Although it is America’s second smallest capital city, and has been for the better part of its 120+ years as capital, Pierre is not a compact place. Its development has been marked by divisions since its origins as a steamboat landing for Fort Pierre across the Missouri River. 

Pierre Chouteau, manager of the Western Department of John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company, built one of many outposts along the river in 1832. It was roughly half way between headquarters in St. Louis and the far reaches of the trappers in Montana. Fort Pierre evolved into a bustling stopping off point for travelers leaving the Missouri River steamboats and jumping onto the wagon road to the Black Hills, where gold was discovered in 1877. In 1880 the Chicago and North Western Railroad ran its tracks up to the undeveloped Pierre and Fort Pierre quickly drained of population.

For the first years of the 1880s Pierre was a boomtown, or more specifically East Pierre was a boomtown as it jostled with West Pierre as the town hub. After 1884 West Pierre emerged as the heart of the business district but meanwhile owners of the land “on the hill” battled the owners of land “on the flat” in West Pierre. 

While this bickering was on-going inside Pierre all the residents had to unite in the skirmish to retain the capital after the town was so elected when Dakota Territory was split into two new states in 1889. Other towns coveted the prize and Pierre had to endure two more statewide referendums before it couldrest comfortably as the permanent state capital. To settle the matter once and for all a handsome statehouse was erected on a ledge on the bluff above the Missouri River and that is where we will begin our walking tour...

South Dakota State Capitol
500 East Capitol Avenue

After South Dakota became a state in 1890 Pierre, the temporary capital, duked it out for 15 years with Mitchell to be the permanent seat of government. After surviving three elections, legislators finally decided a permanent capitol building would end the grumbling and wrangling. To save some coin and get things moving, the State approached C.E. Bell and M.S. Detwiler, Minneapolis architects, and asked to use their plans for the new Montana statehouse. The Minneapolis men were brought on to oversee the construction, which was finished in 1910. Officials had hoped to get the job done for $500,000 but costs soared as soon as it was decided the builders did not have to restrict themselves to South Dakota materials. Granite came from Minnesota, jasper from Sioux Falls and top-quality Bedford limestone arrived from Indiana. In the end the tab for South Dakota’s finest Renaissance Revival building came in at about $1 million. Capitol Lake, fed with warm artesian well water, was added on the east grounds in 1913; the Flaming Fountain Memorial on its shores burns with a continuous flow of natural gas.


Soldiers & Sailors World War Memorial
425 East Capitol Avenue

Architects Wilford F. Blatherwick and John C. Hugill of Sioux Falls won the commission in 1930 to build this honorarium to South Dakota soldiers and sailors who lost their lives in the first World War. It was also designed to house the State Historical Society. The Neoclassical composition is dominated by a projecting portico of six full-height Ionic columns. Sandstone hauled from Hot Springs was used throughout in the construction. The Chicago and North Western Railroad Company donated the land that kickstarted the project which had been planned back in 1919, shortly after the war ended. 


St. Charles Hotel
207 East Capitol Avenue

Charles Hyde intended the St. Charles Hotel as the type of guest house where power brokers, money men and celebrities would sign the register. The St. Charles opened in 1911 and served as the home for many South Dakota governors until a governor’s mansion was built in the 1940s. The Neoclassical motif was executed in yellow brick trimmed with glazed terra cotta. The five-story building has begun its second century as mixed commercial and residential space.

Hughes County Courthouse
104 East Capitol Avenue

This is the second house of justice for Hughes County, finished in 1935 to replace the outdated 1883 original. It was one of four South Dakota courthouses designed by Sioux Falls architects George C. Hugill and Wilfred F. Blatherwick. They tapped the Art Deco style, the stripped down classicism favored by the government during the Great Depression. The four-story building is dressed in cut South Dakota stone and trimmed in sandstone quarried in Hot Springs.   

