EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a series commemorating the 100th anniversary of the current Corn Palace building, which opened in 1921.
When the modern Corn Palace opened, it drew some rave reviews.
And some regional envy, as well.
South Dakota Gov. William Henry McMaster was on hand on Sept. 27, 1921, to dedicate the $200,000 new building, which was finished in time for the annual festival, which ran from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1.
As one newspaper story reported, one of the main “remarkable features” of the building when it was built was how large the great hall was without any support pillars with floor space of 130 by 120 feet.
The maple hardwood floor was 75 by 85 feet in size, which was to be used for dancing for basketball. (The dimensions of that floor would change but as late as the 1990s, the Corn Palace didn’t have a regulation-sized college basketball court of 94-by-50 feet, which was a few feet wider and shorter than it should be.)
Seventeen mural panels were available to showcase corn art and were also adorned in flax, oats and field grasses. Some admitted they missed the old palace, because it had a warm, home feeling and when the new building opened, the interior wasn’t completely finished.
More than 30,000 people passed through the gates, and all children in the city were admitted free into the building. One story reported that unusually large crowds were expected to visit Mitchell for the festival because other fairs in the region had bad weather.
McMaster had some politics to cover at the dedication event. He attacked the railroad rates and defended farmers, saying that rates were strangling the agricultural industry in the state.
North of the state border, as Mitchell’s new permanent building grew in popularity, North Dakotans discussed building a corn palace of their own. Letters and editorials in newspapers supported the idea of promoting the state as a strong corn-growing region by having a corn palace. Other parts of the region, such as Sidney, Nebraska, would build temporary corn palaces, but Bismarck, North Dakota, was among the most serious, considering a permanent building to match Mitchell’s.
In 1923, the Bismarck Tribune reported that North Dakota’s state land commissioner had gone on a trip to gauge sentiment for a corn palace and found much support in western North Dakota. Bismarck emerged as the primary location, in part, because of its central location and the belief that the state’s best corn was grown there. Later in 1923, a corn palace feature was built at the local fair.
The state held an annual corn show to showcase the top crops, but Bismarck continued to play with the idea of building a community building to expand its annual show. In 1929, it sent a special committee to visit Mitchell to gather additional information and ideas.
But a new permanent, corn-adorned building didn’t come to be. Bismarck voters approved building a new World War Memorial Building that opened in 1930, and the annual North Dakota corn show moved there.
It left Mitchell’s unique building to stand alone for decades to come.