Don Perdue is known in Rapid City for the downtown presidential statues he helped make a reality, but it is Perdue’s fascination with America’s first patriots that is at the center of his newest tourism project.
Thanks to the 83-year-old businessman’s leadership, every street corner in downtown Rapid City is dotted with a life-size bronze replica of a former American president — 42 statues in all. Perdue was the driving force behind the City of Presidents project that delights pedestrians and draws tourists to Rapid City.
Now, Perdue has turned his entrepreneurial spirit to the 56 men who risked “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor” to sign the Declaration of Independence. The area’s newest patriotic tourist site, America’s Founding Fathers Exhibit, is a three-dimensional sculptural rendition of John Trumbull’s historic painting. It depicts the moment in 1776 when the first draft of the Declaration of Independence was presented by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston to their fellow members of the Second Continental Congress.
Perdue sees Founding Fathers Black Hills, which is housed in a replica of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall just past Reptile Gardens along S. Highway 16 on the way to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, as the intersection of history, art and economic development. Three million people visit Mount Rushmore each year, and about 60 percent of them cite patriotism as the main reason they come. “I believe that we have not fully taken advantage of the economic potential that Mt. Rushmore gives us,” he said. Perdue thinks those visitors will be interested in other historical exhibits with a patriotic theme, as well.
“This history needs to be preserved. Democracy is important. Patriotism is important. We would be nothing without these 56 men and the courage they showed,” Perdue said. “I want to take people back in time and I want them to leave Founding Fathers better educated, better informed and with a renewed sense of patriotism for the sacrifices these men made.”
Perdue is the founder and former owner of Perdue Woodworks, a furniture manufacturing company in Rapid City that employs about 120 people in Rapid City. He and his wife, Joan, moved the company to Rapid City from Montana in the 1987. Today, the family-owned company is run by his son, Richard, and daughter, Lori.