I was conflicted this week to post what I had scheduled because of the tornado aftermath experience in the Midwest this week. You see, I was born and raised in tornado alley in Nebraska. 17 years ago, my home town had a similar maelstrom experience when 3 tornadoes came through and caused considerable damage in one night. I don’t think anyone was killed but I do think there were injuries and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage to homes and businesses. I hope and pray the communities and families in Oklahoma can recover from this event.
However, since my post and idea for a stop in your summer vacation plans is about the Midwest, I didn’t want to discourage you from visiting. But conflicted or not, I have to write this because we are approaching a special festival week in June in which you can enjoy a little known national monument in the Mid-west.
In 1862, congress passed the Homestead Act allowing 160-acre (1/4 square mile) parcels of land to be “purchased”, settled, and farmed on the Louisiana Purchase and other areas of US territory. In fact, you could homestead parcels of land in Alaska up until 1974 when congress repealed the act! (I would have…if I was living anytime between Alaska’s inception and 1974). If memory serves correctly, you had to file with a land office and pay a $6 fee and then you were granted a deed to your land. You had to work and live on the land for 5 years in order to “own” it.
The Homestead National Monument was proposed and created in the 1930s (that sounds like something you should do when the economy is in the tank right?). The first homesteader was Daniel Freeman and his parcel of land is located just southwest of Beatrice Nebraska on Hwy 4. How do I know this so well? Beatrice is my home town. It’s a small community of about 13,000 but I will get into the details of staying there and “what to do in Nebraska” in a minute.
The Homestead Days is a week-ish long celebration (go on the weekend) with a parade (it is pretty long parade for such a small town), a jet flyover, a car show, and history show (people bring old machinery, horse buggies, settler equipment) in Chautauqua park (l lived only 2 blocks from there). The homestead monument now has a new visitor center which I hear is incredible. There are movies playing all of the time about settling the prairie. The hardships and dangers but also the benefits of farming such fertile land. There is also quite an extensive museum and a replica of Abraham Lincoln’ log cabin in which he grew up.
You can tour part of the 160-acre parcel like a museum with signs that explain the plants (which one smells like lemon pledge..I always remembered that one) and animals native to the area. You can also go across the street to the “one room” school-house which was one of the first in the area. My great-uncle was one of the teachers in that school-house quite a while ago. He said he was a school boy in it but then became a teacher and taught there. It is very much like the school houses you see on tv/movies but in this case you actually get to go inside and look around.
This event and monument could make a great supplemental history lesson/experience for home schooling!
Optimize the Fun
Plan: I would probably plan to spend a Friday night and most of the day Saturday in Beatrice and at the monument. You can go to the Chamber of Commerce to get a detailed plan of the events: barbecue, rodeo, demolition derby, etc.
Hotel: I would stay at the Holiday inn or another hotel on the north side of town on Hwy 77 across the street from the Walmart Supercenter.
Food: I always like eating at Valentino’s (Pizza and other Italian food) in the downtown area. Runza is also something else you should try. It is pretty much just a Nebraska thing. Most everything you need food wise is located on Hwy 77 or “6th” street as it is called when you get into town. The other main intersection is “Court” street and that is where the parade happens.
Other stuff in NE
You probably won’t want to spend more than a day in Beatrice at the Homestead days because it only has about 24-48 hours of fun activities (at least it did when I was there last). So you might want to find some other stuff to do in the heartland. So here is what I suggest:
Capitol Building in Lincoln: Lincoln NE is the state capital and the capital building is one of the tallest (if not the tallest) capital building of all the states. It is worth a trip up to the top and the lobby is filled with Nebraska history in the form of mosaic tile. It is pretty cool.
Henry Doorly Zoo, Aquarium, Desert Dome, Imax, and Jungle: One of the best zoos in the world is located in Omaha. It boasts an indoor jungle with wandering wildlife, a walk through (and under) modern aquarium, and new bio-dome that takes you through several types of deserts that are found on our planet and their natural inhabitants. It is one of the best stops to make in Nebraska and from the looks of it they have a dinosaur exhibit going on now too.
So if you are making your summer trip plans and you find yourself going on I-80 through Nebraska, might as well stop on by the Homestead Days. It’s only about 45 minutes off the interstate. It’s always in early to mid June.
Jarrod – Creative Dad
The Answer to Monday’s Brain Teaser:
Andy likes Byron and not Keates. Andy likes things that begin with a two letter word.