Charles L. Hyde Block/Pierre Street Block
101 East Capitol Avenue at southeast corner of Pierre Street

James Franklin Hyde’s family left the ancestral home in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts for the Midwest in 1819 when he was six years old. Hyde would eventually settle in Pike County, Illinois where he would serve as the treasurer of the city of Lincoln into his 97th year. His son Charles Leavitt Hyde would enjoy a similarly remarkable work career - before settling in Pierre in 1887 he had worked as a detective, a newspaperman, a traveling hardware salesman, a ranch hand, and a semi-professional roller skater. In South Dakota Hyde engaged in raising cattle, milling grain and in 1890 assisted in the organization of the town’s largest bank, the National Bank of Commerce. But his main passion was the promotion of Pierre. He published a little paper called the Pierre Rustler, the entire object of which was the exploitation of the interests, opportunities and resources of Pierre and the surrounding country. He was so enthusiastic in his cheerleading for Pierre that he was convicted of fraud from making exaggerated claims about what Pierre had to offer; President William Taft pardoned Hyde before he went to prison. Hyde did his part to beautify the town, constructing five classically flavored buildings around the newly established center of town at the intersection of Capitol Avenue and Pierre Street. The Pierre Street Bock was the last in Hyde’s building spree here, erected in 1909. 

Hyde Block
101 South Pierre Street at southwest corner of Capitol Avenue

This was the first building erected by Charles Hyde along Upper Pierre Street, constructed in 1906 on plans drawn by the J.H. Jeffers, a Wisconisn architect who had just relocated to Aberdeen, South Dakota. Merchants along Lower Pierre Street saw its arrival as a salvo directed at their historical position as the economic heart of Pierre - and they were correct.


Grand Opera House
109 South Pierre Street

Charles Hyde financed the building of the Grand Opera House in 1906 as the town’s primary performance venue. There were 1,200 seats on three levels and luxurious appointments for the opera house that the Sioux Stock Journal gushed was “the finest and best playhouse ever built in South Dakota.” The live stage gave way to the silent movies by 1919 and was converted to the Grand Theatre. The Grand, under new ownership as Studio 109, lost its battle with television, the newly relocated State Theatre and the Sioux Drive-In in 1978 and went dark. The final movie to play here was Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The Grand Opera House is once again a live stage, home of the Pierre Players Community Theatre, a performance troupe since 1967.

Brink Building
117 South Pierre Street

Andrew C. Brink was one of the prime shapers of the face of 19th century Pierre. With his A.C. Brink Land Company he led the charge out of the flood plain by the Missouri River and up the hill to Capitol Avenue. In the 1890s the bluff was graded and the dirt pushed down to help build up the low-lying areas along the river which have been innundated by floods in 1881, 1952 and 2011. The center of commercial Pierre then migrated up to the intersection of Pierre and Capitol. Brink ran his real estate empire and his Permanent Concrete Construction Company out of this building from 1895 until his death in 1913; the classical facade is fashioned from stone block to imitate marble. The Brink Building and its red brick neighbor are the only souvenirs from the19th century remaining on Upper Pierre Street. Brink was also the first auto dealer in Pierre and in his spare time had time to pen an 18-page book - Happy John, Or, The Secret of His Success: A Story of Farm Life in South Dakota


Horner-Hyde House
100 West Capitol Avenue at northwest corner of Grand Avenue

Henry Horner came to Pierre in 1881 as a 27-year old attorney and the law firm he started is now the state’s oldest. In 1889 Horner began work on this Queen Anne frame house with asymmetrical massing and multi-textural building materials. The house was sold out of the Horner family in 1934 to Charles Lee Hyde, son of developer Charles Hyde. The younger Hyde expanded his father’s business holdings and won several terms in the South Dakota House of Representatives. 

State Theatre
107 West Capitol Avenue 

The State began life as the Bijou Theatre in 1908 after John E. Hipple converted the town’s opera house at 419 South Pierre Street into a combination space for touring vaudeville acts and the new-fangled moving pictures. It was excitedly reported that the new stage boasted such breath-taking innovations as “a sanitary drinking fountain, checking rooms, and retiring rooms.” In the 1940s the aging movie house was spruced up and reintroduced as the State Theatre. After sustaining flood and fire damage the State built this new facility up the hill.    

