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Sylvan Lake Lodge

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1936–1937, Harold Spitznagel. 24572 SD 87.
  • (Photograph by Michelle Dennis)
  • (Photograph by Michelle Dennis)
  • (Photograph by Michelle Dennis)

Sylvan Lake Lodge is located on a rocky hillside overlooking Sylvan Lake in the central Black Hills of South Dakota. It is surrounded by a forest of ponderosa pine and spruce. Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak), the highest point in South Dakota, is located just northeast of the lake and the lodge.

Sylvan Lake was created in 1881 when Theodore Reder built a dam across Sunday Gulch Creek. The first hotel, designed in 1893 by Reder’s wife, Elizabeth, was located on the shore of the lake, and established tourism in that area. Following a series of private owners, the State purchased the property in 1920. On June 30, 1935, the hotel was destroyed by fire. The Custer State Park Board, charged with operating the facility, decided to rebuild. They initially commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design the building, but Wright’s constant delays and demands resulted in the hiring of Sioux Falls architect Harold Spitznagel instead. Partial funding for the project was provided by the Public Works Administration (PWA), and Henry Hackett Construction of Rapid City oversaw construction. Labor was, in part, provided by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and consisted of gathering and hauling stone, building sewer and water lines, developing roads, and the construction of seventeen log cabins, a store, and a filling station to form part of the new resort.

The two-story hotel originally contained twenty-nine rooms, with private bathrooms in all but eight of them. A 1991 wing brought the total number of rooms in the lodge to sixty-six. The large, double-height lobby welcomes guests and features oak floors, a native stone fireplace, and an abundance of knotty pine comprising the paneling, ceiling, and trusses. The dining room also features a native stone fireplace and its wooden ceiling is double peaked, emphasizing the elongated windows with views of the surrounding trees. The building, while Rustic in its use of native stone and wood, also incorporates American Indian themes and motifs in the interior decor, and an Art Deco influence in the chevron-patterned exterior wood siding.


Erpestad, David, and David Wood. Building South Dakota. Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 1997.

“Sylvan Lake Lodge – Custer, SD.” Living New Deal. Accessed February 20, 2020.

Writing Credits

Michelle L. Dennis



  • 1936

  • 1991


What's Nearby


Michelle L. Dennis, "Sylvan Lake Lodge", [Custer, South Dakota], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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