I’m a curious, restless soul and if asked to ride along to see something new, I’m game. I hopped along for a 2-hour journey southwest of Omaha to visit Homestead National Monument of America in Beatrice, Nebraska. We took I-80 west to Lincoln and headed south on Highway 77.
I was in awe of the Heritage Center’s plow-shaped building facing due west. [Admission is free.] The outside wall showcases the 30 states that participated in the Homestead Act of 1862 with the portion of the state allocated to “free land” cut out, making a strong visual impact.
Park rangers eagerly greet visitors and invite all to view one of the best films I’ve watched at any state or national park. Anyone with homesteader ancestry will find this Heritage Center educational and interesting. The exhibits on the lower level are interactive and appealing to all ages. There is even a recording booth for those wishing to voice personal homesteading history. One can rest on the shaded patio and view acres of natural tallgrass prairie, walk the trails (watch out for poison ivy and ticks), see pioneer farm implements, admire the apple trees and community garden, view the Palmer-Epard Cabin and purchase items at the bookstore. The barbed wire fence display took me back to childhood days on our North Dakota farm digging fence post holes and stretching wire, something I’d long forgotten. Plan your time accordingly and don’t rush off. Pack a picnic and enjoy the manicured grounds.
We drove next door to the Education Center and instantly recognized public figures showcased on wall-sized banners celebrating homesteading legacies, including Strasburg, North Dakota’s, Lawrence Welk and Eureka, South Dakota’s Al Neuharth. We toured the one-room school house photography exhibit and learned from the park ranger that the Education Center is primarily used for outreach programming. The National Park Service is celebrating 100 years in 2016 and this park, like all others, is planning a great variety of activities to commemorate the occasion.
We made a left on Highway 4 West and almost an immediate right to park and tour the Freeman School staffed with summer park ranger interns. The center of education from 1872 to 1967, it appears much the same as when pioneer children attended in the late 1800’s. The modern day irrigation system spraying near the schoolhouse did offer a bit of irony and contrast.
On my next trip to the area, I will include time to explore Beatrice. It was a larger town than expected and I made note of local shops to visit.
I always love it when a trip exceeds my expectations and this one certainly did. I know I’d enjoy traipsing around Homestead National Park more in cooler spring and fall weather, yet it is a place I will return to.
I’ve had a serious fascination about what appeared to be a shrine seen at the Gretna exit on I-80, and despite the tornado warning, we stopped. The The Holy Family Shrine serves as a place of rest and prayer for all and has Saturday mass at 10am. The parking lot was full and many travelers were inside the chapel silently praying. The grounds are exquisitely well kept and the visitor center includes historical information and a reasonably priced gift shop.
It was a perfect Saturday get-away. As an official Nebraskan, I will return to both locations, and hope you will visit as well. If so, comment and let me know what you enjoyed or found new at each site.
Copyright. August 2015. Linda Leier Thomason.