SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota — Some cities have an instantly recognizable symbol, such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis or the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
After visiting Sioux Falls for the first time earlier this month, I will always associate the city with a color: The pink-red of the local Sioux quartzite.
The color, and the stone, can be seen everywhere in South Dakota’s largest city, first and foremost at the beautiful falls for which the city is named. And the quarried stone was used to construct many prominent buildings in Sioux Falls, including the old county courthouse, federal building, state penitentiary, railroad depot and many historic mansions and commercial buildings.
Falls Park is a lovely and unusual 123-acre urban oasis adjacent to downtown Sioux Falls. The large, grassy expanse is dotted with quartzite rock formations exposed by the falls of the Big Sioux River, which tumble about 100 feet down through the park over a series of cascades.
A paved, 26-mile path runs through the park and along the river, looping around the falls, and is a favorite place for walkers, joggers and bicyclists. A dozen historical markers in the park relate the history of the city and the role the falls played in its commercial development.
Visitors to Falls Park will see traces of several old commercial structures that once took advantage of the falls’ water power, including the ruins of the seven-story Queen Bee Mill, which was made of the familiar reddish Sioux quartzite.
The Falls Overlook Cafe offers diners beautiful views from another quartzite building, the restored 1908 generator building of the Sioux Falls Light & Power Co.
Wonderful views of the entire falls and park also can be seen from the park’s modern, 50-foot observation tower and visitors center.
Also visible from the tower is the 165-foot clock tower of the Old Courthouse Museum, formerly the courthouse of Minnehaha County and the tallest courthouse between Chicago and Denver when finished in 1890.
The rest of the massive courthouse building is distinctive, too. Made, of course, of Sioux quartzite, the building was designed by local architect Wallace Leroy Dow. The self-taught architect is credited with designing 57 structures built in Sioux Falls around the turn of the 20th century, more than 20 of which are still standing.
The old courthouse is a solid, Richardsonian Romanesque gem, with an interior adorned with soaring decorative ceilings, slate stairs, granite pillars, stained-glass windows and tiled fireplaces.
A new courthouse was built in the 1960s, but the old building was saved through local efforts and underwent a major restoration.
Today it is home to a local history museum featuring exhibits such as the Fawick Flyer, an early automobile built by a local inventor; a display detailing how and why the Asian ring-necked pheasant became the South Dakota state bird; and galleries dedicated to the Plains Indians who first inhabited the region.
More local history is displayed at the Pettigrew Home and Museum, another Sioux quartzite structure designed by Dow.
The Queen Anne-style mansion is located in the Cathedral Historic District just west of downtown. The district is filled with impressive homes built during the Victorian era by the elite of the growing city.
The mansion was the home of R.F. Pettigrew, South Dakota’s first U.S. Senator. An avid collector and amateur archaeologist, Pettigrew built his own museum as an addition to his home. When he died in 1926, he left the house and museum to the city.
One impressive Sioux Falls building that is not red is the gleaming white Cathedral of St. Joseph, located just a few blocks from the Pettigrew Home. The cathedral was built in a French Renaissance style and, appropriately, seems much more ethereal than the earthy, quartzite designs of the city’s other prominent buildings. The cathedral was finished in 1919 and underwent a major restoration in 2011. Visitors can take self-guided or guided tours.
The Sioux Falls area is home to more than one-quarter of the state’s 1 million people. The downtown scene, especially around Phillips Avenue, is quite lively, with several highly touted restaurants and eateries. They include the CH Patisserie, with artistic and delicious pastries created by Chef Chris Hanmer, who was the 2011 winner of the television series “Top Chef: Just Desserts.”
Downtown streets also are the site of the annual, yearlong SculptureWalk exhibit and competition. Nearly 60 statues are erected for public enjoyment and compete for prizes.
The “best of show” award this year went to sculptor Pokey Park of Tucson, Arizona. The name of the statue? Red Legged Frog.
I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.
— Steve Stephens can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SteveStephens.