Corn Palace is Gateway to South Dakota Tourist Attractions

Unusual Mitchell, South Dakota, tourist attraction pulls in about a half-million tourists and visitors every year.

| July/August 2009

Mitchell Corn Palace

Grain reigns supreme at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.

Cecil Hicks

The world has a number of notable luxury palaces that were traditionally built for kings and queens of some European countries, sultans and sheiks of the Mideast, or maharajas of India. While these mansions were largely showcases for the rich and famous and society’s aristocrats, there’s only one that was designed to honor a crop – the Corn Palace at Mitchell, South Dakota.

Mitchell (pop. 15,000) is a prairie town in eastern South Dakota surrounded by fields of corn. In 1892, residents of the area constructed a building and named it the Corn Palace to showcase the major crop grown in the region. It was their hope that the attention generated would attract more immigrant farmers to settle in the area.

While the original Corn Palace might have helped lure settlers, today’s palace (it’s the third, built in 1921) attracts about a half-million tourists and visitors annually. The Corn Palace’s Convention and Visitors Bureau helps promote activities in this uniquely designed structure with its mosque-like domes and towers that looks similar to a building designed for a Russian czar.

Troy Magnuson, assistant manager of the Corn Palace’s gift shop, says the Corn Palace is the “gateway to South Dakota’s major tourist attractions.” He says the bulk of the state’s visitors arrive by car from the east on Interstate 90, which runs just south of Mitchell. The Corn Palace is the first major state tourist destination for westbound travelers. The others are the Badlands National Monument, Wall Drug Store, Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument.

The Corn Palace is made out of bricks and steel. Huge 3/4-inch plywood panels mounted on the palace’s exterior are transformed into large murals designed by artists using locally grown corn and grains.

According to Magnuson, all corn used in the murals is raised by a local farmer who annually plants several different colored corns. None of the corn used in the designs is dyed. Besides standard yellow-eared corn, the farmer grows three shades of red corn, three shades of brown corn, calico spotted Indian corn, blue corn, white corn and, recently, a variety of green corn.

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