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Rich History Found in Sioux Falls

Falls Park
Falls ParkLysa Allman-Baldwin

In the first part of this series, we had just begun our exploration of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, taking a look at its early history and one of its historical entities.

The focal point of the city is definitely Falls Park, its history going  back thousands of years to the Ice Age when huge glaciers covered the area.
The focal point of the city is definitely Falls Park, its history going back thousands of years to the Ice Age when huge glaciers covered the area.Lysa Allman-Baldwin

St. Joseph Cathedral is another historic structure that has deep roots in the area, dating back to about 1838 when the first Catholic missionary priests came here, spreading their gospel among the Native Americans and early settlers of the day.

Today the Cathedral—built from 1915-1919—is regarded as one of South Dakota’s finest landmarks, and remains so today due to an extensive restoration project completed in 2011. The Romanesque and French Renaissance structural and architectural influences here are magnificent, and both parishioners and visitors alike come to marvel at the detailed interior highlights, soaring ceilings, intricate altar, cathedra and other aspects. Although there is still an active Catholic community here with services and masses held throughout the week, the building is open for free, self-guided tours.

The focal point of the city is definitely Falls Park, our first stop when we came to town. Free and open to the public and a big draw not only for tourists but for locals who come here to cycle, picnic, enjoy the open green space and take in performances when in season, its location right smack in the middle of downtown makes it very visually appealing.

The history of the Falls goes back thousands of years to the Ice Age when huge glaciers covered the area, and that melting over time created the rugged crags and cracks, streams and waterfalls covering its 123 acre expanse, where an average of 7,400 gallons of water drop 100 feet over the course of the Falls each second.

Some of the city’s first structures were built here, including the Queen Bee Mill which opened in 1881 and at the time was considered to be one of the most advanced mills in the country. Reaching seven-stories high, it played an integral role in the farming community here, as it allowed locals farmers to process their wheat here instead of shipping it to neighboring state’s mills. Only remnants remain after it was turned into a warehouse then later burned in a fire in the early 1900s.

The picturesque viewing platform was once the Millrace and Dam, constructed to provide power to the mill and later to the local hydroelectric plant. And what was once the Sioux Falls Light and Power Company building is now the Falls Overlook Café. At the Visitor’s Center, located inside a five-story, 50-foot high tower, visitors can get a great deal of information about the Falls and area entities, as well as enjoy a panoramic view of the park and Falls for those who care to ascend to the top.

Because the Falls are natural and a not man-made, climate controlled feature, the amount of water, runoff and velocity are completely dependent upon Mother Nature. So any time of year you visit, it will have different features. But overall it is a spectacular site, again, sitting right smack in the middle of downtown and easily accessible—and free—to all.

We’ve got lots more to see, do and eat in Sioux Falls coming up!

To start at Part 1 click here.