During the 1800’s our country was being taken over by a mysterious fever. A fever that would begin with an itch; an itch that would be scratched sooner or later by hundreds of thousands of men. This fever would become known as the “Gold Fever”.
In 1876 gold was discovered in the Black Hills of Dakota territory. The main Hub for gold activity was seen in the Deadwood area, but there were many other mining towns throughout the hills, including Hill City, Custer, and of course Rockerville.
Within 18 months of discovery the town was a growing concern of over 2500. It had a baseball team, a weekly newspaper, “the Black Hills Miner”, a bank, saloons by the dozen, a billiard hall, hotels, eating establishments (among those the most popular was the Delmonico), and outfitting establishments that carried everything from gold pans to canned goods. Anywhere there was a nickel to be made, there was a business.
The only drawback to these rich diggings was the usual one, the scarcity of water. When they had water they sluiced night and day. In dry seasons men hauled water to miners for $25.00 a day.
Mentioned early in life of the town was the possibility of tapping Spring Creek, and ditching the water to Rockerville. In 1879, an outfit called the Rockerville and Spring Creek Hydraulic Co. started ditching near Sheridan with the purpose of continuing 17 miles to the golden bars of Rockerville. As the ditching progressed, the engineers sketched a more grandiose plan. Building a long bedrock dam at Sheridan, and from that point, constructing a huge wooden flume tunneling through the hills, winding across and around gulches seventeen miles to Rockerville.
The well-conceived design called for a 300 foot dam near Sheridan, for blasting long tunnels through the rocky hills, for many trestles, two of which were 80 feet high, and for a twisting tortuous course snaking around the sides of gulches in hair pin turns and horseshoe curves. So skillful was the design and so gradual the drop per mile, people had to reason themselves out of belief that it ran uphill. They still praise it as a tremendous engineering feat, which it was.
Finally the project was completed, and the water surged through. For some time Rockerville enjoyed if not a boom, a steady kind of prosperity. The bosses kept the long structure in good repair, hiring boy Ben Rush to spot the leaks. Everyday, carrying a handful of rages to plug holes, he patrolled the 17 miles on the narrow foot plank, skipping around twisting curves. Another tested leak stopper was a daily load of horse manure forked into the head of the flume.
Sometime in the late eighties, the wooden structure began to fall apart. Even stout 1½ inch boards rotted; the unstopped leaks drained away too much water. When the flow became a trickle, inhabitants drifted away. Main Street became deserted and on the hills were rows of desolate houses with gaping windows and sagging doors. Rockerville would become a Ghost Town for the next several decades.
Eventually Rockerville would once again come alive. It would become a modern community, with many exciting tourist attractions, campgrounds, etc. However, history would repeat itself as many of these shops and stores would slowly begin to close after Highway 16 split around the once thriving community. Rockerville, would once again become a Ghost Town. Owned by Steve and Linda Zwetzig, the Gaslight Restaurant and Saloon is the only business in Rockerville that is open year round.