Century Awards Wall Of Fame City Archives City of Deadwood

William E. Adams

May 13, 1854

June 16, 1934

William E. Adams was just 22 years old when he and his brother, James, arrived in Deadwood in 1877. Over the next six decades W.E. Adams served his city as businessman, banker, politician and civic leader. He became one of Deadwood's most important benefactors whose name remains visible in Deadwood even today.

W.E. Adams

Perhaps his most important legacy is the Sherman Street museum that bears his name. He established the Adams Memorial Hall Museum in 1930, and then donated it to the city of Deadwood. He wanted a place to preserve the fast-disappearing history of the city's gold rush heritage and serve as a memorial to his wife and daughters.

In addition, he built the Adams Block, a building at 629 Main St., which opened in 1880. He later built the four-story Adams Block on Sherman Street, beginning in 1894. He also established several city parks, erected watering troughs for horses, provided American flags for schools and churches and backed the construction of the Mount Roosevelt Memorial. He was also responsible for laying the first brick streets in Deadwood.

"During his residence of more than one half-century in Deadwood, deceased (Adams) had unshakable faith in the future of the city and was a leader in all movements having for their purpose the growth and betterment of the community," Adams' 1934 obituary noted.

He was born in Bertrand, Michigan, on May 13, 1854, the fifth of nine children born to James and Sarah Ann Adams. His family moved to Fairbault, Minnesota, where he and his siblings were raised.

In 1877, W.E. Adams left his job with American Express in Minneapolis and headed West. He and his brother joined the Major Whitehead Expedition to the Black Hills. W.E. staked a mining claim. James bought a restaurant and built the Banner Grocery Store on Lower Main Street. Before long, W.E. joined his brother in the grocery business.

They lost their store in the 1879 Deadwood fire, and rebuilt the business at 629 Main St. They continued as prosperous partners until 1889, when James sold his interest to W.E. and moved to California. W.E. continued to expand the business.

Through several additions, his new Sherman Street Adams Block became a four-story warehouse building stretching from 51 Sherman to 61 Sherman. It has its own water-powered elevator and access to the nearby Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. In 1901, he became a wholesaler, establishing Adams Bros. Wholesale Grocery and the Pioneer Fruit Co. W.E. Adams

Adams married Alice May Burnham on December 22, 1880. They had two daughters. Lucile was born in 1884, and Helen was born in 1892. Both daughters married and moved away, and W.E. and Alice divided their time between Deadwood and Pasadena, California. Lucile died from typhoid fever in Michigan in 1912.

Adams served again as Deadwood mayor from 1920 to 1924, and during that time he and his wife purchased the elegant mansion at 22 Van Buren Street. Today, the restored Adams House is open to the public and remains a popular stop for visitors to the city.

However, in June 1925 W.E. Adams' life took a tragic turn. Alice, who was in California for the birth of their first grandchild, succumbed to cancer on June 6. Daughter Helen, distraught over her mother's death, went into early labor and died the following day. The baby, named Helen, lived only a few hours.

A despondent widower, Adams went about his life for the next year. However, on a train trip between South Dakota and California, he met a young widow named Mary Mastrovich Vicich. She had grown up in Lead, moved to California at age 16, married young, and at 19 lost her husband to influenza.

W.E. Adams

After a lengthy courtship, the two were married in 1927 at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Los Angeles. W.E. was 73; Mary was 29. During their seven years together, the couple divided their time between homes in Pasadena, Palm Springs, California, and Deadwood. Mary Adams encouraged her husband to build the Adams Memorial Hall Museum as a memorial to his first wife and daughters.

On June 7, 1934, W.E. Adams suffered a stroke during a board meeting of the First National Bank. He died nine days later at age 80.

After his death, Mary Adams continued to give generously to a number of causes in the Lead-Deadwood area. Before she died in 1993, she created the Adams-Mastrovich Foundation, which continues to donate to arts, education and religious causes in South Dakota and California.


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