Its 16,000 residents might make it seem big city compared to Oatman's 150, but Mitchell, South Dakota, is still the type of Midwest community where residents leave their front doors open for the neighbors, share their keys and watch each other's pets.
Although Mitchell prides itself on maintaining these tenets of small-town life, its claim to fame is a treasure that would seem better suited to the far-off lands of Europe—a palace.
The Corn Palace, as it's known, has been attracting millions of visitors since opening in the early 1900s. Murals made entirely of corn line the exterior of the palace, and the artists who design them call it a "corn-by-numbers game." To get the desired design, about 275,000 ears of corn are sawed in half, nailed flat-side to the building, and shaped according to a yearly theme. The process culminates with a festival featuring the best of the town's music, food and crops.
Hannah Walters is the director of Mitchell's convention and visitor's bureau and says the Corn Palace's tourism draw is a big boost to the town's economy and also to its residents' quality of life. "We get to offer fun events and festivals to our own community members; [they] get to enjoy all of these things," Walters says.
Beyond the Corn Palace, Walters says the community of 16,000 comes alive on Main Street, where residents can enjoy antique and gift shops, art galleries and restaurants. Mitchell also is home to the George McGovern Legacy Museum and Mitchell's Prehistoric Indian Village. Many residents say they also enjoy swimming, fishing and spending time at Lake Mitchell.
Visit the midwestern town known as the troll capitol of the world