When travelers Bill and Debbie visited the one and only Corn Palace in South Dakota, they documented their amazement and wonder of this unique showplace in their travel diary, Bill & Debbie’s USA Trip.
The story of the Corn Palace preceded Bill and Debbie’s visit by a little over 100 years. Famous explorers Lewis and Clark traveled through the area in 1805, and expressed their belief that the wind swept desert area was good for nothing except buffalo roaming. Some 80 years later, residents of Mitchell, South Dakota who knew this assessment to be untrue wanted to demonstrate how wonderful the area was in which to live. The rich soil found here proved to be the ideal condition for growing corn and other grains, and to prove their point as well as to encourage outsiders to move to the area, an organization called the Corn Belt Real Estate Association decided to do something unheard of; construct a building that would illustrate the crops that would thrive in South Dakota. Thus was the humble beginning of the Corn Palace.
The original Palace was a wooden structure that measured 100 x 66; built in 1892. An astronomical cost for the day, this building had a price tag of $2,976.48. The building was elaborately decorated with the available grains and grasses that were locally grown, and visitors were intrigued. Such popularity was gleaned in this unusual tribute to natural resources that it soon became necessary to construct a larger structure. In 1905, the original Palace was torn down and a newer, larger and more expensive Palace took its place. Again made completely from wood, the 125’ x 142’ structure utilized even more corn, grasses and grains to decorate the building from top to bottom. The interior was rather austere; possessing only dirt floors and no electricity available for the $15,000 Palace.
Another feature was added to the success of the new Corn Palace: a festival to laud the harvest bounty was initiated that would take place in late September. A celebratory occasion that exhibited the results of the year’s farming efforts brought people from surrounding areas along with entertaining events and acts as they enjoyed the fruits of their labor. This festival became a tradition that has endured over 100 years, still intact today to celebrate the land’s fertility and the hard work of the residents.
Over time, with the improvement in safety guidelines for buildings, it was deemed that the Corn Palace needed yet another facelift to meet new laws and increased demand in tourism. The building that stands today in Mitchell is one constructed of steel and brick, constructed in 1921 and able to host the 500,000 tourist trade it sees every year.
Each year welcomes a redecoration project at the Corn Palace; a new theme that is demonstrated through the efforts of around 20 local residents. Utilizing approximately 3000 bushels of oats, rye, milo and dock along with over 250,000 ears of corn of varying colors, murals and geometric designs are artistically portrayed on the building’s walls. Putting old and new to good use, the old corn removed from the building is used in the production of ethanol.
Bill and Debbie thoroughly enjoyed their visit to Mitchell, and recommend anyone traveling through South Dakota to mark this town as a must see.
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