Falls Park

If you only have time for one stop in Sioux Falls, it has to be Falls Park, the city's namesake. The park is comprised of over 128-acres and located just north of downtown, along the Big Sioux River. An average of 7,400 gallons of water drop 100 feet over the course of the Falls each second. Enjoy the Falls from the many different viewing platforms, including the five-story observation tower. Falls Park is also home to a rich history that includes some of Sioux Falls' oldest buildings.

Things To Do At Falls Park

A Historic Legacy

The Falls of the Big Sioux River have been a focus of life in the region throughout history. Native American peoples were the first to visit the Falls and bring stories of them to European explorers. They have been the center of recreation and industry since the founding of the city in 1856.

The remains of the seven-story Queen Bee Mill, a brainchild of South Dakota's first senator, Richard Pettigrew, lie on the east side of the river. In the fall of 1878 Pettigrew decided Sioux Falls needed its own mill so farmers could avoid the cost of shipping wheat to Minnesota or Wisconsin. Pettigrew acquired the land and then traveled east to locate an investor: New Jersey capitalist George I. Seney.

The mill opened on Oct. 25, 1881, and consisted of a seven-story main structure built of Sioux Quartzite quarried on site. Nearly $500,000 was spent on the construction of the state-of-the-art mill and its supporting structures. At the time of its construction, the mill was one of the most advanced in America. The mill could process 1,500 bushels each day. However, by 1883, the mill was closed - a victim of inadequate water power and a short supply of wheat.

Several companies tried in vain to make the mill a success in succeeding years. In 1929 it was converted into a warehouse. On Jan. 30, 1956, fire swept through the structure, destroying the wooden roof and interior floors. The upper walls were later knocked down to prevent them from falling.

The quartzite building still standing on the east bank of the river is the Sioux Falls Light and Power Company building, completed in 1908. The building housed three 500-kilowatt hydroelectric generators and used the dam and the millrace from the Queen Bee Mill. In subsequent years the plant added additional coal-fired steam generators. The plant was abandoned in 1974 and donated to the city in 1977. Before remodeling took place to create the Falls Overlook Café, the building was in similar condition as when it was first constructed.

Today, Falls Overlook Café serves a variety of family-friendly foods, ice cream treats and beverages to be enjoyed both inside and out. Historical photos are displayed on the walls. For more information please call the Overlook Café at 605.367.4885.

Originally constructed to provide power for the Queen Bee Mill in the 1880s, the dam was raised in 1908 to supply power to the hydroelectric plant. Today the millrace is a viewing platform.

When the city was founded in 1856, a small island was located upstream of the main falls. Popularly called "The Island," later named Brookings Island, and again later named Seney Island after the investor who funded the Queen Bee Mill. It was a popular spot for early recreation. The channel around the island was closed in 1907 to increase flow to the hydroelectric plant.

This historic building on the north side of the Falls, was built in the late 1800s as a horse barn, but it is not known by whom or for what purpose. Perhaps it was to house horses that worked in any of the eleven stone quarries that were in existence at that time. Perhaps it was part of a local creamery. No records exist to tell us, but the building is charming none-the-less. From 1999 to 2010, it housed an arts center and became a place for artists to exhibit and practice art. The barn is now the home of the Stockyards Ag Experience which tells the story of agricultural impact in this region, beginning with the Sioux Falls Stockyards.

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