South Dakota Architects – Alber, Albright, and Bartlett

I love historic places and I love pulling out details of the history of these places.  Contributing to this quirk (obsession) is my affinity for finding information and organizing it, in hopes that I or others may find the information useful when undertaking higher-level analysis.  I’ve demonstrated this in previous posts, and I would call out a few examples here, but it’s actually quite apparent in most of them…

Because I love historic places, information on their architects has been one of my obsessive projects.  This post will start a series on architects (and some significant builders) who were residents of South Dakota in order to dig a bit into their lives and work.  Some made a bigger impact and/or left a better historical record than others, but we miss something if we only study the biggest names.  There are a handful that were only mentioned once and I can’t find anything else about them – maybe I’ll include them in a list at the end…  I’ll do my best to restrict these profiles to architects who are now deceased.  If any readers have additional information or corrections, please leave a note in the comments!

Martin Alber (1845-1924)

Martin “Mart” Alber was born in Germany in about 1844/1845 and came to the U.S. as a child in 1846.  He potentially lived in Laramie, Wyoming at the time of the 1870 census where he was recorded as a carpenter from Lichtenstein.  He came to Deadwood, Lawrence County in 1876 with the Jack Langrishe company, a theater troupe, in the very first waves of men staking out a settlement and beginning to build the town.  It strikes me as curious that a theater group were among the first settlers, although I suppose an in-house carpenter would have been useful for building theaters and stage sets.  In 1880, Alber worked as a carpenter in Deadwood and lived in a (boarding?) house with several miners and stone masons.  He was listed in the 1890 Directory of Architects and Classified Directory of First Hands in the Building Trades as a resident of Spearfish, South Dakota.  Alber died on January 18, 1924 in Lawrence County.  Leaving no heirs or will, attorney Francis J. Parker handled the dispensation of his estate, paying final medical bills and sending the balance to the Society of Black Hills Pioneers, of which Alber was a member, to compensate them for his gravestone at Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood.

There is not much record online of his work.  Alber erected an early frame structure for E.A. Swearingen’s Gem Theater in 1876 and its replacement after a fire in 1879.  In 1890, he advertised in the Spearfish newspaper as an architect and builder, specializing in millwright work.  He worked on a large barn at Crow Peak in 1890 and the first I.H. Chase Building at 604 Main in Deadwood in 1897.  He also designed a hotel in Deadwood for J.T. Gilmore in 1897 that was to be five-stories and constructed of brick and stone.

Alber may have also designed a log church for the Finnish community near Nemo, Lawrence County in 1921–a Mark Albert was listed as the church’s designer in an 1988 news article in the Spearfish Daily Queen City Mail about its history.  However, its construction would have been very late in his life.  The Nemo church was constructed by Gus Jatko.  According to the 1988 news article about the church, the logs were joined without nails and were selected by forest ranger, Haines Pond.  The 1987 survey record at the State Historic Preservation Office (LA00000718) also records that Haines Pond selected the logs, that John Erickson did the skidding, John Youngs hauled the rocks for the foundation, and that the Homestake Mining Company contributed to the construction and maintenance of the church.  Homestake had set up a timber camp in Nemo in 1898 to supply its mining operations; they built an improved mill there in 1912.  Nemo at the time also had a store, hotel, school, Woodman Hall, and a few hundred residents.  The church was built as a non-denominational community church and used logs to be “in keeping with the forest” [Beardshear].  From their page on Facebook, the Nemo Community Church is still an active congregation and meet in the same building.

In 1987, the SHPO office did determine the church to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  There are a few photos from 1985 viewable through the digital collections of the South Dakota State Archives, link here.  It’s fascinating that the logs were left rounded except for the very ends which were planed down and joined with dovetail notching (detail photo here).


  • Beardshear, Iva. “A Profile of Nemo, South Dakota,” Historical Marker (June 2, 2015), online newsletter of Lawrence County Historical Society.
  • Black Hills Pioneer (SD), January 9, 2016, item originally printed in Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times (SD), December 20, 1899 (Gem Theater and coming with Langrische).
  • Deadwood,” on CyArk website (I.H. Chase Building).
  • Directory of Architects and Classified Directory of First Hands in the Building Trades (Springfield, MA: Clark W. Bryan & Co., 1890), 135.
  • Engineering News-record 37 (May 13, 1897), 177 (hotel for Gilmore).
  • “Final Report of Agent and Petition for Discharge,” Probate Records, Lawrence County, Box 5173, Box 61, File 2256a-2262, 1923-1924, via
  • Index to South Dakota Death Records, 1905-1955. Pierre, SD, USA: South Dakota Department of Health, via
  • Mart Alber,” Find-a-Grave website, includes photo of stone.
  • Queen City Mail (Spearfish, SD), February 19-March 12, 1890 (Crow Peak barn).
  • South Dakota State Census, 1915, via, as “Martin Albar.”
  • Spearfish Daily Queen City Mail (SD), May 25, 1988.
  • U.S. Census, Laramie city, Albany County, Wyoming Territory (June 4, 1870), 6.
  • U.S. Census, ED #120, Deadwood, Lawrence County, South Dakota (June 16, 1880), 40, via

John H. Albright (c.1857-c.1922)

John H. Albright was born in about 1857 in Canada and came to the United States in 1883.  Albright lived for a time in the 1890s in Pierre and in Huron, but he came from Redfield and made his permanent home in Fort Dodge, Iowa after his marriage in 1894 to Nellie (Helen?) Shields of Huron.  In 1908, he formed a business partnership with J.W. Bradford of Sioux City, Iowa.

