Bronze former governors stand along an L-shaped route from downtown to the current governor's mansion.
Bronze former governors stand along an L-shaped route from downtown to the current governor's mansion.

Trail of Governors

Field review by the editors.

Pierre, South Dakota

Who were the past five governors of your state? If you don't know (or don't care), you may wonder what possessed South Dakota to erect bronze statues of all of its governors, as a tourist attraction, in its capital city of Pierre.

Governor-farmer Carl Gunderson sits on a hay bale.
Governor-farmer Carl Gunderson sits on a hay bale.

This parade of metal men is officially titled the Trail of Governors. Begun in 2012, it was inspired by the successful City of Presidents statue project several hundred miles away in Rapid City, which began in 2000. The sculptors who worked on the City of Presidents, familiar with the process, were also tapped for the Trail of Governors. The statues, like those in Rapid City, were placed along streets to create an incentive to walk through Pierre's downtown. The bronze governors are not on pedestals, lordly and remote, but at sidewalk level. This engages the public, and conveys the approachable quality South Dakota prefers in its chief executives.

The last of the statues was unveiled in 2022, and a new one will be added every time the current governor leaves office.

The sculptors of the Trail of Governors confronted the same large problem that faces all retirement cartoonists and sidewalk caricaturists: how to distill a personality down to a single image. The biographies of the governors offer numerous tempting visuals for statues, although many of them would be incompatible with the dignity of the office. Given these constraints, the artists did a decent job of creating distinct looks for most of the 30+ governors.

Carl Gunderson, for example, wears farm overalls and sits on a bale of hay. Nils Boe stands with his little dog, "Beagle Boe." Dennis Daugaard signs "I love you" with his hands because his parents were deaf.

South Dakota is a conservative state of ranchers and farmers (as were a number of the governors themselves) so the Trail of Governors was a bold effort, even for some of its honorees. The son of former governor Bill Janklow told South Dakota Public Radio at his statue's 2013 unveiling, "If he was alive he probably wouldn't show up for something like this." Former governor Frank Farrar, who was alive, said, "I don't know why anyone would want a statue of me, but it is a great honor."

Fisticuffs governor seems to taunt the ballistic missile governor.
Fisticuffs governor seems to taunt the ballistic missile governor.

With all of the statues finally in place, will tourists make the 70 mile round-trip from the nearest interstate exit to visit Pierre? We did.

Here are some of our favorites:

Trail of Governors

Pierre Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Information Center

Address:
800 W. Dakota Ave., Pierre, SD
Directions:
Map point and address are for the Pierre Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Information Center, which is on the west edge of downtown, on the northwest corner of W. Dakota Ave. and James St.
Hours:
M-F 8-5 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
605-224-7361
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Really Small SchoolhouseReally Small Schoolhouse, Pierre, SD - < 1 mi.
Governor #24: Frank Leroy FarrarGovernor #24: Frank Leroy Farrar, Pierre, SD - < 1 mi.
Governor #17: Merrell Q. SharpeGovernor #17: Merrell Q. Sharpe, Pierre, SD - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Governor # 3: Andrew E. Lee, Pierre, SD - < 1 mi.

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