As a way to attract settlers to the rolling plains of the Dakotas in the late 1800s, town leaders in Mitchell, S.D., decided to build a unique structure to tout the rich soil and farming potential. Covered with a mish-mash of patterns and designs, the Mitchell Corn Palace Still beckons to weary travelers driving along Interstate 90.
Standing tall in the heart of Mitchell, S.D., is The World’s Only Corn Palace. True to its name, the building is decorated with corn inside and out.
"All of our decorating is done with colored corn, rye grass and even sour dock, which is a weed which we dry out for the outside of the palace,” said Dan Sabers, the former director of the Corn Palace.
The Palace has quite a history. It was first built in 1892, constructed as a way to compete with surrounding towns. The hope was to attract travelers and settlers. It even brought in major entertainment at the time, like John Phillips Sousa. The structure has been built and rebuilt three different times, but the corn detail changes year after year.
"Looking back at that history in 1892, there was a lot more straw vegetation and less corn. The palace was made out of wood back then, not brick," said Sabers.
Behind a palace so colorful and rich in history is one lone grower.
"Yep, I'm it. I'm the only one who grows the corn for the Corn Palace,” said Mitchell farmer Wade Strand.
Watch the AgDay story on the Corn Palace here. (Additional video credit: “The Story of…The Corn Palace” (Finley-Holiday Films))
Just outside of town, Wade Strand grows almost a dozen varieties of colored corn for the palace. He even supplies the rye. He got the job after a family member approached him to help.
“We plant it after our regular corn is planted, just because we don't want to take the chance of it freezing off. It's not as hardy unlike new varieties with cold tolerance. We want it to pop up and grow fairly quickly once it does grow," said Strand.
For this corn, it’s ideal to have a higher moisture content. That way, the kernels don’t break on the building. “You can tell this is the right moisture. If it gets below 20% moisture content, it will shatter when they saw and nail it," said Strand.
The corn for the Corn Palace is planted in five-acre patches and harvested with an old-school corn picker, but not every ear is guaranteed to make the palace.
"Probably one out of ten of the ears are usable for the Corn Palace," said Strand. Some may be damaged or just not the right shade.
As Strand harvests the crop, the ears are separated and taken to the Corn Palace to be stapled onto black tar paper to be installed. The process, handled by two people, will take several months.
As the murals change with the seasons, the efforts of one farmer, and his many helping hands, keep this South Dakota piece of history attached to the fabric of its future.
Have you visited South Dakota's Corn Palace? Let us know in the comments.