It’s time to say hello to another guest blogger on Holme & Away. This post is coming all the way from South Dakota, USA, an area with a shed-load of great stories and a fascinating history. Here to tell us about it is Katie Klaassen; take it away!
Sioux Falls, South Dakota is a growing city. The largest in the state in fact. Although, compared to other cities in the US, it can seem like a suburb. With the recent growth spurt, there are a lot of fun things to be seen around the city. Sioux Falls has worked very hard to preserve its history through the preservation of buildings, especially in the Downtown area. One of these preserved buildings is now known as the Old Courthouse Museum. It is located on the corner of 6th and Main, just a block down and over from the city’s current courthouse.
The Courthouse began its construction in 1889 and was used actively until 1962. It is built with a rock that is native to South Dakota, Sioux Quartzite. This stone is known for its pink color that lends a uniqueness the Courthouse in its entirety. It is a tall, imposing building by the city’s standards. It takes up a large corner lot and has a ‘garden’ area in the back. When standing outside, it is as if you’ve stepped back in time. There is a relatively large staircase at the front of the Courthouse that you climb to enter the building (although it is accessible through the rear garden entrance).
The amount of history contained in the Courthouse is palpable. You can imagine the court hearings and administration that once occurred there as the state and city were both starting to take shape. Immediately upon entering is a gift shop, full of fun things that include history books about South Dakota, and even fresh honey! Directly in front of the shop is a large desk that backs onto the central staircases. A member of staff sits there and can tell you all about the history of the Courthouse as well as several historical markers that are located around it. You can pick up informational packets as well.
Like many museums, The Old Courthouse Museum has exhibits that rotate. Once there was an exhibit that focused on the changing fashions of purses from over the years. Another was the changing styles of chairs/home furnishings. This ever-changing exhibition space is probably one of the largest in the small museum. In the main lobby at the entrance, there is a life-size buffalo along with random pieces that were formed from the buffalo by the Native American populations in the area. Later settlers also learned to create and use these pieces from Natives in the area. All these things can be touched which makes the experience much more hands-on and ideal when travelling with a family. Another rotating exhibit is located on the main floor. In the past, this exhibit has included the creation of railways in the West, complete with a video to watch while sitting on the historic train benches. Also, on the first floor are exhibits which explore how early settlers and cowboys lived. Within these are more interactive activities that have included packing a covered wagon so that it is not too heavy, and matching animals to the tracks they leave. Again, on occasion, these activities change.
Taking one of the three staircases, which are still held up by their original pillars, you can take your tour to the second floor. Here, the main attraction is the old courtroom. Although there are no longer benches, the judges’ bench or dockets, the original floors, walls, and ceiling are still there. You can step up to a historical docket sitting in the corner if you want to get a small inkling of what it would have been like. The sheer size of this room is astonishing and even more staggering considering how difficult it must have been to create a room of that size without modern equipment. The second floor also houses two smaller exhibits and several other administrative rooms and the historic law library. The third floor allows you to see the historical seats from the balcony above the courtroom and usually a small exhibit, such as a collection of coins, out in the main area.
The Old Courthouse Museum can be considered unique for a variety of reasons. The first being that admittance is free. Another reason is that all the original painting, wood, columns and more have been preserved to the best of anyone’s abilities. Unfortunately, there is a small amount of water damage to a mural along one of the staircases but the fact that the painting has been relatively well-preserved for just over 100 years is amazing!
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