I-90 through South Dakota doesn’t pass through the state capital, Pierre. About 30 miles is as close as the state’s only east-west Interstate gets to that city (which seems to be locally pronounced “Peer” instead of like a Frenchman’s name). Strictly a civil engineering decision based on topography, or was the South Dakota Congressional delegation on President Eisenhower’s bad side?
In any case, I wanted to detour to Pierre. Not so much to see Pierre, but to see the state capitol. It’s a travel hobby of mine, perhaps dating from the days in high school when I took a bus from San Antonio to Austin during the summers to visit my friend Kevin M., who had moved to Austin after our freshman year in high school together. I always walked to his house from the bus station, about three miles, a walk that always took me through one of the finest state capitols, that of Texas.
I still think Texas’ is one of the finest, and by the time I reached Pierre, I’d seen 34 capitol buildings—but only 20 inside and out, since I’ve arrived at some when they were closed, or for some reason I couldn’t stop for a good look. (See April 7, 2004, for the Missouri capitol and September 13 and 14, 2004, for Nebraska.) I was determined to make South Dakota the 21st complete visit, so we hit the state roads to Pierre, and I got my wish.
Not bad at all. A handsome black dome atop a massive white base, with plenty of the interior detail an early 20th-century capitol ought to have, such as terrazzo floors, heavy wooden doors with frosted glass, grand staircases, lots of marble and at least one wall devoted to governors’ portraits. Only a state since 1889, South Dakota doesn’t have all that many old govs, but they’re on display, as they should be. Most importantly, there was a rotunda to stand under, look up and gawk at.
The grounds were nice, too, resplendent with flowers and well shaded by large trees on that fine first day of August. Unlike some other capitols, the grounds -- and the inside for that matter -- wasn’t overburdened with memorials. Or maybe I missed them, chasing after Ann, trying to discourage her from picking the flowers.
We’d spent the night before at a state park near Pierre, so we arrived at the capitol fairly early in the morning. Thus we were able to get an early start toward our next destination -- Wall, South Dakota, famed in tourist lore, and subject of billboards all the way back in Minnesota. More on that tomorrow.