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Amazing Nebraska Places

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Ghost Roads of Nebraska

In Abandoned America, Signs of Life Appear on the Other Side of the Lens

By Gary AnthesSpecial to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 2, 2007

W hen I thought about Nebraska before my recent four-day trip -- and I almost never did -- I imagined an utterly flat place populated by legions of cows and mega-acres of corn. It is the Cornhusker State, after all. Asked to sum it up in one word, I would have said "boring."

Okay, it can be boring, but I'll get to that later.

First, here's what's not boring. I'm an avid amateur photographer who enjoys shooting ghost towns, abandoned buildings, ancient rusty cars and other detritus from decades and centuries past. There are quite a lot of those things in Nebraska, especially in the western half of the state, in a Great Plains region that some photographers call Abandoned America.

My idea was to drive the highways and byways of western Nebraska and photograph the accoutrements of abandonment. I planned to follow four of the nine routes that the state has designated as scenic or historic. "Nebraska's back roads invite you to drop down to low gear, prop your arm out the window and just cruise," informs the state's helpful travel guide.

That's pretty much what I did. I cruised Nebraska's Gold Rush Byway (U.S. Route 385) 160 miles from Sidney to Chadron; the Lincoln Highway (U.S. Route 30) 230 miles from Sidney to Kearney; the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway (Highway 2) 200 miles from Ansley to Alliance; and the Western Trails Historic and Scenic Byway (U.S. Route 26) 55 miles from Bridgeport to the Wyoming border. I also drove countless dusty miles along dirt and gravel lanes -- chosen mostly at random -- with evocative names like County Road 136. Starting and ending at the Denver airport, I made a grand loop through northeastern Colorado, western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming, some 1,400 miles in six days.

I especially liked Nebraska's two-lane Lincoln Highway, the nation's first transcontinental auto route, which runs through the Platte River Valley and parallels the country's first transcontinental railroad. Every few moments, the view of agricultural land would be punctuated by glimpses of the beautiful Platte River. A few moments later, the dual red-and-yellow engines of a train would come roaring past my car.

The Lincoln Highway -- now sleepy, seedy and sad, but fascinating and somehow wonderfully relaxing -- lost its status as a major east-west route years ago when Interstate 80 was built nearby. Now only photographers, railroad buffs and locals drive it. Motels, diners, gas stations, houses and whole city streets lie deserted along the way.

Towns, generally with populations between 200 and 600, are strung out at six- to 10-mile intervals along the route. You can see each one approaching from miles away by the giant grain elevators that tower above the plains at trackside, still poised to download corn or wheat to trains at harvest time. Typically, half or more of the stores in these towns have been forsaken yet left standing in faded testimony to better times.

No One Home

Early one foggy May morning, I was driving one of the narrow, gravel county roads between Thedford and Valentine when an abandoned farmhouse emerged at the top of a hill. Vacant, black windows stared like eye sockets through the mist. I half-expected Norman Bates to come out and greet me.

I happily walked around the property, photographing the old wood house, a barn, various outbuildings and assorted rusting farm paraphernalia. The house seemed unsafe to enter, but I could see the remains of habitation -- broken furniture, a few dishes, an ancient TV set -- through open doors. But the building belonged to the birds now, and a surprising number of them, including an owl, flew in and out through broken windows. In more than an hour, not a single car passed on the road below.

I find these deserted homesteads deeply mysterious and profoundly sad. What happened to their owners? Why did they go? What were they thinking on the day they left? Why did they leave so many belongings behind? Why has no one come to take their place?

Some of these prairie houses are the product of the Homestead Act of 1862, by which settlers were lured to the Great Plains with gifts of 160-acre land parcels. But sandy soil, frequent droughts and economic conditions made it a tough go for farmers, and some just gave up and moved out. Others declared bankruptcy, and their property was seized by a bank, which was then unable to dispose of it.

Sometimes an agribusiness giant would buy a farm and simply add the 160 acres on to a larger local holding. The company often would farm around the house, leaving it undisturbed for the birds.

With the towns, the problem is a little different. Some of them died when interstates siphoned off traffic and the towns' commerce with it. A waitress in a Loup City diner said the population there had dropped from 1,600 to 900 in 40 years and that nearly all who remained worked elsewhere. And, she said, young people waste no time moving to more exciting locales as soon as they finish school.

A trick when traveling in rural Nebraska is ending each day with a place to sleep other than your car. I chose Loup City one afternoon because it was the only town in the area with a motel, a simple but clean place at $40 a night. Bring your own shampoo.

