Natural Royalty

Natural Royalty

By Bill Sherman

Once upon a time, the state built palaces from its resource

More than 100 years ago, four Iowa communities came up with a novel concept to promote their towns and feature the products that were the key to their economies. These efforts produced extensive media coverage and brought thousands of tourists to those towns.

This new approach to economic development featured magnificent public palaces covered with unusual products. Sioux City created five corn palaces, beginning in 1887. Ottumwa produced coal palaces in 1890 and 1891. Blue Grass palaces were constructed in Creston from 1889 to1892 and Forest City built flax palaces in 1892 and 1893.

Each of these efforts has faded from memory but in three of the communities efforts are under way to revive awareness and interest in the historical significance of these unique structures.

The series of corn palaces erected in Sioux City were probably the most significant early structures of this type erected anywhere in America. The success in Sioux City encouraged the other Iowa communities to create their buildings and it led to the erection of the now famous Mitchell, South Dakota, Corn Palace – which continues today with a new thematic design each fall.

Sioux City community leaders got the parade of palaces started in 1887. Unlike many other Iowa communities, Sioux City was prospering in the 1880s. Officials wanted to do something to build on their growth and prosperity. At an August meeting, several ideas were discussed. Then someone mentioned the St. Paul Ice Palace.