Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Story of the Corn Palace

One of the most famous tourist attractions in the Midwest, if not the country, is the Mitchell Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Any trip to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills is not complete without the requisite stop in Mitchell. But few people know that Sleepy Eye was home to our own Corn Palace. 

The Mitchell Corn Palace, according to the official Mitchell Corn Palace web site, was originally called 'The Corn Belt Exposition' and was "established in 1892. Early settlers displayed the fruits of their harvest on the building exterior in order to prove the fertility of South Dakota sil. The third and present building was completed for [the] first festival at the present location in 1921. The exterior decorations are completely stripped down and new murals are created each year."

In 1922, the town fathers were looking for a way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the City of Sleepy Eye. Like thousands of other small towns throughout the Midwest, the Sleepy Eye area was a major producer of corn. Corn was such a significant part of the local economy that the townspeople came up with the idea to build a palace to celebrate the historic milestone of the city's birth. Several men had gone to Mitchell, South Dakota to visit the ornate corn palace.  Once seeing this structure they made up their minds that this would be the ideal structure to be placed in the middle of the town.  They made up blueplrints on how the Mitchell palace was built and brought home a smaller version of one for the one to be constructed at home in Sleepy Eye. 

The men came back home and recommended a modest replica to be built in the middle of town.  It was modestly enveloped by corn to exhibit the season's harvest. A sign draped the palace proclaiming: “Welcome 50 Years King Corn”.  This corn palace was placed at the intersection of Main and what is now First Avenue (Today that address is occupied by Riverside Interiors). The townspeople wanted the palace to be completed by September 18th because that was the official date the town became
a Village in 1872.

When the festival ended, all of the corn was removed and the palace structure was moved to the northwest corner of Allison Park. At the time, Allison Park was considered a State Park and was
much larger than what the present park is now. Workers next coated the now former Sleepy Eye Corn Palace with stucco siding to prepare the building for its new purpose as the city's new concert hall.

About a generation before, the City of Sleepy Eye had constructed a bandstand in Allison Park in 1894 but that building had, by 1922, fallen into disrepair.  In 1894 Allison Park was considered a State Park.  It was called Sleepy Eye Lake State Park.  From there it was named Lakeside Park, then onto the name City Park finally ending with well known name of Allison Park as we know it today.

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