Rapid City South Dakota – A City of Presidents

Mount Rushmore near Rapid City South DakotaA visit to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota’s sacred Black Hills is more than a lesson in a how to carve faces on a really big mountain. It’s also a bit of a history lesson in the four presidents represented there and why their faces are immortalized in stone.

But to learn about the 40-plus other folks who have held the title of President of the United States, plan an enlightening few hours walking around downtown Rapid City South Dakota.

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Rapid City South Dakota – Gateway to the Black Hills

Jimmy Carter in downtown Rapid City South Dakota

Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States, is presented in a casual demeanor with jacket off and tie flying in the wind.

Recognized as the Gateway to the Black Hills, Rapid City built upon its proximity to the famous mountain 20 miles away and rebranded itself as The City of Presidents.

Starting in the year 2000, local civic leaders launched an engaging program that brings life-sized bronze statues of all 44 individuals who have occupied the Oval Office to the streets of Rapid City, South Dakota. No. 45 will find a place on the streets as he leaves office, and so on.

South Dakota artists were selected to research the lives and presidencies of each individual. The idea was to create a sculpture that is a reflection not only of his term in office, but his life as a whole. A walking tour brochure tells more about each president and why the artist chose to portray him in the way he did. Some of the details are funny, fascinating and even heart-breaking.

Pick up that brochure at the President’s Information Center at 512 Main Street. Kids will love the scavenger hunt on the back of the brochure and the prize offered.

Walk with the Presidents in Rapid City, SD

President Martin vanBuren in downtown Rapid City South Dakota

Sit for a moment with Martin van Buren, 8th president of the U.S., who was nicknamed “The Little Magician.”

President Harry Truman in downtown Rapid City South Dakota

“Give ’em Hell Harry” Truman, the 33rd president, is shown in his most famous pose.

Non-Partisan Presidential Tour in Rapid City

John Quincy Adams in downtown Rapid City.

John Quincy Adams, the 6th president of the U.S., is located at the corner of 6th and Main in downtown Rapid City.

There’s nothing at all partisan about this lovely tour. In fact, the presidential sculptures do not address political party or public opinion. Rapid City showcases our leaders as individuals, not as political figures, which is so refreshing. Several are shown with their pets, their children or engaging in their hobbies.

One of our presidents was drafted as a professional baseball player. One was a concert violinist. Another is responsible for the expression we all use – “OK.”

One of our presidents had a pet raccoon whom he would put on a leash and walk around the Rose Garden. And another one’s child was killed on his way to his father’s inauguration.

In recent years as one of our presidents has died, his sculpture in downtown Rapid City becomes a depository for flowers, thank you notes and remembrances. None of the statues has ever been vandalized. Let’s pray that it stays that way.

What to do in Downtown Rapid City South Dakota

President John Kennedy in downtown Rapid City South Dakota

Easily the most adorable sculpture on the walk is John F. Kennedy playing with his son John John.

Plan on spending several hours in downtown Rapid City, getting selfies with all the presidents, picking up a piece of Native American art at Prairie Edge, or finding inspiration in Art Alley. If it’s summer, cool off in the splash park and, for adults, enjoy a cold one at the Firehouse Brewery.

And when you go home, you’ll be able to ace any presidential history quiz, answer some questions on Jeopardy! and perhaps be better prepared to vote for the next individual to have his or her sculpture anchored on the streets of Rapid City South Dakota.

P.S. If you like interesting walking tours, on the other side of South Dakota, the Sioux Falls Sculpture Walk is one of our favorites.

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