Native Americans were the first visitors the falls of the Big Sioux River. The Lakota and Dakota were nomadic bison hunters, and they used the falls as a place to rendezvous with French fur trappers. As the land around the falls was claimed by European settlers, a 1,200-acre village sprung up. Sioux Falls became an official city in 1883. Railroads really put the city on the map, with a population spike from 2,164 in 1880 to 10,167 at the end of the decade. Economic ups and downs over the years mirrored the nation at large, but through it all, the falls have been central to the city’s industry and recreation.
In pioneer days, the falls were used for water power to run the Queen Bee Mill. When it was built, the mill could process 1,500 bushels of wheat and was considered one of the most advanced facilities in America. Unfortunately, weak water power and a lack of wheat forced it to close in 1883, just six years after it was built. A few companies attempted to make the mill a going concern over the years, but nothing worked. After a fire in 1956 compromised the structure, upper walls were knocked down until only two of the original seven stories of the mill remain.
Today, Falls Park covers 123 acres with an average of 7,400 gallons of water dropping 100 feet each second. With paved walking and biking paths, picnic tables scattered charmingly on the grassy spots, and a cafe in the old Light and Power Company building, the park is captivating place to spend an afternoon with family and friends.