Once again we spent a Sunday afternoon haunting beautiful ruins in beautiful country. The Meeker Ranch is an historic site now owned by the Forest Service, east and north of Custer, SD. It dates back to the 1880s, and was built by Frank Cunningham Meeker, who, according to the Black Hills and Badlands website, was a member of the Pony Express, which ran for a couple of years along the Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage line. Frank Meeker named his idyllic 278-acre spread “Willow Creek.” The ranch passed through several ownerships over the years, finally coming into Forest Service possession in 2004. They undertook restoration and preservation of the ranch when acclaimed watercolor artist Jon Crane helped lobby against the slated demolition of the structures. This breathtaking historic site has been the target of some vandalism in the past, but overall is beautifully preserved. Inside the main ranch house, there are still shreds of curtains, canisters of coffee (these people were obviously coffee-drinkers!), hangers in the closet, old newspapers and magazines, and wallpaper on the walls. Glass sparkles in shards on the floor, whole jars littered among the wreckage. It must have been a lovely, fashionable home in its prime, and now just wisps of the memories cling here and there around the walls.Around the homestead, perched on the hillside in among massive boulders and rock outcroppings, other structures cling tenaciously. The barn fittingly presides over the other structures, towering above them in wonderful condition, while the others have fallen into some level of decay. Buildings out here, scattered through the Hills, are so old and rugged that they seem to have sprung from the ground, rather than to have been built upon it. They belong where they are.
Frogs were singing in the little marsh below the house, singing and trilling so loudly it was almost uncomfortable – What a beautiful summery sound! The scent of pine resin was heavy in places, another sign of summer-to-come. Every time I get a breath of resin in the warm sunlight, a wave of nostalgia breaks over my soul, wrapped up in the beautiful memories I’ve treasured since childhood, of this place I now get to call home. Wildflowers were blooming along the short trail, little goldenpeas and pussy toes and even a few long spur violets. Springtime is truly here! To get there, head north out of Custer on Sylvan Lake Road. Take a right on Willow Creek Road. After a couple of miles, the road will become considerably rougher and narrower, so don’t take a vehicle with low clearance. After about a half a mile on this stretch, there is a Forest Service gate and some parking space. The Forest Service access road continues beyond the gate, and is about a half mile hike to the ranch.
A stunning piece of history.
I so want to visit this piece of history. This was my
Fathers place of birth. Eugene Meeker was my
Uncle. My grandmother Ruth Meeker Scott was Eugene’s sister. My dad always wanted to go back
to the ranch but never made it.
Wow, this is a response I never expected!! Did your dad grow up there? That’s amazing.
Hello Laura Elizabeth-
This was my father’s (Eugene) place of birth and my residence during the 1950’s. Frank Cunningham Meeker was my grandfather. My family has visited the ranch several times during the past 50 years. It is a delightful place to visit. We still hope to hold a family reunion there sometime. Let us know how to contact Cynthia Jones. Thanks so much for this great description of one of our favorite places in the whole world!
Hi Nancy! That’s really neat to hear about your ties to the place! Unfortunately, I don’t know who Cynthia Jones is. My understanding is that the ranch property was actually traded to the Forest Service in a land swap and is now public land.
thanks for sharing love places that combine history and scenic beauty
Thanks for reading! Yes, I do as well love the history and the beauty found in places like this. Quite thrilling.
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look forward to reading about more of your adventures
Great reading Laura! Such an interesting place- makes me sad to see the vandalism
The vandals really did make a mess of the place. Fortunately, the Forest Service has put plexiglass over the broken windows to keep out the weather, but none of the mess was cleaned up, from what I can tell – there is glass everywhere! Contemplating contacting the Forest Service and seeing if they would allow people to go in and clean up the mess.