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Hideaway Hills: hidden mine, derelict homes, abandoned community

Published: Jan. 11, 2021 at 5:33 PM CST
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BLACK HAWK, S.D. (KOTA) - It has been three months since former Hideaway Hills resident Albert Reitz stepped into his condemned home on East Daisy Drive.

Last April, a sinkhole swallowed up his neighbor’s front yard, while Reitz was mowing his own yard. A powerful, vacuum-like wind tugged at his back and diverted his attention from overgrown grass to an unwelcome pit and burst pipes. The Black Hawk man was only a few feet away from peril.

He says he’s lucky to be alive - an answer given when directly asked if he feels he cheated death. Before that, he’s quick to count his blessings that none of the neighborhood kids were taken by the sinkhole.

Since that fateful day, the sinkhole slowly deteriorates and the homes with it. Reitz’s own crumbling abode remains unoccupied since Meade County officials evacuated close to a dozen families and blocked off access to properties on or near the abandoned gypsum mine that stems from the sinkhole.

Former Hideaway Hills resident Albert Reitz opens the gate barring the public from nearing an...
Former Hideaway Hills resident Albert Reitz opens the gate barring the public from nearing an neighborhood on East Daisy Drive in Black Hawk after a sinkhole uncovered the underworkings of an abandoned gypsum mine in April 2020. Reitz allowed a reporter to tour his derelict home on Dec. 23, 2020 - which he had not visited since for months before - and examine the structural damage that showed up after the sinkhole appeared.(Dominik Dausch)

Months after the tragedy and on the day before Christmas Eve, KOTA Territory News asked Reitz to give us a first-hand look at the condition of his derelict home.

He obliged, though the idea of going back “home” proved to be an emotional experience.

A sheet of paper taped to a window reading "NO TRESPASSING" warns the reader from entering one...
A sheet of paper taped to a window reading "NO TRESPASSING" warns the reader from entering one of the Hideaway Hills homes in Black Hawk on account of the house being in the proximity of an abandoned, crumbling mine. Former residents have had to put up signs warning unwanted visitors to stay away from the homes, partially as a safety precaution and because insurance companies have dumped a majority of the residents from their coverage plans.(Dominik Dausch)

Upon entering his garage, Reitz immediately noted the gravity of the situation: “I try to stay away from here. It is - (Albert pauses) - it’s emotional coming around here.” He was not without humor, however, as he laughed at himself for flicking on lights to a home without electricity as we stepped through the foyer.

Most house walkthroughs are meant to draw potential buyers into purchasing the property; Reitz spent most of his time highlighting structural damage that appeared following the sinkhole - damage that would slash the value of his former home.

The results of a cursory inspection revealed thus: cracks along the corners of walls, branching off the corners of door frames and following the seams of the ceiling; bowed windows; the foundation in his basement was starting to separate; and a hole large enough to fit a 2x4 plank was uncovered by Reitz as we toured his backyard.

Across the street from the Reitz’s place, another pit sits in the backyard of former homeowner Chad Kelly. Parents Tom and Sue pushed their son to move his family out of their Hideaway home three weeks before a roughly 8-foot-wide pit opened up just beside their porch, swallowing up some fencing and revealing some pipes.

According to Chad’s parents, their son’s dog would constantly bark in the basement - a seeming omen to the ticking time-bomb beneath their feet.

“It was getting dangerous for the dog to be in the backyard, for my granddaughter to be in her bedroom. The doors weren’t closing or locking,” Sue said.

A section of fencing leans into the mouth of a sinkhole that opened up in former Hideaway Hills...
A section of fencing leans into the mouth of a sinkhole that opened up in former Hideaway Hills homeowner Chad Kelly's backyard three weeks after parents Tom and Sue pushed him to move his family out. Chad's parents used to own the home and experienced a similar issue in 2007 when a 19-feet-deep pit opened up in their front yard, but were unaware of the crumbling gypsum mine connected to the sinkholes at the time.(Dominik Dausch)

Their true intuition was not based on a hunch, but experience: Tom and Sue once lived in that same home, which they claimed had previous sinkhole issues.

The Kellys, who moved into their Hideaway home in 2005, say a huge, 19-foot-deep sinkhole carved out a slice of their driveway, front yard, street and sidewalk two years after they moved in.

Alongside property damage, Reitz said the financial pitfalls are chipping away at the wallets of the former residents as agencies start to abandon the neighborhood. Former homeowners - Reitz included - have had to put up signs warning unwanted visitors to stay away from the homes, partially as a safety precaution and because insurance companies have dumped a majority of the residents from their coverage plans.

“We lost our insurance on the house ‘cause they don’t want any part of this,” Reitz said.

With no chance of selling a property on top of a mine and no possibility of being reimbursed by the county, which has been dismissed from a major lawsuit that would make them responsible for the sinkhole, the evacuated families of East Daisy Drive are stuck footing the bill for homes they can’t live in anymore.

The Kellys moved to Arizona with their adult son in 2020, at least physically removing themselves from the situation. However, Tom says he is considering foreclosing on the Black Hawk home, which he still owes over $100,000 on.

As for Albert Reitz, he believes he will have to make ends meet for the foreseeable future.

“I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life, ‘cause I’ve gotta - (Albert chokes up) - I’ve gotta cover two payments. I’ve gotta cover this house and I’ve gotta cover the house we’re living in right now.”

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