Federal Building
118 West Capitol Avenue at northeast corner of Huron Avenue

The federal government announced its presence in Pierre in 1906 with this Neoclassical structure fashioned from high-quality Bedford limestone shipped from Indiana. The post office occupied the first floor and the U.S. Land Office, the Bureau of Public Roads and the federal courthouse resided on the upper floor. The government moved to more expansive digs on South Pierre Street in 1965. 

Pierre Masonic Lodge
201 West Capitol Avenue at southwest corner of Huron Avenue

Robert Perkins was a Wisconsin man who learned his architecture at the University of California and Columbia University in New York City before beginning practice in South Dakota in 1912. Albert McWayne hailed from Indiana and was trained as a civil engineer, serving as construction superintendent for the pioneering skyscraper-building firm of Holabird & Rcche in Chicago. The two teamed up in Sioux Falls in 1918 and formed one of South Dakota’s leading architectural firms until Perkins’ death in 1954. The duo designed this Neoclassical temple for the Pierre Lodge 27 A.F and A.M. in 1928. The first stirrings of Masonic activity, the world’s oldest fraternal organization, in Dakota Territory took place in 1862; the Pierre Masons trace their roots to 1881. 


First United Methodist Church
117 North Central Avenue at southwest corner of Prospect Avenue

Pierre Methodists began a peripatetic existence in 1880 worshiping in a hardware store, a dance hall and the railroad station until moving into its first proper chapel in 1881. The congregation, then numbering about 150, purchased this lot in 1883 and began work on this Gothic Revival house of worship in 1910. In addition to the sanctuary the brick building included a diving pool, a gymnasium and the town’s first library.


I. W. Goodner House
216 East Prospect Avenue

The core of this house is one of Pierre’s oldest, dating back to 1881 when it was begun by I.W. Goodner, a clerk on the South Dakota Supreme Court. It picked up its Colonial Revival face in the early 1900s when the expanding Goodner family added a full second story and a wraparound Tuscan porch. 

Karcher-Sahr House
222 East Prospect Street at northwest corner of Euclid Avenue

Henry Karcher first saw Pierre on a hunting trip and came back in 1884 to construct one of the town’s first brick commercial blocks. William S. Wells, the owner of most of East Pierre, offered Karcher $6,000 not to erect his building in West Pierre - at a time when a good workingman’s wage was a dollar a day. Karcher refused and West Pierre soon supplanted East Pierre as the business center of town. He also did a stint as mayor. Karcher’s main occupation was ranching but after a stroke in 1907 he brought his family to town and constructed this Neoclassical house behind an imposing portico of full-height, fluted Ionic columns. His daughter inherited the property and it remains in the Karcher family.  

First Congregational United Church of Christ
123 North Highland Avenue at southwest corner of Prospect Avenue 

Stephen Return Riggs is considered to have preached the first English sermon along this stretch of the Missouri River on September 29, 1840 near the trading post of Fort Pierre Choteau. On November 28, 1880, eight people assembled and organized themselves into the first Congregational Church of Pierre when the town was still a collection of hastily-constructed shacks. Two years later a meetinghouse was raised on the southeast corner of of Capitol Avenue and Pierre Street; the church was moved to this location in 1907 and was rebuilt in 1932.


Hipple House
219 North Highland Avenue

John E. Hipple was born in the Pennsylvania coal country in 1865 and came to the Dakota Territory in 1879 when his family traveled west to farm. As a young man Hipple took up newspaper work with the Dakota City Advocate and eventually came to Pierre to start the State Publishing Company. In 1905 he assumed control of the Weekly and Daily Capital Journal. Hipple became involved in Republican politics early on, serving as state auditor from 1893 until 1896 and began a long stretch as mayor of Pierre in 1924. This textbook version of a Prairie style house, emphasizing broad, horizontal forms, was erected in 1913. Hipple’s wife Ruth was a journalist as well, working with the state’s leading mouthpiece for women’s suffrage, the South Dakota Messenger.