If you’re traveling in the midwest, there’s a building in Mitchell, South Dakota, that you might want to stop and see. The folks in Mitchell say it’s the World’s Only Corn Palace, and it’s been around for more than a hundred years. The Corn Palace was built as a way to prove to the world that South Dakota had a healthy agricultural climate, and now, some 500,000 tourists come see it every year.
What makes the corn palace special are the murals. These images are made new each year, out of naturally colored corn and other grains and native grasses. The artists use 13 different colors of corn to decorate the Palace: red, brown, black, blue, white, orange, calico, yellow and green – all natural, Dakota-grown corn. A different theme is chosen each year, and murals are designed to reflect that theme. Ear by ear the corn is nailed to the structure’s walls to create a scene. The decorating process usually starts in late May. Last year’s corn murals are stripped at the end of August and the new ones are completed by the first of October.
The Palace first opened in 1892, to showcase the area’s rich farmland and growing development. It was born to promote the region but became a gathering place where neighbors could enjoy a fall festival to celebrate the end of the crop season and its harvest. The Palace has been in continuous use ever since; the tradition continues with the annual Corn Palace Festival held in late August each year.
The original building was a wooden castle on Mitchell’s Main Street, built on donated land. In 1905, The castle was spruced up as part of a challenge to the city of Pierre, when the city of Mitchell tried but failed to take Pierre’s place as the state capital. In 1920, the Corn Palace was rebuilt and went through several regenerations. The Russian-style onion domes and Moorish minarets were added, giving it a distinctive Eurasian look.
Today, the Corn Palace is the home of a festival and an annual ag show, as well as industrial exhibits, dances, stage shows, high school proms, graduations and basketball tournaments. USA Today says the Corn Palace is one of the top 10 places in America for high school basketball.
This structure was built as a way to promote a region and to foster new development. But after more than a century what it has become, and remains today, is the heart and soul of a community, a celebration of a lifestyle that is rooted in the land.