The motel had an attached restaurant/bar the size of a large telephone booth, and by 4 p.m. when I checked in, it was already populated with good ol' boys from the local construction trades. By 6 p.m., when I went to eat, the GOBs had gotten a tad rowdy. But I needn't have worried. Like everyone in Nebraska, it seems, the GOBs were as friendly as can be. I enjoyed their boisterous banter but thought it might not be the best place to bring a family.

Next morning at 6, I went for breakfast at a diner in town and several of the GOBs were already there, looking none the worse for wear. I was not deterred by a large sign in the window, repeated on a wall inside, that said, "LICENSED CONCEALED CARRY WELCOME HERE."

Scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and coffee -- $3.50. Plus a generous tip for the possibly pistol-packin' waitress.

Natural Nebraska

I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is more to see in Nebraska than corn, cows, trains and abandoned buildings, and that the state is not flat. The huge Sandhills region is dominated by sand dunes, some rising hundreds of feet and covered with prairie grass. Lakes and wetlands, rich with wildlife but not people, lie between the dunes. Parts of the northwest portion of the state feature badlands as interesting as any in South Dakota.

Mountainous and forested land, rising here and there out of cornfields, utterly transformed the driving experience in minutes. There were far more state parks, recreation areas and nature preserves than I had time to visit. I went to the Sherman Reservoir State Recreation Area near Loup City at dawn one day to watch the sun rise over a 2,845-acre lake. It's a great place for camping and fishing, I was told, but I had the whole place to myself that morning.

I watched wild ducks and pheasants one gorgeous spring day while eating a picnic lunch by a lake in the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, 20 miles south of Valentine. It's part of the Sandhills prairie, a National Natural Landmark and the largest remaining tract of midgrass and tallgrass prairie in North America.

The refuge is quite unlike any place I had visited before. It's a lovely mixture of undulating sandy meadows, marshes, lakes and stands of trees. If there were any other people at the refuge that day, they were elsewhere on its 72,000 acres.

The lack of crowds at these natural places is perhaps their most distinguishing characteristic. I drove through the Nebraska National Forest to Chadron State Park near Chadron and to Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area near Gering and saw virtually no other visitors at either place.

To be sure, you won't find mile-deep canyons, towering red sandstone arches, geysers, giant redwood trees or snow-topped mountains in Nebraska. But there is something to be said for not having to fight for parking at trail heads, and there is a lot to be said for the tranquillity that comes from hiking for an hour and not seeing or hearing another soul.

Traffic on most of the roads I drove was so light and so local that drivers of oncoming vehicles often waved as they approached. I explored each town by driving slowly up and down Main Street, usually just two or three blocks long, and pedestrians would catch my eye, smile and wave.

Indeed, Nebraskans are the friendliest people I have ever met, and I have traveled a great deal. I found myself striking up conversations with total strangers, something I normally would not do.

Nevertheless, this is not a vacation destination for everyone. Parts of it are boring. During stretches of monotonous scenery I'd turn on my XM Satellite Radio and shamelessly tune it to vintage country music. (You wouldn't listen to Vivaldi in the Cornhusker State, would you?) So if you are a 20-something looking for a honeymoon spot, you might prefer Hawaii. If you have kids, Orlando or a beach resort might work better. If you are a scenic-trophy hunter, you might want to seek out those canyons, arches, geysers, redwoods and mountains farther west.

But do consider a drive through western Nebraska at least once in your life. See for yourself that it's possible to drive 200 miles through crystal-clean air without seeing billboards, roadside trash, shopping centers, stoplights or throngs of people. View old-time America through the eyes of John Steinbeck, Thomas Hart Benton and Buffalo Bill Cody.

It might be more than you expected.

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ALDA- Martin Brothers Historic Memorial

The Martin brothers, Nat age 15 and Bob age 12, were returning home with a load of hay when they were attacked by a party of Sioux and Cheyenne in August 1864. The boys jumped onto a horse and fled, with Nat holding onto Bob. The Indians followed and shot Nat twice with arrows, once in his elbow and once in his side. The second arrow had enough velocity to continue through Nat and lodge in Bob's back. The boys, pinned together, tumbled off of the horse and were left for dead.

They did not die. Nat and Bob eventually, and no doubt awkwardly, made their way to a doctor and were unpinned. Bob survived into middle age -- although he always had a bad back-- and Nat died as an old man.

Monument: Where Brothers Were Pinned Together By An Arrow
Address: Alda Road, Alda, NE
Directions: I-80 exit 306, then south three miles on Hwy 26/Alda Rd. On the right side, at the intersection of Platte River Rd.

