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MITCHELL, SOUTH DAKOTA - CORNY TOWN
by Rick Geyerman
A Resident's Tourist Guide to MITCHELL, SOUTH DAKOTA
Most tourists travel through SD driving East to West on Interstate-90
in the Summertime.
With a car full of kids.
On their way to the Black Hills or Yellowstone.
I'm assuming that you are, too.
Entering South Dakota from the east, it seems natural to begin looking for Cowboys and Indians. Your imagination can easily picture a line of feathered warriors on painted ponies topping a low hill in the distance, or see the cowboys stoking their breakfast fire in the unbroken grassland spreading near the highway.
Our wide-open sky does that to you...
And, though Eastern SD has a rich Native American history, for most tourists
Cowboy and Indian country doesn't begin for another 230 miles, across the Missouri River.
Eastern South Dakota is farming country.
Corn farming country.
That's not easy to forget when you visit Mitchell, located an hour from the state's eastern border, on Interstate 90. The call letters of the radio station in Mitchell are KORN.
1490 on the AM dial.
The toll free number at the Chamber of Commerce is 1-800-257-CORN. Both the high school basketball and football teams are named the Kernels.
Mitchell is the home of the World's Only Corn Palace.
Built in 1892 in celebration of the area's agricultural heritage, this domed and turreted landmark is redecorated annually with over 3000 bushels of colored corn and grain. Open free to the public (usually), the Corn Palace naturally becomes the focal point of visiting travelers. Billboard-sized corn-cob murals, lit nightly during the summer, depict scenes of Dakota Territory history, and provide local birds with a year-round feast, one of the main reasons for the annual re-decoration.
The Corn Palace has been called the World's Biggest Bird Feeder.
We, who live here, are OK with that.
Mike Miller, currently with the Minnesota Timberwolves, played his high school basketball here.
National Sportscasters usually mention the Corn Palace at some point in each game.
Inside the Corn Palace are the original corn murals designed by noted Lakota (Sioux) Indian artist, Oscar Howe, as well as exhibits explaining the Palace decorating process. The crew who perform this unique corn craft were invited by the Smithsonian to recreate their art on the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C. during our nation's bicentennial celebration.
Also, inside the Corn Palace during the Summer is the Corn Palace Gift Shop.
Prepare yourself. Learn to say "No" to your kids.
These shops are replicated all the way to and thru the Black Hills.
Home-court to the perennial state-champion basketball team during the school year, the Corn Palace auditorium is returned for a week each late summer to its original purpose as a prairie theater. The Corn Palace Festival marks the end of the harvest season, and provides an excuse for a carnival.
Vendors and circus rides line Main Street. Entertainers from John Philip Sousa to the Oak Ridge Boys have "played the Palace". 1992 marked the 100th anniversary of the festival.
Annually. Admission required for Entertainment. The colorful Polka Fest is in August or September in the Corn Palace.
Schedule depends on some obscure national Polka tour timeline. Check dates.
Voted one of the Top 50 "must see" attractions by the American Bus Association.
Admission Required, even to watch. Great Photo-op.
The Corn Palace is not the only thing to see in Mitchell,
but it attracts the lion's share of the attention - thanks to its generous advertising budget -
and is the main draw for over half-a-million visitors each year.
Unfortunately, most tourists have dedicated this same day to "reaching the Black Hills" which is 300 miles away.
After a quick tour of the Corn Palace and a full tank of gas, most of you head west.
That's particularly sad for the Prehistoric Indian Village, and the Dakota Discovery Museum (which both
house very special Native American Exhibits) because they're a little off the beaten path.
A short walk down Mitchell's Historic Main Street from the Corn Palace will take you past buildings that stood as Custer rode to his final battle at the Little Big Horn. The newly renovated railroad depot (about 7 blocks) attests to the fact that Mitchell began as a railroad town, named after Alexander Mitchell, President of the C.M. & St Paul Railroad line. The Depot Restaurant is one of the top places in Mitchell to to eat, w/bar. Listed as a free Wi-Fi hotspot.
Walking South on Main from the Corn Palace, of special note are...
Jitter's Coffee Shop... sandwiches, coffee and Wi-Fi Internet Access.
Across the Street... JackPot Gambling... lotta historical stuff on the walls... sawdust on the floor. Spit all you want.
Good food and family friendly until about 9 PM,
when the music becomes loud and the crowd, louder. On any weekend night, your best bet for live music.
