Names can be deceiving.
Take “Deadwood.” At first blush, it sounds dark and dreary and lifeless. But say “Historic Landmark, Deadwood, South Dakota,” and you get an entirely different feel—especially considering the town itself is the national landmark.
Same thing with “Slime Plant.” Not someplace you’d want to go and play, or be within nose distance. But say “Deadwood Mountain Grand at the Historic Slime Plant,” and you get an entirely different sense—especially considering it’s one of the largest historic preservation projects in the country.
Nobody in Deadwood is shying away from the nickname of the gold slurry plant that has overlooked Main Street since 1906, processing millions in gold until 1973. Officially, it’s the Homestake Mining Company plant, but the words “Slime Plant” are etched into the building.
This summer, the name appeared on a new bar and lounge in the $46-million-and-counting hotel and casino that has given new life to an old friend in this iconic Old West town.
“It’s a neat old building,” says partner Ron Wheeler, who calls himself the “grunt man” of the project. “This building is structurally still sound as can be after 105 years. We’ve kept all the old wooden beams. We cut through concrete walls that start seven feet deep at the base and go to four feet at the top. We’re hoping to display lots of artifacts and historical treasures from its heyday. We want people to come here and have a very good time.”
Wheeler’s ties to Homestake extend beyond just preserving its history; he’s also the executive director of the gold mine’s Sanford Underground Laboratory. He says the idea to repurpose the mine’s slime plant came in 2004, from the late Bill McDavid, a Deadwood resident tied to the entertainment industry. “There is no entertainment in Deadwood,” Wheeler says. “People come here, but they don’t stay long. Bill saw a chance to create a new market for the town.”
To carry out McDavid’s vision, Wheeler joined a group of 13 partners—local businessmen and a Nashville contingent—to buy the Slime Plant in 2007 and plan out its new life. But when the market collapsed in 2008, so did their financing. Two years later, the slime plant got its financial backing. This past July, Wheeler and his partners opened the 35,000-square-foot entertainment center and casino (a 98-room hotel will open in November).
The opening act was apropos: Big & Rich, honorary “hometown” boys, because Deadwood was where they wrote some of their famous songs when they were starting out. In fact, their “Deadwood Mountain,” written after the cemetery on the hill that is the final resting place for Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, inspired the name of the new entertainment center. “Big” Kenny Alphin is one of the partners in the project. He and John Rich were joined at the concert by Gretchen “Redneck Woman” Wilson (see Western Women We Love).
They sang in a building full of historic charms, thanks to renovators leaving in not only the wooden beams, but also walls marked with graffiti that tallied the gold output.
While the building looks new and shiny and exciting, nobody has forgotten where Deadwood Mountain Grand all began. Bill McDavid is remembered by Bill’s Backstage Bar, while the main bar and lounge proudly carries the Slime Plant name.
Jana Bommersbach has been Arizona’s Journalist of the Year and has won an Emmy and two Lifetime Achievement Awards. She is the author of two nationally-acclaimed true crime books and a member of Women Writing the West.