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ALLIANCE-CARHENGE

Carhenge, which replicates Stonehenge, consists of the circle of cars, 3 standing trilithons within the circle, the heel stone, slaughter stone, and 2 station stones, and the Aubrey circle, named after Sir John Aubrey who first recognized the earthworks and great stones as a prehistoric temple in 1648.  It was not until excavations undertaken in the 1920's that they were found to be holes cut to hold timber uprights. A total of 56 holes were discovered and named the Aubrey Holes in honor of John Aubrey's observation. 

The artist of this unique car sculpture, Jim Reinders, experimented with unusual and interesting artistic creations throughout his life. While living in England, he had the opportunity to study the design and purpose of Stonehenge. His desire to copy Stonehenge in physical size and placement came to fruition in the summer of 1987 with the help of many family members. 

Thirty-eight automobiles were placed to assume the same proportions as Stonehenge with the circle measuring approximately 96 feet in diameter. Some autos are held upright in pits five feet deep, trunk end down, while those cars which are placed to form the arches have been welded in place. All are covered with gray spray paint. The honor of depicting the heel stone goes to a 1962 Caddy.

Carhenge was built as a memorial to Reinders' father who once lived on the farm where Carhenge now stands. While relatives were gathered following the death of Reinders' father in 1982, the discussion turned to a memorial and the idea of a Stonehenge replica was developed. The family agreed to gather in five years and build it. The clan, about 35 strong, gathered in June 1987 and went to work. They held the dedication on the Summer Solstice in 1987, with champagne, poetry, songs and a play written by the family.

Carhenge has been preserved by Friends of Carhenge, a local group, who now owns and maintains it. Reinders donated the 10 acres of land where Carhenge is located. They have added a paved parking lot, picnic tables, and an educational display board.

Additional sculptures have been erected at the site, known as the Car Art Reserve. One of the first sculptures to be added to the Car Art Reserve is a sculpture of a spawning salmon created by 29 year-old Canadian Geoff Sandhurst. Sandhurst won a $2500 prize and placement of his car art creation at the Reserve.

Reinders' "Ford Seasons", comprised only of Fords and inspired by Vivaldi's Four Seasons, suggests the Nebraska landscape's seasonal changes as wheat is planted, grows, is harvested, and then the field lies barren during a windy winter. 

Carhenge's uniqueness, novelty and unusual components continue to draw the attention of film and television production crews as well as over 80,000 tourists from all over the world. All but 19 of the Aubrey holes have been developed, and those wishing to install a hole may do so upon application to Friends of Carhenge.

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 AUBURN- Half-Breed Tract
 
It was an accepted custom for many early fur traders to marry into Indian tribes. As the Indians ceded their lands, the rights of the half-breed descendants were not always identified. This situation was recognized by the government in 1830, by the Prairie Du Chien Treaty which set aside a tract of land for the half-breeds of the Oto, Iowa, Omaha and Santee Sioux tribes.

This tract was located between the Great and Little Nemaha Rivers. In 1838, the land was surveyed by John C. McCoy, who placed the western boundary eight miles west of the river instead of ten miles as specified. This caused problems, as later white settlers were to settle on Indian lands west of McCoy's line. Congress ordered the land resurveyed, and in 1858 the McCoy line was made official. On September 10, 1860, Louis Neal received the first patent.

The owners were never required to live on their property and many eventually sold their lands to whites. One of the original survey lines is now partly identified by the Half-Breed Road which runs in a southeast direction from here. The descendants of some pioneer fur traders still live in the area.

Auburn Community Betterment Council
Historical Land Mark Council
US 136, east of Auburn
Nemaha County
Marker 58

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COMSTOCK - Dowse Family Sod House

The Dowse Family Sod House was built by pioneers in 1900.  In the 1800's, many pioneers needed to build adequate houses, but the shortage of timber caused problems.  The pioneers figured out that they could cut the thich, heavy sod, native to Nebraska, and cut it into squares.  They would then stack these squares of sod into walls and anchor them together.  These houses turned out to be better houses than their wood counterparts.  This was due to their natural insulating qualities.  Sod houses were cooler in the summer and insulated better from the bitter winter cold and winds.  The were also fireproof, which was a plus due to all of the fires that commonly swept through the open praries. If you have never seen a sod house, it is worthwhile to take a look into the past and the history of our country. 

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ELBA - Happy Jack Chalk Mine 
   
Happy Jack Chalk Mine was started in 1877 to mine chalk out of the hillside near present day Scotia.  It was named for Jack Swearegen, an early settler in the area.  He was said to be very friendly and helpful to his neighbors.  Therefore, he received the nickname "Happy Jack."    The mine operated until the end of World War II.  You can now take tours of the min for a minimal fee.  It is the only chalk mine in the U.S..  It is an example of room and pillar mining.  There are over 6000 feet of underground tunnels of all sizes.  You can also climb to the top of Happy Jack Peak (the mine is below you) and look at the spectacular view of the North Loup River winding its way through the gently rolling sandhill scenery. Happy Jack Chalk Mine is located about 12 to 15 miles north of Elba, Nebraska on Highway 11.  It is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day for tours.