If you are into antiques, Brenda's Antique Palace is a block-and-a-half south of the Corn Palace on the same side of the street.
The shop has even developed a reputation among the national acts who come for the Corn Palace Festival.
I keep some consignment goods there. Brenda and Dan have created an interesting store.
Their windows are always attractive, and the stuff inside is arranged with sense. The help knows where things are.
Brenda also owns Einstein's Costume Shop. Another block down, and across the street.
You probably don't want to wade thru racks of old clothing, but her windows are always interesting.
At Main on Third Street...
to the East, half-a-block... two gift shops with a lot of local buzz. Finishing Touches by Bonnie,
and Simply Unique, right next door.
to the West, half-a-block...
the old Carnegie Library with the Oscar Howe mural in the dome.
In 1940, as a WPA project, Howe, a Sioux Indian from the Crow Creek Reservation, painted a symbolic Indian mural on the dome of the building, Now the Carnegie Resource Center, it is open limited hours.
Between 2nd and 3rd on Main... Prairie Breeze Gallery, features SD artists...
OK -- I'm a 58-year-old divorced guy, and not much into decorating,
but I wuz surprised by the quality of the the local talent. Nice lady runs the place.
Near the corner of 2nd and Main, note two of Mitchell's outdoor advertising icons...
the 6-foot cowboy boot over Merchandise Outlet (3000 Boots!).
(Note 6.29.08 relocating because of a fire next door. Will post new location when I know)
Real Cowboys shop here. Butt-tight blue jeans. Tell Kim I said Hi.
and the giant saddle-shoe, over Charlie's Shoe Repair. The shop, and Charlie, icons by themselves.
Serious sewing for leather and canvas. Shoe-laces and polish.
Charlie is of the dying breed. What youngster would ever consider this business?
Either walk the last two blocks to the Depot for food, or... Turn around and walk back to the Corn Palace.
A mile's drive north of town will put you at Lake Mitchell. Eight miles around. You can't get lost. Pleasant drive.
When your weather is as dry as ours, water takes on a special appeal.
Here is the Prehistoric Indian Village, the site of a 1000-year- old, fortified Indian city, and the only National Archaeological Landmark in South Dakota open to the public. Visitors can walk through the reconstructed Arikara Indian lodge, and - during "dig-it" weekends - participate in hands-on excavation work under the supervision of experienced scholars. In the summer of '96, the Indian Village begin painstakingly excavating footings for the enclosed archeology dome that would eventually cover their dig project.
(Dome Finished: winter 98. Digging ongoing.) Visitors wishing a deeper understanding of early plains life can visit the Dakota Discovery Museum.
Highlights of the museum's collection include "Dakota Woman" by Harvey Dunn, a canvas which most will recognize, and life-sized statues of Lewis and Clark, by James Earle Fraser, who later became famous for designing the buffalo nickel.
In the same building is the Oscar Howe Art Center, dedicated to the Lakota Sioux Indian man who was South Dakota's Artist Laureate until his death in 1983. A permanent collection of 40 Howe works is on display, as well as changing gallery exhibits featuring area artists.
Directly across the street from the Dakota Discovery Museum is the
George and Eleanor McGovern Library and Center for Public Service.
Former-President Clinton gave the keynote speech at the fall 2006 dedication of the facility.
McGovern was adamantly against the war in Viet Nam and was
the Democratic nominee in the US Presidential race against Nixon in 1972.
He lost, of course, thanks partly to the WaterGate Scandal.
Still today, McGovern is a great humanitarian and an
advocate for feeding the world's children, in the name of peace.
Eleanor died in early 2007, but George still lives in Mitchell, in the corner house across the street from the Library.
In the Library, there is an interactive history of his life.
On the odd day, you might spy him walking his dog to the M&H Convenience Store for coffee and a cookie.
Outdoor sportsmen will be interested in Cabela's, with its indoor mountain,
thousands of trophy animal mounts, and huge indoor aquariums with native specie game fish
Cabela's Upland Cafe has an interesting menu, but closes at 4 PM.
Live local theater is available if the troupe is performing. Maybe 5 shows annually.
Students of architecture will find a local list of interesting sites here. Of note are Mitchell's LUSTRON houses.
