Believe it or not, Rapid City wasn’t always known as the City of Presidents, and Downtown Rapid City was not the must-see destination it is today. The corners where statues now stand were empty, Art Alley was a blank canvas, and Main Street Square was a parking lot. But when a local man noticed people interacting with a temporarily placed statue of President Lincoln outside the Hotel Alex Johnson, an idea sparked. This man was Don Perdue, and he came up with the idea to put a president on every corner in Downtown Rapid City.

statue of ronald reagan in the city of presidents walking tour downtown rapid city, sd

This project didn't happen overnight. It took a lot of convincing, a lot of fundraising, and hours of research before it started. In 1999, Perdue proposed the idea to the city as a way to honor the legacy of the American Presidency. The project was approved and in 2000 the first four presidents were unveiled: George Washington, John Adams, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. The City of Presidents was born, and it jump-started big growth for Downtown Rapid City. Over the next ten years, a group of local artists worked to create and place all 40 of the remaining statues.

family all looking at the thomas jefferson statue in the city of presidents walking tour in downtown rapid city, sd

Eventually, the presidents started gaining popularity with locals and visitors. Locals started incorporating them when giving directions, “If you pass George Washington, you’ve gone too far”. Tourists loved walking through town finding their favorites and taking photos. Soon, Downtown Rapid City became a must stop destination. When the artists caught up to the current president in office, it was decided that new presidents would not be placed until they left office or until they were no longer politically active.

family posing around the John Adams statue in downtown rapid city, sd

The City of Presidents is ongoing with plenty of room to grow as new individuals come into office. The process of creating a statue takes a fair amount of time, and here’s why. The project is privately funded, so the first step is to secure funding or a sponsor for the statue. Then, one of the local artists is selected. The selected artist then starts to research the president. They learn their passions, hobbies or achievements during their presidency. This information helps to decide on the pose, facial expression, clothing, and all the amazingly tiny details found on each statue. After they have their concept and it's approved by the City of Presidents Board, work can begin. It can take up to nine months for one statue to be created.

Fun fact: all the statues match the height and weight of the president except one. William Howard Taft's statue was trimmed down from the presidents’ actual weight to make the statue more affordable.

william taft statue in the city of presidents with snow in downtown rapid city, sd

Fast forward to today, and the City of Presidents is one of the top “must-do” activities in our city. Great for all ages and budgets, it makes learning American Presidents not just something you read about, but something you can reach out and touch. The added fun of the scavenger hunt, found on the back of the City of Presidents brochure, can be completed and turned in for a presidential prize at either our Visitor Center or the Mount Rushmore Society. During the winter season, these statues turn into a place where the community can share winter gear with those in need. Hats, gloves, scarves and coats can be found bundled around the presidents.

Two women using the City of Presidents Audio Tour in Rapid City South Dakota

The newest feature to hit the streets for the City of Presidents is an audio tour! Free to listen, the audio tour allows you to get to know them as people, not just presidents. Listen to their stories by dialing in or scan the QR code found in the brochure to read along. Plaques are actively being placed next to each president so you access both features with ease. 

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