Drake Polishing Works operated on the east bank of the river, across from where you are now standing. Like other industries that located by the falls, it used the flow of the Big Sioux River to run its equipment. Unlike the other industries, Drake Polishing Works created works of art and ornate building materials rather than more basic necessities like flour and electricity.
The business started in 1883 as a stone polishing plant. The stone was cut and polished for use in arches, pillars, monuments and building ornamentation.
In the late 1880s, Drake Polishing Works became world famous when it began cutting and polishing petrified logs. The logs were taken from an ancient petrified forest in Arizona . When cut into slabs and polished, the stones were very colorful. Large slabs were made into table tops. Smaller pieces were fashioned into jewelry, cane heads, picture frames and other decorative items.
Tiffany's of New York City was a major retailer of the Drake Polishing Works' creations. The creations were also displayed at the 1903 Columbian Exposition in Chicago an the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.
The success of Drake Polishing Works was short lived. The petrified forest was being rapidly depleted, so the federal government declared the forest to be a National Park and prohibited
anyone from removing logs. In addition, companies that had removed logs were notified that they would be fined if they possessed any of the uncut petrified logs. This ended the lucrative petrified wood polishing business of Drake Polishing Works.
The company continued to polish stone for several more years until building construction methods changed, and the company went out of business.
This monument at the entrance to Woodlawn Cemetery in Sioux Falls is a excellent example of the artistry of Drake Polishing Works. Two 12 1/2 foot high petrified tree trunks frame the polished slabs cut from petrified wood.
Great artistry and manufacturing skill were required to create the stone works of art. The finished pieces, like this elaborate tombstone, were shipped by train to cities across the country.
This would have been your view across the river in 1884. Drake Polishing Works used the flow of the river coming over the lower Falls.
After the Drake building was abandoned, the stone in the Lower Falls was removed by quarrying companies and Sioux Falls Light & Power to create the tail race for the hydroelectric plant.