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Bridge near Elba

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ELI-   Petrified Wood Gravemarkers 

Eli is west of Valentine, a mile north of Highway 20 in the northern Nebraska Sandhills. Eli has about a dozen houses, a church, and a general store, plus a windmill graveyard on the edge of the hamlet. Inquire at the store for directions to the Conley Flats Cemetery, south and east of Eli some 8 miles. The cemetery, located on a picturesque table overlooking the Niobrara River valley, has quite a few grave markers formed of petrified wood, particularly the Bigelow family plot.

 

 

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FAIRFIELD - Spring Ranche

The original Spring Ranche, located two miles south of here on the north side of the Little Blue River, was founded about 1863. James Bainter, the first permanent settler, operated a store and inn for travelers along the Oregon-California Trail. The ranche was burned in 1864 when Lakota Sioux and their allies attacked settlements along the Little Blue. Spring Ranche was later rebuilt.

The village of Spring Ranch dates from 1870 when a post office was established south of the river. A saw mill was in operation a year later. In 1886 the townsite moved across the river, where the St. Joseph and Grand Island Railroad was being built. The village once boasted several businesses and a population of about 100, but few traces remain today.

In 1885 Spring Ranch residents Elizabeth Taylor and her brother Thomas Jones were accused of barn burning and murder. Before they could be tried, they were lynched by a mob on March 15. Taylor and Jones, along with other early settlers, are buried in the Spring Ranch Cemetery.

Spring Ranche River Festival 1993
Nebraska State Historical Society
Oregon Trail Sesquicentennial
6 miles west of Fairfield on Nebraska 74
Clay County
Marker 372

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ELIJAH FILLEY STONE BARN - GAGE COUNTY

 In 1867 Elijah Filley his wife Emma, their two sons, Fitch and Hiram and his father Ammi came to Gage County. The family lived in a tent until they completed their seven rooms, 1 1/2 story stone dwelling in 1868. They called their new home "Cottage Hill Farm".

In 1874 the farmers were in bad shape. They had two summers of drought, grasshopper invasion, and crop failure. Many farmers were backing up and heading back east. Those that remained needed work. Elijah Filley chose this time to build his barn. The news that Elijah Filley was building a barn spread fast. Men came from all over the area looking for work. Men who lived too far away to drive home each night were quartered in tents.

The stone for the barn was hauled from Elijah's property near Rockford. The lime was hauled from Beatrice. Stone piers were erected to hold the floor joist support beams from the interior. They are two feet square and the beams are one foot square and extend the entire length of the barn. The main floor was laid of three-inch planks and the floor seams were caulked with oakum, which was then covered with melted pitch. The oakum was made from hemp. All this was to make the floor watertight. The lumber was hauled by ox team from Nebraska City.

By mid-October the walls went up.  A row of decorative hand-carved narrower stone was placed around the barn between the lower and second level.  The walls on the first floor were two feet thick, and eighteen inches thick on the two upper floors. The haymow floor joists were placed, and the stonework was completed on the tenth of November 1874.

The carpenters had the roof plates and rafters cut before the last stones in the walls were laid.  All the workers then helped with the rafters, nailing the sheeting and laying shingles.  An eight-foot square cupola completed the barn.

The barn, which became a local landmark, served its intended purpose for many decades. On April 11, 1977 the Stone Barn was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The following year, it was willed to the Gage County Historical Society by owner Edwin Pedersen, with over three acres of the surrounding land and $10,000 for restoration. The Gage County Historical Society is continuing the restoration, which was begun in 1980, as funds become available.  An additional 20 acres were added in 1986. The exterior restoration of the stone was completed in 1981.  The Barn is presently open to the public on scheduled dates and for special events. 

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Filley Stone Barn
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GOTHENBERG-Sweedish Crosses Cemetary
 
For over a century, three unique crosses have been a lasting symbol of the Swedish heritage of Gothenburg. In the early 1880s, Peter and Anna Berg, along with Anna's parents, the Benjamin Palms, came to Gothenburg from Helsingland, Sweden. Tragedy struck the Bergs on their prairie homestead when their first child, Singne Ester, died July 21, 1885, four months after her birth. Carl Alfred, their second child, died at the age of three months on September 14, 1886. Gustav Andrew, two years old, died August 19, 1889. The three children were buried on a knoll near the family farm.
 
