNewWest.Com. "They have an authentic experience of what life was like back then and how the Black Hills developed."

The two facilities offer visitors a unique insight into Deadwood and the Black Hills of old Dakota Territory, everything from artifacts to love letters, and even Potato Creek Johnny's gold nugget.

Built in 1930 by Deadwood pioneer businessman W.E. Adams (1854-1934) as a memorial to his deceased first wife and two daughters, from its start the Adams Museum was meant to honor the early pioneers who settled the Black Hills. It is considered the Black Hills' oldest history museum. Along with the history of Deadwood, the museum's broader focus is on the northern Black Hills.

The Adams Museum, however, is only half of the window into Deadwood's colorful past.  The Adams House is the other part, and a trip to Deadwood really requires a visit to both facilities.

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Built in 1892 by Harris and Anna Franklin (another pioneer family), the Queen Anne-style Victorian house was at the time called "the grandest house west of the Mississippi." In 1920, W.E. and Alice Adams (W.E.'s first wife) bought the house from the Franklin's son. In 1936, two years after W.E.'s death, Adams' second wife, Mary, shuttered the house. For the next 50 years, all of the furnishings and contents were left just as they were, in effect creating a remarkable time capsule into the lifestyle of that period.

Mary sold the house in 1987 (she died in 1993 at the age of 95) to a couple who briefly turned the mansion into a bed and breakfast inn. They sold the mansion in 1992 to the City of Deadwood's Historic Preservation Commission. A restoration of the Adams House began in 1998, and on July 1, 2000 the house opened its doors to the public as a museum.

Roughly 70,000 visitors explore the museum each year, while another 15,000 experience the Adams House. At the museum, people can walk along the hallways at their leisure, using a self-guided tour to see exhibits and artifacts during the visiting hours. The Adams House, however, offers only guided tours, and each group is limited to around 18 to 20 persons.

"What people see at the Adams House is what Mary Adams would have seen as a new bride in 1927," Kopco explained. "Most of the furniture belonged to the first Mrs. Adams, so that would have been the late 1800s. It's all still there."

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The Adams Museum and House would be enough to thrill history fans of Wild Bill's Deadwood all by themselves, but visitors will find much more. In fact, the entire City of Deadwood is designated as a National Historic Landmark. If you go, you'll see a careful and accurate restoration of a historically significant Old West city.

Of course, there's also television's Deadwood.

"Well, some people come here thinking of Hollywood," Kopco said. "A few of them seem confused; they expect to see the muddy streets and the horses all up and down Main Street that they saw in the Deadwood HBO series."

Much of Deadwood's gold-rush Main Street burnt down on Sept. 25, 1879. Roughly 300 wooden buildings were destroyed. What was rebuilt was fashioned out of materials that wouldn't burn. Also, the muddy streets are long gone.

"What they see on Main Street today is a town-buildings made of brick and stone-a Victorian Western town," she added. "Once people get here, they have opportunity to learn about that time period, the late 1800s. They see it in photographs and objects from that area."

What today's visitors experience is the real Deadwood. It's all there in the museum and house.

"What we hear from visitors is that they expected to spend a half hour, but they ended up spending two or three hours," Kopco said. "We have a lot to see."


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About Deadwood's Adams Museum and Historic House

The Adams Museum is located at 54 Sherman Street and is open year-round. It features changing exhibits and special programs. There is no admission charge to the Museum, but a $3 per adult, $2 per child donation is suggested. Adams Museum hours are: Summer (May 1 - Sept. 30) - Daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Winter hours (Oct. 1 - April 30) - Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Sundays, Mondays and winter holidays.

The Historic Adams House is located at 22 Van Buren Street. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children 12 and under, and free to members. Adams House hours are: Summer (May 1 - Sept. 30) - Daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Winter hours (Oct. 1 - April 30) - Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.-closed Sundays, Mondays and winter holidays.

The Web site address for both facilities is:
www.adamsmuseumandhouse.org


 
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