From trade journals viewable in Google Books, the bulk of his work seems to have been local in Fort Dodge and surrounding communities within Iowa.  In South Dakota, he designed a frame residence in Faulkton for Andrew Boller and the frame Queen Anne-style home in Huron for John and Mamie Pyle.  Nellie Albright was a sister of Mamie Shields Pyle.  The Pyle House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is now a museum (see my earlier post “A Huron Sojourn” for more history and photos).


  • American Architect and Architecture 94 (1908), 246.
  • Architecture and Building 24 (1896), 90.
  • Daily Plainsman (Huron, SD), August 20, 1942 (notice of Nellie’s death).
  • Hoover, Herbert T. and Larry J. Zimmerman, South Dakota Leaders: From Pierre Choteau Jr. to Oscar Howe (1890, snippet view) (Pyle House).
  • Improvement Bulletin 23 (May 18, 1901), 20 (Boller residence in Faulkton).
  • Pierre City Directory, 1890-91.
  • U.S. Census, Fort Dodge, Webster County, Iowa, ED #242 (January 6, 1920), 11A.

William Bartlett (1847-1927)

William Bartlett was a general contractor who worked in Lead, Lawrence County.  Bartlett was born in Bristol, England.  He lost his father as an infant and started to work at a young age to support himself.  After his mother remarried, his stepfather taught him the building construction trade and they were in business together until 1870 when William came to the U.S.  At his arrival, he went to Chicago and then to Madison, Wisconsin and points in Iowa.  He worked as a contractor/developer and owned a chain of brickyards.  In about 1883, he came to Hand County, Dakota Territory and took up a ranch which he managed until 1892.  After a large fire struck Fargo, North Dakota, he went up there and worked on several rebuilding projects.  He began taking contracts for buildings in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa.  His contract for the high school in Lead, S.D. initiated a long stretch of work in Lead and other towns in the northern Black Hills.  He moved his family to Lead, started a brickyard there, and invested in many businesses around the northern Hills including the light plant in Sturgis, several mines in the Hills and in the Rockies, and local businesses like the First National Bank and Smead Hotel in Lead.  In 1907, he went south to Edgemont, S.D. to invest in a lumber company and several other businesses, and he moved there in 1910.  He had extensive land holdings, especially in Lead and Edgemont, and even invested in developing a city-owned mineral spring in Edgemont into a health resort, which were popular attractions in the southern Hills.  The biography that was included in George W. Kingsbury’s 1915 History of Dakota Territory described Bartlett as a man of “wide experience in varied lines of business” with “characteristic initiative and aggressiveness.”

Bartlett built the Smead Hotel in 1901 (demolished in 1923), the Consolidated Power & Light Company powerhouse in Pluma in 1905, the sandstone city hall/municipal building in Lead in 1912, the Historic Homestake Opera House in Lead, an opera house in Edgemont, high schools in Mitchell and Lead, the First National Bank in Lead, masonic buildings in Deadwood and Spearfish, and houses for Mr. James and Jas. Halloran.  Several of his buildings have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  In Lead, the Homestake Opera House (LA00201214), school (LA00201191), bank (LA00201044) and city hall (LA00201209) were listed in 1974 as part of the Lead Historic District.  [You can read more about the ongoing rehabilitation work at the Opera House and see more photos at my earlier post “The Renaissance of the Homestake Opera House.”]  He worked on the masonic temple in Deadwood with Harry Phillips and A. Shaw; it was listed in the National Register as part of the Deadwood Historic District in 1966–which is also a National Historic Landmark. The Halloran house (LA00000855) in Spearfish was listed in the National Register in 1976.


The street façade of the Homestake Opera House, Lead. Photograph by author, March 2016.


  • The Construction News, v.36, (August 23, 1913), 37
  • Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times (SD), July 26, 1912.
  • Electrical Review 47 (September 16, 1905), 456.
  • Improvement Bulletin 32 (May 5, 1906), 28.
  • Kingsbury, George W. History of Dakota Territory IV (1915), 400-406. [You can find Bartlett’s biography in this volume on Google Books, and there’s a photo!]
  • Lead Daily Call (SD), August 17, 1901 and October 27, 1923.



One thought on “South Dakota Architects – Alber, Albright, and Bartlett

  1. You might find this book interesting: Wilson, James P. Vermillion architects and contractors : 1870 to present [Vermillion, S.D.] : Clay County Historic Preservation Commission, [2013].


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