Markers for the graves were made in a traditional Swedish style by the children's grandfather, Benjamin A. Palm. Mr. Palm was Gothenburg's first blacksmith.
He is reported to have sent to Sweden for some of the steel with which he fashioned the crosses. The distinctive crosses, complete with elaborate scrollwork, hearts and stars, each carry a Swedish inscription of the children's names and their dates of birth and death. The Bergs were blessed with four more children after the first three died.
 
A wrought iron fence forged by Mr. Palm to protect the graves has long since disappeared. The late Harry Williams of Gothenburg began an effort to preserve the cemetery in the 1960s. With the aid of an anonymous donor and the Historical Trails Committee, a chain link fence was erected in 1967.
 
Although the crosses have stood for over 100 years, several mysteries remain. The initials A.G. on one of the graves stands for Andrew Gustav, but the family remembers he was called Gustav. What was the order of his formal name? On the back of Singne's cross, the word Havilar is etched. Many tombstones and crosses in Sweden have this inscription. It translates to "Here Rests". However, the other two crosses have the initials H.W. Do the initials mean the same? The causes of their deaths have never been conclusive. Family stories tell of an epidemic that struck in the late 1800s. It is also believed several neighboring children caught in a prairie fire are buried here without markers.
 
These unusual and artistic grave markers, wrought in Swedish steel by a loving grandfather, mark three children's graves--making a small corner of Dawson County "forever Sweden." The Swedish Crosses Cemetery is one of Dawson County's historical sites. A Nebraska Historical Marker was dedicated in August, 1991.

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KIMBALL- Wheat Growers Hotel

The Wheat Growers Hotel was constructed in 1918 by F. Cunningham and was considered the "most glamorous Hotel between Omaha and Denver". Dwight and Mami Eisenhower (with son Doug and Mami's parents) stayed at the Hotel in 1919. With 86 rooms, a restaurant and a Ballroom, the Hotel became the hub for railroad travelers and locals alike.

Historic Wheat Growers Hotel
102 South Oak Street
Kimball, Nebraska 69145

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KIMBALL COUNTY- Panorama Point
 
A tiny monument marks the highest elevation in Nebraska, 5424 ft above sea level with endless plains stretching into the distance.
 
 

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LINCOLN- Lee's Chicken
Lee's Chicken is a Lincoln legend with fantastic food and a cool giant chicken mascot! Also features a live piano layer who takes your requests.
 
Address: 1940 W. Van Dorn, Lincoln, NE
 
Directions: I-80 exit 397. Drive south on US 77/Homestead Expressway for around 2.5 miles. Exit at Van Dorn St. and drive east for one mile. On the right, at the corner of Coddington Ave.
 
Phone: 402-477-4339
 
 
 

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MC COOK - Frank Lloyd Wright House

One of America’s most influential and imaginative architects, Frank Lloyd Wright spent almost 70 years creating a striking variety of architectural forms. It is one of the few homes west of the Mississippi River designed by this internationally famous man. The Sutton House is an example of Wright’s prairie style, in which he blended the structure with it’s natural surroundings. This fabulous home located at 602 Norris Avenue is a private residence but may be viewed from Norris Avenue and West F Street.

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MILFORD - Westward Ho! Campground - Teepee

The so-called "teepee motel" west of Lincoln, NE on I-80 is actually the former Milford Inn, part of the "Westward Ho! Campground" at the Milford exit and directly across the street from the World's Largest Covered Wagon. Kenneth Dahle, the same man who constructed the covered wagon gas station, also owned the adjoining motel/campground property, on which he built two large wooden teepees to attract motorists. One teepee contains a men's and women's restroom with showers, while the other was once used as a spare motel room. Additionally, there are several Western-themed wooden decorations on the property such as buffalo silhouette cutouts, campground markers shaped as arrowheads, and picnic tables with painted-on Indian symbols. In the 1960s, Kenneth had an 1800's-era schoolhouse and church moved to the side of the road a few yards from the motel to function as tourist attractions (easily visible from the site).

(Directions: I-80 Exit 382, about 20 miles west of Lincoln, NE )

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MINDEN--Pioneer Village

You have to see it to believe it... The largest private collection of Americana anywhere. The Pioneer Village complex comprises 28 buildings on 20 acres housing over 50,000 irreplaceable items of historical value, restored to operating order, arranged in groups and also in the chronological order of their development. There are 12 historic buildings around the circular "green". There's a Frontier Fort, a real honest-to-goodness Pony Express Station, an Iron Horse, and a home made of sod. There's a general store and a toy store, chock full of all the goods from yesteryear. An original art collection including 25 Currier and Ives prints, 23 Jackson paintings, and the largest single collection of Rogers statues. You can ride a priceless steam carousel, see 17 historic flying machines and marvel at 100 antique tractors. See a 1902 Cadillac and a 1903 Ford, both designed by Henry Ford, plus 350 other antique cars, all displayed in their order of development. For a relaxing trip into yesterday, come to Pioneer Village.

