The Corn Palace
The Biggest Bird Feeder in the World

Mitchell, South Dakota 

July 7th, 2006

When traveling across this great land, one of the most unusual buildings you will find is in the small town of Mitchell, SD.  The history surrounding its beginnings starts over 1 and 1/2 centuries ago.  Back in the late 1800s, Mitchell was just 12 years old.  It was a sleepy farm town with not a lot of appeal.  The land was plentiful but the population was sparse.  The city fathers, so the folklore goes, found themselves sitting around a pot belly stove in the general store wondering what could be done to put Mitchell  on the map.  They believed that if they could just get people interested in the richthe original 1892 Palace soil of the area that people would come.  They needed a festival.  Not just a festival but something that would be so spectacular that it would draw people from all over the country just to see what was in the town.  And what was in the town was corn.  Miles and miles of corn fields.  They needed to do something to advertise the corn.  It came in the form of a large modest building built by the Corn Belt Real Estate Association in 1892 to house the activities of the festival.  Only 66 by 100 feet, it had a dirt floor and wooden walls, and no electricity. Completed at a the cost of just under $3000.00  It was called the  the 1905 Corn Palace"The Corn Belt Exposition"  The  fathers had heard of a building in Sioux City where corn had been nailed to the walls of a building to make a design.  Using local artists the first murals were  designed.  Being entirely made of wood, every inch of outer space was available to display corn.  The designs were complex and continuous all the way around the building.  With the onset of winter, the building got its second name with the arrival of pigeons and squirrels.  It became "The Biggest Bird Feeder in the World" as it is sometimes called today.  The festival and the Corn Palace caught on and by 1904 the building was too small to house all the events that were being scheduled.  Mitchell was no longer the sleepy farm town.  Events  were happening year round and the Palace was in constant use.  In 1905, the  City of Mitchell challenged Pierre for the right to be the Capital of South Dakota.  A new Corn Palace, it was hoped, would launch this effort to a successful conclusion. 
The second Palace was constructed in just 55 days for $15,000.  It was  125 X 146 feet in size and again was with dirt floor and no electricity.  A footnote under the 1904 picture informed us that the swastika on the front of the building was a common Indian sign, and that in 1904 Nazis hadn't been heard of.  The Capital stayed in Pierre but it didn't keep the Corn Palace from growing in popularity.  By the 1920, concern for the safety of large groups in a wooden structure caused new plans to be drawn.  This time the Corn Palace was to be steel and concrete. The present day Corn Palace
The 1921 Corn Palace was designed with. Moorish domes.  Minarets were added in 1937, giving the Palace the distinctive appearance that it has today.  Today the Palace sees a half million visitors during the summer.  The rest of the time it services the town's other activities from Proms to trade-shows  Each year ever since, except during the war years and the Great Depression, the Palace has been redecorated in a new theme.  The material used has always been the native products that grow around the town.  Each new theme is selected by the Corn Palace Committee along with the current artist Cherie Ramsdell.  It takes some 20 local residents each summer to redecorate the building.  Starting sometime in late spring or early summer the non-corn materials like grains and grasses are replaced with around 3000 bushels of Milo, rye and oat heads, which are tied into bundles and nailed to the building in new designs.  At the end of summer with the corn ripened in the fields, the murals are replaced.  This requires the existing corn to be removed and the new designs placed on black roofing paper.  The paper is marked out in grids according to the paper designs created by Cherie.  One article called it a "corn-by-number project".  The roofing paper goes up on the walls of the building and the corn, which has been sliced down the center so that one side is flat, is nailed, flat side, to the building.  It takes close to 90 days to get the entire job completed.  Just under 300,000 ears of corn are used. During the summer, the Palace serves mainly as a tourist attraction while hosting such events as the Annual Festival, Stampede Rodeo and Polka Festival.  During the off season, it is in continuous use as a community center for concerts, sports events and even Proms.

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