Visiting Mitchell, South Dakota: The Corn Palace & Prehistoric Indian Village
By: Michelle Luttrell
We had never even heard of the Corn Palace until we met a couple of snowbirds in Florida the winter prior to our visit. Based on their recommendation we added this stop to our trip heading west. We were glad we did, however, not only because of the Corn Palace. We also discovered an active archeological site of a prehistoric Indian village in Mitchell, South Dakota.
The Corn Palace was established in 1892 as a place for the local residents and rural neighbors could gather for festivities and stage entertainment. The current building was built in 1921 and is the third one built due to the need to add space.
Today, the Corn Palace is more than the home for an annual Corn Palace Festival held in August, or a point of interest of tourists. It is a place for many different uses such as industrial exhibits, dances, stage shows, meetings, banquets, proms, graduations arena for Mitchell High School and Dakota Wesleyan University as well as district, regional and state basketball tournaments. USA Today named the Corn Palace one of the top 10 places in America for high school basketball.
The really unique quality of this building is the fact that it is redecorated every year using naturally colored corn, native grasses and grains. Every year a different theme is chosen, and the murals are designed to reflect that theme. "The decorating process usually starts in late May with the removal of the rye and dock. The corn murals are stripped at the end of August and the new ones are completed by the first of October. Just like South Dakota Agriculture, growing condition can affect production of the decorating materials and may delay the decorating process." (Corn Palace History | Mitchell Corn Palace, SD). Dakota Weslyan University digital media and design students have been the creators of the mural designs since 2019.
If you are traveling through, it was free to enter for a self-guided tour. Designated RV parking was available a short walk away and there are a few nice eateries around to walk to and make the most of your stop. Here is a map for easy reference (Parking | Mitchell Corn Palace, SD).
Although the Corn Palace was a unique experience, the Prehistoric Indian Village was our favorite place to visit in Mitchell. The village was first discovered by a Dakota Weslyan University student in 1910. An archedome has been built to preserve the excavation area and is an active archeological site. It is the only live site open to the public in South Dakota. Students from the University of Exeter, Exeter, England, as well as Augustana University, Sioux Falls, South Dakota come each summer for their annual Summer Archaeology Field School to continue excavations.
They have discovered an active successful farming community living in 70-80 earthen lodges over 1,100 years ago. It was learned that a large-scale bison processing plant was once present. The people were processing bison on an industrial scale to extract bone grease for the manufacture of pemmican.
The Prehistoric Indian Village is a place for people of any age. They have an active events calendar and they are by appointment only November 1st - March 31st. Contact — Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village (mitchellindianvillage.org) There weren't many visitors on the day we visited in May. We actually parked our truck at a trail head and walked a short distance to the building. However, there was enough room in the lot that another family's fifth wheel was parked and waiting for them when we finished our tour. If you are traveling through, it is worth your time to stop even if you are towing!
Just up the road from the Prehistoric Village is Graceland cemetery. I mention this because South Dakota does a great job celebrating our veterans and this cemetery has some incredible statuary commemorating our armed forces and service members. We were in town on Memorial Day weekend, and the combination of the statues, the flags on the veterans' headstones, and the larger flags representing all of the US states and territories was a very moving sight to behold.
Finally, we stayed at the Lake Mitchell Campground. It is city owned and we had a very helpful camp host. The grounds were busy since we were there over the holiday weekend, but the locals were respectful and fun. Shower and laundry facilities were clean and we didn't have any issues. There are short trails to walk to Lake Mitchell with small beach access to swim or just pack a lunch and watch the boaters. We visited in our 35 ft fifth wheel and a long bed 2500 Ram. Our size was a bit much for the site we were in but the camp host was very kind to block the site next to us so we had room. There are nice pull through sites next to the facilities and a couple of nice lake side sites that probably would've been better for us had we known.
We are so appreciative of fellow traveler's recommendations! Without the snowbirds' recommendations we wouldn't have known about this area at all. We love the not so well-known areas to visit. If you have a unique or best kept secret of a place you have been we would love to hear about it. We may even have to add it to our travel calendar.