Rapid City was established in 1876 by prospectors who were lured to the Black Hills by the discovery of gold. The city was named after the creek which flows through a geologic formation on the edge of the Black Hills known locally as "the Gap." Originally called Hay Camp, Rapid City became a major trade center for not only mining camps, but also for the surrounding towns, Indian reservations and ranches after the completion of the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad on July 4, 1886.
As the commercial center of the region, Rapid City grew steadily over the years. Ranching and other agricultural business depended on, and sustained the city for many years. In the early part of World War Two, Rapid City Air Base, now named Ellsworth Air Force Base, was established six miles northeast of the city. Rapid City's climate is considered semi-arid, which means that most of the summer is warm and sunny. The city continues to grow in population (now nearly 70,000) partially because of the relatively pleasant climate.
This influx of economic development and population has created an even more diverse community during the last half century.
Rapid City is nestled in the foothills on the eastern edge of the Black Hills. Because the city is built around the natural contours of the hills, streets run in many directions. Visitors can drive to Mt. Rushmore from Rapid City in 45 minutes or less, dependent on traffic and weather conditions. The Badlands, Crazy Horse Memorial and Devil's Tower are all within easy driving distance from Rapid City.
Rapid City has become the eastern gateway to the Black Hills. Each year approximately 2.7 million visitors pass through the city. With over 4,400 guest rooms, Rapid City serves as a hub for many Black Hills tourism activities. Increasingly, the city is finding a niche as a convention center. The Rushmore Plaza Civic Center is located close to the downtown business district and can accommodate conventions of almost any size. Many companies and professional organizations have found Rapid City to be the ideal site for conventions, since conventioneers may take the opportunity to explore attractions of the Black Hills during their stay. Rapid City offers thousands of guest rooms, and a number of great restaurants, plus numerous museums and cultural attractions
The Rapid City Flood--Forty Years Later