12 Miles South of I-80 from Exit 279

From I-80 Exit 279, take Harold Warp Memorial Drive (Nebr. Hwy 10) South to Minden.
Museum entrance is at the North East corner of the intersection of US 6 & 34 and Nebr. Hwy 10.

Hours of operation:
We are open every day of the year, including all major Holidays, except Christmas Day.
Winter hours: 9am- 4:30pm (7 days/week).
Summer hours: 8:00 am to 6:00 pm (Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend).

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NEBRASKA CITY - John Browns Cave

John Kagi, one of abolishionist John Brown's most trusted collegues, went to stay with his sister and brother-in-law Allen Mayhew.  It was the early 1850's and the area was the Nebraska City area of Nebraska.  Their cabin was very close to the Missouri River.  Across the river was Iowa  and Missouri. 
 
 John Kagi, under the instruction of his friend John Brown, dug an underground room underneath the Mayhew cabin.  It was accessible only from a ravine leading into a creek.  The entrance was well camoflauged.  There was also a hollow log put into the wall that lead to fresh air outside.  This helped the ventilation when the entrance was closed up.  This cave was to be used as a stop on the Underground Railroad
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At night, slaves would cross the Missouri River from Missouri (slave state) to Nebraska (free state).  They would hide out in the cave for the night.  Mrs. Mayhew would bring them cornbread.  After a short stay, they would be ferried across the Missouri River again.  They would be taken a little more north to Iowa (free state), to another stop on the Underground Railroad.  Or else, as more recent evidence shows, they would proceed toward Lincoln to hide out in Robber's Cave. 
 
This cabin and cave are still standing where they were over a century ago.  The Mayhew cabin is said to be the oldest standing building in Nebraska. 

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$6 for adults and $3 for children.
Group tours welcome. Group rates available.

Open every day April 1 - November 30
Mon-Sat 10am - 5pm
Sun Noon-5pm

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NEBRASKA CITY - Apple Jack Festival
 
Held in Nebraska City the third weekend in September each year, this celebration of the local apple harvest includes a parade, Miss AppleJack Pageant, an air show, an antique car show, exhibits of quilts and other crafts, historic demonstrations and tours, a pie-baking contest, and a college football game dubbed the Apple Bowl. A popular event is the Go-Kart Street Race, with as many as 170 entrants from a five-state area. Local orchards are open to visitors, and apple-based treats are sold, including pies, fritters, caramel apples, and apple slushies. Although the festival has been known as AppleJack since 1968, the harvest celebration goes back to 1936, when a school holiday was declared.

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NORTH PLATTE - Fort Cody Trading Post
 
The Fort Cody Trading Post has remained true to its original vision -- a replica frontier redoubt of the 1860-to-1875 era that claims to be "Nebraska's Largest Souvenir and Western Gift Store." While many gift shops in the West attempt to look like frontier stockades, this is probably the largest, maybe even larger than life. Soldier dummies man the stockade battlements and towers; one has an arrow sticking out of his butt.

In the fort, aside from all the items for sale, is the Old West Museum, a collection of guns, chaps, boots, hats, and saddles and other leftovers from the past. The collection has been added to over the years. The proprietors of Fort Cody are particularly proud of Buffalo Bill's Miniature Wild West Show. Over 20,000 tiny hand-carved figures populate dioramas of Bill's show, which traveled across America and even to Europe in 1877. The scenes were created by Ernie and Virginia Palmquist over a 12 year period.

Just in case you didn't know, Fort Cody has a two-headed calf (fully mounted), and some big fiberglass animals: 2 buffalo, a grizzly bear, and a colt. We also have a hideous 8-ft. tall kachina that someone made out of metal.

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NELIGH - Michael Landon Suite/Deluxe Motel
 
Located in Neligh, NE, the Deluxe Hotel's claim to fame is that on July 2-July 3, 1962,  TV superstar, Michael Landon stayed in room #10. After he checked out, the staff noticed a large hole in the wall Mr. Landon negleted to tell them about. In disgust, they put up a note stating that the hole was made by the Hollywood star. The note has been replaced by a plaque and the hole still remains.....

