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Behind the Scenes: Old Minnehaha County Courthouse

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 3:38 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Almost anywhere you stand in Downtown Sioux Falls, you can probably see the iconic structure that is the Old Minnehaha County Courthouse. It also links us to a time when South Dakota was just gaining statehood as the 40th state in the Union. A prominent structure towards the end of the 1800s, it was built to be the largest courthouse between Chicago and Denver. The courthouse and other structures in the area also embody the unique quartzite building materials found in this region. Quarries around the area can still be found, but the means of transportation were not as easy as today making the assembly even more impressive.

“I’m actually amazed by how they constructed the buildings,” said curator Kevin Gansz.

There are only a handful of pictures of the building under construction, and most of them don’t include the iconic clock tower. In 1895, the 165-foot clock tower could be heard from up to nine miles away from downtown. In 2021, the bell still rings and can be heard even from the running waters at Falls Park. The views from the street, within the Old Court House Museum, and from atop the tower are all worth comparing at various times of the year.

The courthouse has also provided organization for county government since its inception. With county offices formally scattered throughout the area, the decision to come together under one roof was an easy one. A lot of documents, items, and tools have been gathered under the roof of the courthouse over the last century. There are actually so many artifacts, many of them heavy, that storage in the attic could no longer be an option. To avoid damaging the structure, a new establishment was determined in 2018 to preserve the artifacts. Irene Hall on North Westport Avenue now safely houses what the Old Courthouse could not.

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