The Life of Alex Carlton Johnson

The founder of our historic downtown Rapid City hotel was Alex Carlton Johnson. While there have been many changes to the Hotel Alex Johnson throughout its history, we are proud to say that the hotel has been able to retain its historic presence and once again bears the name of its founder.

Alex Johnson was a railroad executive and pioneer South Dakotan who was one of the state’s best-known citizens before his death in 1938. Johnson was born near Cochranton in Crawford County, Pennsylvania on May 20, 1859. Throughout his early years, Johnson moved with his family many times throughout different areas of the United States before relocating to Cochranton.

In 1878, Johnson was able to obtain a teaching certificate from Cochranton Academy. After obtaining this certificate, Johnson began planning to marry his school sweetheart, Ida Devore. In 1881, the couple then gave birth to Evelyn, the first of three children. As the time passed, his wife’s health began to fail, and Johnson was needing a job opportunity to be able to pay off his bills. He then heard that some of his wife’s relatives were planning to move west, and after visiting with them about opportunities in the Dakota Territories, he decided to go along.

In 1886, Johnson moved his family to Watertown, SD where he worked as a traveling auditor for several elevator companies. He then finished a formal law course and became a member of the State Bar of South Dakota. After a few years of working as a special agent for the CNW at Watertown & becoming involved in Republican party politics, Johnson was appointed as the general agent for the CNW in South Dakota and Minnesota. He was then transferred to Winona, Minnesota.

Then, in 1905, Johnson became the general freight and passenger agent of two subsidiaries, the Pierre, Rapid City & North Western Railway and the Pierre, Fort Pierre & Bridge Railway. In 1910 he was then promoted to passenger traffic manager for the entire system and was transferred to Chicago, Illinois. Throughout WWI, Johnson served as chairman of the Western Traffic Committee of the United States Railway Control Board, then resumed his duties as general traffic manager for CNW in March 1920 until October, when he was then appointed as CNW vice-president. He then held this position until his retirement in June 1929.

During his time as the CNW vice-president, Alex Johnson took action on his dream of constructing a “Showplace of the West”, which would be a tribute to the Native Americans and Black Hills that surrounded him. Construction on his hotel began on October 3, 1927. Then on July 28, 1928, the hotel opened its doors to the first guests.

After retiring, Johnson moved with his wife to California, hoping the climate change would improve her health. Ida passed away in 1931, and Johnson returned to South Dakota to live out his final years in the penthouse suite at his hotel until he returned to California where died on March 18, 1938.

As you step through our doors, enjoy being transported in time as you take in the historic elements of our hotel that are mixed in with modern amenities. We look forward to hosting you during your next vacation to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Step Into History