The clock tower stands head and shoulders above most everything in downtown Sioux Falls. Built in 1890, the Old Courthouse once was the center of Minnehaha County government. It housed county offices until it proved too small in 1962.
The beauty of this Romanesque design, built with native quartzite, was almost lost. Initial plans called to demo0lish the building and turn the property into a parking lot. However, citizen groups worked to save it. It became a museum in 1974.
The Old Courthouse, as it’s known, is a great look into the history of Sioux Falls and South Dakota history. Visitors can get a look into the histories of Native Americans, Army soldiers, settlers, as well as special exhibits, including purses.
The first floor offers a look into the drama of storms on the prairie. We looked at a piece of metal that had been speared through a wooden post during a tornado several decades ago. If you ever doubted the strength and danger of tornadoes, seeing that should change anyone’s mind.
We took a look at the supplies settlers would need to buy for their long journeys westward. The supplies would have to fit inside a Conestoga wagon and be able to last months.
In addition to supplies, settlers and cowboys would need armed protection. The Old Courthouse has a nice exhibit of weapons from the 1800s.
The first floor also offers a look at the American buffalo (bison). The magnificent animals once dominated the prairies of the United States. It served as the main source of food, clothing, weapons and tools for Native American tribes. Several tribes – the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota (Sioux to non-Natives), among them – would live nomadic lives and travel as the buffalo traveled.
The museum looks at the parts of a buffalo and the uses they served. For instance, the stomach or bladder could be used as a water container. The hide would be used for clothing, as well as a tepee. Bones could be carved into tools or weapons. Native Americans maximized their use of a buffalo, so little went to waste.
We took a look at old photographs of buildings in town that were built with specific designs or from quartzite, which was locally mined. The Old Courthouse was built with the stone, as well as the newer federal courthouse. Houses and downtown buildings were built using the Romanesque or French renaissance styles. The Carpenter Hotel is featured in the exhibit. It is now home to apartments and retail shops.
The second floor has two small exhibits – Native American history and Fort Dakota.
The Native American exhibit allows visitors an up-close look at clothing, pottery, dolls and other items from tribes around the country. Some pottery is on exhibit that was once used by southwest tribes.
A pad saddle was common among Plains tribes. It allowed for the most comfortable horseback ride.
A headdress and clothes are on display.
A display on the military’s Fort Dakota includes an actual log from the original structure. The fort was built in the spring of 1862 during a major Sioux uprising. It was abandoned later that year.
In addition, weapons from the era the fort operated are on display.
Other artifacts and memorabilia are displayed, including uniforms as well as a replica of an office at the fort.
The third floor features an exhibit on money through history.
Visitors can take a look at a gallery, where people would gather to watch trials in the courtroom on the second floor. The former courtroom is now a ballroom for social gatherings.
The Old Courthouse features special exhibits among its permanent collection. During our visit, the topic was purses. There had to be more than a hundred different styles of purses on display. It was actually mindboggling to see so many purse styles.
We got a kick out of one that matched a female soldier’s uniform. If you weren’t sure about joining the military, maybe a basic black purse with a shoulder sling would do the job.
Let’s jump to the 1960s – mini dresses, knee high boots and just the right handbag to accent the ensemble?
The Old Courthouse was a fun experience. We learned quite a bit of information about the area. We recommend visiting it. The beauty of it is worth the free admission.