These were made completely of steel, with porcelain exteriors and shingles. You'll note that Mitchell's houses
are not listed on the website's Registry, but the general area is roughly
along Vincent Place, from Miller Ave. to Mitchell Blvd. The most-easily visible is at 720 Mitchell Blvd.
It's pastel yellow and has had a breezeway and garage attached, but you get the idea. I hear they're real noisy in a hail-storm.
South Dakota is farm Country. Burgers and steaks are always good. Also pork and chicken. MEAT is the operative word.
Pasta also works for us, because there's usually lots of it. We can be big eaters.
But, like the rest of the country, we're learning.
The Depot on Main, is one of the top food places in town, with bar. Family Friendly.
The really great steak-house / lounges in Mitchell have always been Chef Louie's, (especially) and the Brig.
Both... come as you are.
Even if just back from hunting and covered with pheasant guts.
Our version of Ruth Chris, and the OutBack
Steak & More... kinda hidden in the old Mall on north Main. Draws locals. Must be good.
Ruby Tuesday is our newest eatery. Been to one... been to all.
A new Whiskey Creek - out south by Wal-Mart. Have not been there yet.
And, we have the full compliment of McDs, KFC, BK, DQ, Subway, Mexican, Chinese... I can't identify one that's exceptional.
They all pass their health inspections.
I can't name a place in town, where I just wouldn't eat.
For as long as I can remember, the place to go at 2 AM after the bars closed was the big truck-stop on Burr Street
next to the Interstate (now a Texaco?).
Big, cheap food, and they tolerate most drunks.
On route to the Indian Village, campers can make reservations at the Lake Mitchell Campgrounds. Better to call several days before. Spaces are limited, and fill up early. There are other campgrounds, but lake access makes this one particularly attractive.
There are no boat rentals or overnight rooms - not even a Marina - around the Lake.
Overnighters not equipped for camping have their choice of over 800 motel rooms.
They're all good, I think. I've never stayed in any of them. I live here.
Avoid any that can quote hourly, or monthly rates, I suppose.
Besides the influx of summer tourists, Mitchell hosts a sell-out crowd of pheasant hunters
each fall, traditionally opening the third Saturday in October, and finding rooms for the next three weeks can be dicey.
Of Special note to people with Kids, who are staying overnight
the hospital is on EAST 5th. -- 12 blocks straight East of the Corn Palace.
I can't say that Mitchell is not kid-friendly for tourists, but most of you spend half-an-hour here, and head west.
You reap what you sow. Not judgment, just observation.
If you are staying overnight, Bless You.
I know you've been in the car all day, but The Starlite drive-in outdoor movie theater, just past the lake on North Main, is
without a doubt, your best after-dark family choice. Mini-golf and a place for the kids to stretch their legs before the movie starts.
A mile or so North of town.
Drive-in movies are a dying breed, and this might be your kid's last chance to see one.
Window speakers and all.
After dark, of course.
Popcorn on site.
Cabela's, is cool, with its indoor mountain,
thousands of trophy animal mounts, and huge indoor aquariums.
the new Mitchell Aquatic Center at Hitchcock Park... controversial in the planning,
but wildly successful among kids and families.
Going out for ice cream. (Seriously, when my daughter was still home, one of our favorite summer-night pastimes
was to get a cone at the place kitty-corner from the Corn Palace,
and then go sit on the low wall in front of the Chamber, watch the lights on the Palace, and the traffic,
and visit with others doing the same thing. (Well, OK. Maybe I enjoyed it more than she did. But, she was always willing.)
Local kids hang out at the Bowling Alley, and assorted parking lots..
Other useful links may be found here http://www.dakotamainstreet.com/links.html
This is a work in progress... Things I should write more about... are the Corn Palace Rodeo, the Summer Solstice Arts Festival, FarmFest,
Wi-Fi is available at
In the meantime, if you have questions about Mitchell or South Dakota travel in general, send me an eMail.
The 50th Anniversary of the Sturgis Motorcycle Classic, the 50th Anniversary of Mt. Rushmore,
and the movies, Dances With Wolves, Thunderheart, and Incident at Oglala have all focused new attention on South Dakota.
Have a great visit!
You may download this text for the purpose of planning your vacation to South Dakota. Any other use or reprinting is strictly prohibited. For publishing rights, contact the author. This (original text) article was previously published by the St Paul (MN) Pioneer Press, and The Anchorage (AK) Daily News, and American Cowboy Magazine.
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