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NORTHPORT - Shoe Fence

Between Northport and Ogallala on Highway 26 in Nebraska there is a fenceline that runs for miles and miles -- footwear of all kinds are mounted upsidedown on the fenceposts on the right hand side of the road as you are travelling east/south. Cowboy boots, tennis shoes, all manner of foot gear...and it goes on for MILES. If this were done by a single individual, even at 50 cents a pair at a thrift store, this was an expensive project. Mystery?

 

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MINDEN - German POW Urinal

The sign above the urinal indicates it was salvaged from a WWII prisoner camp in Atlanta, Nebraska. A quick glance at a map of central Nebraska will show you that Atlanta, Nebraska, isn't too far from Minden, Nebraska -- home of tourist icon Harold Warp's Pioneer Village . The urinals are located in the adjacent Pioneer Village Campground.

 

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OMAHA- Gerald Ford Birthplace & Betty Ford Rose Garden

In Omaha, there is an interesting little area, where former President, Gerald Ford was born. He only lived in Omaha for one year but the site where his parents' house once stood is now a memorial to the former president. There is also the Betty Ford Rose Garden, which includes busts of Gerald and Betty, and there is a little gazebo-like structure, which has some of Ford's personal belongings behind glass, with a button you can press to hear him speak about himself and his birth site. Included behind the glass are some pens and ashtrays from the Oval Office when he was there, plus a set of his golf clubs, and so on. Also, on land adjacent to the birth site, there is a small museum, and center for restoring and storing historic documents.

Address: 1326 32nd St, Omaha, NE -32nd and Woolworth, near Hanscom Park.

Hours:Various, usually closes around sunset. (Call to verify)

Phone: 402-444-5955

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OMAHA- Malcom X Birthplace

Address: 3448 Pinkney St., Omaha, NE

Directions: The birthplace is now an open patch of land between 36th and 34th Sts

 

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OSHKOSH- The Hollman Grave Historical Marker

It has been estimated that at least 20,000 persons died on the overland trail between 1842 and 1859. This averages ten graves per miles over the 2,000 mile trail. Of the hundreds that died while crossing Nebraska, only seven identifiable graves remain.

Most trail graves has crude wooden or animal-bone markers. A very few had formal stones or iron wagon wheel rims. The nearby grave of John Hollman, like others in western Nebraska, was marked by a roughly fashioned local rock. Though most of the others have disappeared, Hollman's still stands, its crude lettering giving his name and that he died in June, 1852.

Many overland travelers died from accidents, while a few were killed by Indians. The great majority died from disease. Asiatic cholera was the main killer, coming up the Mississippi from New Orleans. Parties crossing Missouri spread it across the Plains. It is not known how John Hollman died, but 1852 was a very bad cholera year and numerous deaths were recorded in this vicinity. Wagon ruts are still visible in parts of Garden County. Local rock formations were commented upon by many diarists. These remain today as part of our historical heritage. The adjacent directional stone marker has been moved from its original site.


- Nebraska State Historical Society

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PAXTON - Big Ole's Game Lodge

Paxton is like every other Nebraska town situated around a water tower and a grain elevator. However, in the middle of town is a little lounge called Ole's. It is decorated with mounted big game. It seemed that Ole, who has since died, was a big game hunter. He started the bar just after prohibition (or possibly during it!) in the 1930s. He hunted extensively in Africa and South America in the 40s, 50s, and 60s as well as deep sea fishing, and the bar was his base of operations. He had amassed an incredible collection of stuffed game animals including a full size polar bear, lion and elephants heads, and any other politically incorrect oddity. In addition, he has hundreds of photos of celebrities who had visited the lounge.

 

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SEWARD - Fourth of July
 
Named "America's Fourth of July City: Small Town USA" by Congress in 1973, the town of 6,000 provides more than 100 activities, events and exhibits at its celebration, drawing 40,000 visitors throughout the day. Many events are free, making the day very family-friendly. Held every year since 1868, the celebration is organized by volunteer high school students.

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SHELTON- Susan C. Haile Gravesite

Susan Haile and her husband Richard were headed for California along the Oregon Trail, but in June of 1852 Susan died, probably from Asiatic Cholera. The tombstone says "legend has it that she died from drinking water poisoned by the Indians". It was common at the time to blame the Native Americans, but Indians were not in the habit of poisoning water.

Leaving their six children in the care of an aunt, Richard returned to Missouri and had a proper tombstone made, then brought it back to this spot. Vandals later detroyed that stone, but it has been replaced.

For years the story ended here and Richard disappeared into the mists of history. But recently more information has surfaced. Now we know the correct family name is actually "Haile", with an "e". Richard apparently caught up with the slow-moving wagon train and went on to the Napa Valley of California. He farmed and engaged in lumbering, and he would be elected to the California state legislature three times. He remarried and had four more children. Richard Haile died in 1890 after a long and productive life. We do not know if he ever got back to visit the grave of his first wife.

