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Peter Norbeck’s summer residence, which he called Valhalla in honor of his Norwegian heritage, is located within Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The house, designed by Cecil C. Gideon, who also built other structures in the park, sits about halfway up a hillside, providing a view of the surrounding hills and Grace Coolidge Creek.
The Craftsman structure is a rectangular, one-and-one-half-story log house with rounded logs and saddle-notched corners. It rests on a stone foundation, and local fieldstone is also utilized in the large chimney on the front elevation. Two wood-shingled, gabled dormers flank the chimney. A full-width front porch is recessed beneath the gabled roof, which has exposed rafter tails. The porch posts and railing are peeled round logs. The main entry, on the porch to the left of the stone chimney, is flanked by four-over-four windows on either side—three to the left of the door, and five to the right of the chimney. On the south end is a single-story, vertical log addition, built in the 1930s. The centerpiece of the house is the large main room with its hardwood floor, bison-leather lodge furniture, split twin staircases, and massive stone fireplace.
Norbeck was born in 1870 near Vermillion, making him the first native of the state to be elected governor. He and a partner had established a successful well-digging business in the 1890s, and his political career began in 1908 when he was elected to the state senate. Six years later, was elected lieutenant-governor and then served his first term as governor in 1916; he was re-elected two years after that. In 1920, Norbeck was elected to the U.S. Senate, a post he held until his death in December 1936.
Norbeck was a leader in conservation and used his political clout to establish Custer State Park in 1919. At the time, the 127,000-acre park was one of the largest state parks in the nation. Norbeck was instrumental in planning and developing the park, including working with Gideon in the layout of Needles Highway (State Highway 87, completed in 1922), and planning the wildlife area. In 1927, he convinced President Calvin Coolidge and his wife to establish a summer residence in the park. It was at this time that Norbeck built Valhalla.
Norbeck’s wife, Lydia, occupied Valhalla until 1944, when the house was sold into private ownership. The state acquired the property in 1962 and the house became available for limited use by governors and their guests until 2012, when it opened to the public for limited rentals.
Gerloff, Scott, “Peter Norbeck Summer Home,” Custer County, South Dakota. National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, 1977. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
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