There are several cities that position themselves as the “Heart of America,” and Sioux Falls, South Dakota is one of them.
Situated in the southeast part of the state bordering Iowa and Minnesota at the junction of Interstates 29 and 90, Sioux Falls—the state’s largest city—is within a day’s drive of most major Midwestern cities such as Lincoln, NE and Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN (just under 4 hours), Des Moines, IA (4-plus hours), Cedar Rapids (5-1/2 hours), Kansas City, KS and MO (5 hours), Chicago, IL (9 hours) and St. Louis, MO (9-1/2 hours).
The population is close to 160,000 people, with about 172,000 in Minnehaha County which encompasses 810 square miles and is the largest county in the state in terms of population.
The city has two namesakes-- the Sioux Native American Tribe who were the first inhabitants of the area, and the Big Sioux River which runs through it. Its location along the river made it an attractive site for the founding pioneers who came here in the early 1800s, followed by homesteaders who came from all over the U.S. Territories, attracted in part by the river as a source of water, as well as for the region’s distinctive pink quartzite which is still evident in many areas and construction throughout the city.
Settling here was not easy back it the day, in some measure due to the turbulence as a result of the Sioux War raging between what is now the South Dakota/Minnesota border, as well as the war for control of the region by two early land companies.
By the late 1800s the population was large enough to incorporate as a village, and in 1878 the first rail lines from the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad came through, adding to the city’s attractive commercial entities.
Eventually, in 1889, Sioux Falls officially became a city. Though still relatively small today by most big city standards, Sioux Falls has managed to maintain and preserve a great deal of its early history at a variety of historical entities and attractions around town.
Back in the Day
One place to get a good grasp of the city’s early history is downtown at the Old Courthouse Museum. Originally built in 1893 with the area’s native, pink Sioux Quartzite stone and as the first Minnehaha County Courthouse, the building was fashioned in the Richardsonian Romanesque style by a local architect credited with many other buildings nearby and a little further afield.
For just over 80 years the building served as a courthouse, until it became too small and was closed, restored many years later and transformed into a museum. Among the most noteworthy features of this beautiful structure now listed as a National Historic Landmark is the 1893 clock tower, soaring high into the skyline and visible from all over downtown, the 16 large murals painted in the early 1900s depicting the state’s early life as well as some of the regions natural features, and the circuit courtroom and law library. The permanent and rotating exhibits here are fascinating and provide a great overview of the city’s early history and what makes it a special place for so many today.
More historical entities and adventures are coming in Part 2.