Directions to the grave: On Interstate 80 in south-central Nebraska, take the Shelton Exit (# 291) and go south on the paved road for 5.3 miles. It zigs & zags east & south, but stay on the paved road for 5.3 miles. You will see The Susan Hail historical marker on the east side of the road; Immediately south of it is a gravel road called 70th St. Take it to the east for perhaps 1/4 to 1/2 mile; you will see the grave on a small hill on the north side of the road.

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WATERLOO - Sleep in a Union Pacific Caboose

In Two Rivers State Recreation Area, near Waterloo, Nebraska, you can rent a cabin which used to be a Union Pacific caboose. The cabooses have been fixed up, nicely, complete with bathroom, kitchen, and sleeping areas.

(Sleep in a Union Pacific Caboose: Waterloo, NE Directions: About 15 miles west of Omaha, at Waterloo, Nebraska. )

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UEHLING - Uehling Round Barn

The Uehling Barn is located on a hill overlooking the town of Uehling. The prominence of the structure and its location have made it a local landmark since it was built in 1918. The wood-frame barn is one of a small number of "round" barns in Nebraska. Its builder, Frank Theodore Uehling, was the son of Theodore and Catherine Schwab Uehling, emigrants from Germany. Theodore platted the town of Uehling in 1906. After attending the University of Nebraska College of Agriculture, Frank Uehling established a stock farm, which became a model and the center of pure-bred livestock raising in Dodge County.

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VALENTINE - Cowboy Poetry Gathering/Old West Days
 
This four-day event is held the first weekend in October in Valentine, Nebraska. Daytime poetry reading sessions are free and open to anyone with a poem to read or a song to sing. Participants need not have cowboy backgrounds, but there is always a contingent of authentic cowboy poets eager to share their experiences through poetry. Featured professional poets and musicians are heard in two evening performances, and there is a music and yodeling performance Saturday afternoon. A special children's poetry reading is held, along with a workshop in western culture for children. Other featured events include an old-fashioned melodrama performance, a Native American powwow, a western art and trade show, a display of bit and spur collections, a mountain man rendezvous, an all-horse parade, and a trail ride.  Cowboy Poetry Gathering (Old West Days)

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YORK - Lee's Legendary Marbles and Collectables

Lee Batterton's collection of hand-made marbles come in all colors and sizes and date from the late 1800s to early 1900s. They have picturesque names like Peppermint Swirl, Clam Broth, Brick, and Indian Skin. Batterton's favorite is the rare Lutz marbles with gold-colored powder inside. Glass cases lining two long walls display the more expensive ones, while, overhead, hundreds of quart jars filled to their brims with agates add a colorful border. There are marbles in vases, huge glass containers and trays.

Perhaps the most unusual ones are the pre-World War I ones containing uranium. Another display case holds machine-made marbles with names like Corkscrews, Ketchup and Mustard, and Superman.

"There's hundreds of different kinds of marbles. Many of them came from Germany. But some of the ones I've got, no one knows where they came from, who made them. There's still research going on and books being written about them."

Also featured are marble games, artwork, and information about the different kinds of marbles, their value, and where they were made. Some of the marbles, along with coins and other antique items are for sale.

Location: 3120 S. Lincoln Avenue, York Nebraska

Admission: $4.00 Adult, $2.00 Children 12 and under - $10 Family Rate (Museum Only) 

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday

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            Nebraska treasures waiting to be found

  Jesse James is said to have hidden loot here and there, such as at Devil's Nest near Crafton, Knox County.
$40,000 stolen from a bank in Kearney is believed to be hidden near Sargent, Custer County.
  Gold miners returning from California were robbed near Lexington, Dawson County, and their treasure buried in the area.
  Robbers' Cave near Macy, Thurston County, may contain much treasure.

MORE NEBRASKA LOST TREASURE

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GOLD HUNTING

Although not known for great gold deposits, gold can still be found in various locations in Nebraska. Gold is best in areas where there is an "ancient" or old river channel. It is usually fine gold.

Gravelpits: One must have permission, but in years past some people were able to find several oz of gold a year by sluicing the discharge sands from gravelpits. Heavy black sand can often be found at these pits, especially in Western Nebraska.

North Platte River: Very fine gold has been found at various locations along the North Platte.

Platte River: Gold has been found at various locations along the Platte River.

Red Willow County: Check waterways, streams, creeks, and other bodies of water in the area.

South Platte River: Gold had been found between North Platte and the Colorado border along the South Platte.

Nebraska Ghost Towns

Nebraska's Ionia Volcano

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