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Dakota Farmer

Be a backyard tourist

Young Dakota Living: How often do you stop into those destinations in your hometown?

Sarah McNaughton

November 24, 2023

3 Min Read
corn palace, mitchell, s.d.
WORLD’S ONLY CORN PALACE: A farm trip to southeast South Dakota led to stop at the historic Corn Palace in Mitchell.Photos by Sarah McNaughton

We’ve all seen them — those highway signs directing us toward a certain tourism destination. These might be places we’ve been to before or sites we’ve never had time to visit. Either way, taking a stop inside might leave you surprised!

During a fall trip to southeast South Dakota, I had a free hour between visits with two farmers. The city of Mitchell was right in the middle of the two farms, and I needed gas (and a cold brew) anyway.

Mitchell is famous for the Corn Palace. I heard about this place for years from a college friend who lives in the city and from the rodeo held there. So, I figured I could kill some time and see what it’s all about. If you’re not familiar with the Corn Palace, here are a few facts to get you up to speed:

Only corn palace. The world’s only corn palace was established in 1892 and replaced in 1905 due to its success. The largest and final palace was built in 1919. In the 1930s, Moorish design elements and other artistic feature from the original building were added.

The full history of the Corn Palace on the walls

More than corn. The palace is home to exhibits, dance shows, basketball games, banquets, meetings, proms, graduation ceremonies and more. It has been named as one of the top 10 places in the U.S. for high school basketball.

Annual redesign. The palace is redesigned each year with 12 naturally colored corn and grains to make it the “agricultural showplace of the world.” The process of replacing the corn murals starts in May and ends in October.

Broad themes. Themes for past murals included “South Dakota Weather,” “Under the Big Top,” “Salute to Military,” “South Dakota’s 125th” and the 2024 theme, “Famous South Dakotans.” The murals are created by students from Dakota Wesleyan University who are enrolled in media and design courses.

Did I know any of these fun facts before my stop? Definitely not. But I know agriculture and I cover South Dakota, so I figured I should stop by.

While it was a regular Tuesday afternoon with not much happening, I was greeted by friendly staff and plentiful corn motifs. One of the corn murals on the outside was being completed, so I stopped across the street to watch for a while.

Inside, I learned about the history of the corn palace and fun facts about the South Dakota corn industry, including the annual cost to redecorate is about $130,000, and Brett Lowrie grows the palace’s corn.

The famous mural in auditorium of the Corn Palace showcase parts of South Dakota history

While I finished reading the exhibits and taking photos of the murals, I got to thinking. How many places had I driven past that might be hidden gems in my own home state? That on-farm cheese shop, the corn maze just outside of town, a niche history museum, or even a landmark like Salem Sue?

Checking out the North or South Dakota tourism websites can help you find a full list of local destinations to attend. From garden tours and wineries, to farmers markets in the summer, to pumpkin patches or even a bison petting farm, you might just find the next hidden gem right up the road.

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About the Author(s)

Sarah McNaughton

Editor, Dakota Farmer, Farm Progress

Sarah McNaughton of Bismarck, N.D., has been editor of Dakota Farmer since 2021. Before working at Farm Progress, she was an NDSU 4-H Extension agent in Cass County, N.D. Prior to that, she was a farm and ranch reporter at KFGO Radio in Fargo.

McNaughton is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a bachelor’s degree in ag communications and a master’s in Extension education and youth development.

She is involved in agriculture in both her professional and personal life, as a member of North Dakota Agri-Women, Agriculture Communicators Network Sigma Alpha Professional Agriculture Sorority Alumni and Professional Women in Agri-business. As a life-long 4-H’er, she is a regular volunteer for North Dakota 4-H programs and events.

In her free time, she is an avid backpacker and hiker, and can be found most summer weekends at rodeos around the Midwest.

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