The history of Sylvan Lake Lodge

CUSTER, S.D. – Custer State Park draws an average of around two million visitors per year to see the park, but without the park’s famous Sylvan Lake and Lodge, things might have looked much different.

“It started that transition into becoming a tourist spot and it brought people,” Interpretive Program Manager Lydia Austin said. “People went up on stagecoach and got away and experienced America.”

Sylvan Lake Lodge SignSylvan Lake was first created by a dam installed at Sunday Gulch, and the lodge a lakefront hotel built in 1892.

The idea of businessman Theodore Reder, it became the first resort in the Black Hills. By the new century and the park’s official designation in 1919, the lake and hotel had long become two well-established fixtures.

Leading up to 1935, the hotel changed ownership a few times before it was lost to a fire.

“If you hike around the lake, you’ll see a big flat area and that’s where the original Victorian lodge was,” Austin said.

Sioux Falls resident Harold Spitznagel took on the design of the lodge that currently overlooks the lake. A total of over 30 cabins for guests sits nearby along with a 1991 addition bringing several rooms to the main lodge building.

And whether sitting lakeside or looking on from above, it has maintained a reputation of being the more elegant of the four total in the park.

“It is considered one of the more fancier ones. It’s where you go for the fancy dinner and the night out on the lake. And while we have the Game Lodge, Legion Lake and Blue Bell, all of them fit a different niche,” Austin explained. “And like I said, that Sylvan Lake Lodge is that fancier one.”

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