Skip to main content

October 2019-The Cultural Heritage Center: More than a Museum

October 2019-The Cultural Heritage Center: More than a Museum

The Cultural Heritage Center is a magnificent building in Pierre. In its underground setting, South Dakota history has been carefully interpreted and the state’s historical documents and objects have been safely protected and stored for 30 years.

Gov. George S. Mickelson, First Lady Linda Mickelson and other dignitaries broke ground for the 63,000-square-foot center on May 1, 1987. It was completed in early 1989 and dedicated in November of that year as a lasting legacy of South Dakota’s centennial. South Dakota became a state on Nov. 2, 1889.

Many people associate the Cultural Heritage Center with a world-class museum, but it offers more than that. It houses a whole team of people dedicated to preserving South Dakota’s past in a variety of ways.  

As headquarters of the South Dakota State Historical Society, the Cultural Heritage Center houses administrative, research and publishing, archives, historic preservation, and museum operations. The South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, the fundraising arm of the Society, also maintains offices in the Cultural Heritage Center. The Archaeological Research Center, operated by the State Historical Society, is located in Rapid City.

The South Dakota Historical Society Press publishes award-winning books on the history and heritage of the Northern Great Plains -- from scholarly works to picture books designed to engage children with the past. The Press’ biggest popular success thus far was the publication of “Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” which made the New York Times Best Seller list.

The Press also publishes the State Historical Society’s journal, “South Dakota History,” which members of the Society receive quarterly.

The State Archives collects and makes available records which have permanent historical and research value. Genealogists visit the archives to use the records to learn their family history. Researchers and scholars use the archival collections to write articles, books and theses. Business owners, students and authors use historical photographs from the archives in their buildings’ décor, school projects and books. The records have also been instrumental in court cases, resolving land ownership disputes and ensuring that citizens receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

The archives contains 20,000 cubic feet of records, including private collections, state and local government documents, rare books, audio and video recordings, 1.2 million photographs, 12,000 maps and 21 terabytes of digital materials. 

Business owners and homeowners sometimes have questions about their historic properties. “How can I protect my grandparents’ homestead from being destroyed?” “I hear preserving my old wood windows is better than replacing them with vinyl windows. Why is that and how can it be done?” “The porch on my 1932 house is collapsing. Do you have any money to help me fix it?” “Family stories say American Indians used to camp in what is now our pasture. Now some stranger wants to dig it up. What should we do?”

The State Historic Preservation Office or SHPO in the Cultural Heritage Center can help.

The SHPO implements the National Historic Preservation Act in South Dakota. The basis of the Act is the National Register of Historic Places, a program of the National Park Service which helps protect America’s historic resources. The SHPO staff helps owners determine if their property is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and, if so, can assist them in getting it listed. Those properties listed are eligible for a variety of financial incentives such as Deadwood Fund grants, the state property tax moratorium program and federal Historic Tax Credits. 

SHPO is also responsible for protecting South Dakota’s historical properties and sites by reviewing any federal, state, or locally supported project which may have the potential to damage these important cultural and historical resources.

Most people think of the Cultural Heritage Center as the museum. It is the most evident aspect of the building. It features temporary exhibits in the Hogen and Observation galleries, along with the primary exhibit “The South Dakota Experience.” They bring to life South Dakota’s history from earliest inhabitants to current day. The museum collection contains more than 34,000 objects that focus on South Dakota’s history -- from the Great Sioux Horse Effigy to political buttons. 

“History Explorer” backpacks for youngsters make for a fun, family-friendly museum experience. The monthly Family Fun Saturday programs are a way children and adults can come to the Cultural Heritage Center to make a history-related craft together. 

Although the Cultural Heritage Center is in Pierre, the State Historical Society offers services throughout the state.  In addition to a catalog of books on South Dakota history, the Society presents off-site programming to groups and provides field service consultation and training for those needing professional assistance.  Through, nearly 35,000 photographs and maps are available on-line and instant access is provided to collection indexes.  Businesses, community groups and schools can rent suitcase education kits and traveling exhibits.  A fourth-grade South Dakota history curriculum is accessible at and is available to anyone interested in learning more about the state’s history.   

This moment in South Dakota history is provided by the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, the nonprofit fundraising partner of the South Dakota State Historical Society at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. Find us on the web at Contact us at to submit a story idea.