It’s no secret that we love our historical sites here in Nebraska. A big portion of our collective recreation time is spent visiting the places that played big roles in our state’s history. Nebraska has a total of
20 designated National Historic Landmarks and countless other slightly less official historic landmarks – these are 10 of the “official” ones everyone definitely needs to see.
1. Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, Nebraska City
J. Sterling Morton, secretary of agriculture under President Grover Cleveland, built this 52-room mansion to resemble the White House. Morton was the founder of Arbor Day and a champion of agriculture. The entire estate is open for visitation, and tours of the mansion are available for a fee.
2. Ash Hollow State Historical Park, Lewellen
This panhandle park features two main attractions: Ash Hollow Cave and Windlass Hill. The historic cave was occupied by several distinct cultures over a period of some 1,500 years thanks to its ideal location near water and hunting grounds. Windlass Hill was a landmark on the Oregon-California Trail that marked the entrance to the North Platte River valley. Ash Hollow was also the site of a battle between the U.S. Army and a band of Brule Lakota in 1855.
Today, Ash Hollow State Park features a visitors center, a paved walking path, and an old sod house along with some incredibly beautiful scenery.
3. Boys Town
The birthplace of the famous non-profit children's welfare organization is now an historic site where you can learn about Father Flanagan's early efforts to improve the lives of troubled children.
4. Captain Meriwether Lewis Dredge, Brownville
Named for one half of the famed due Lewis and Clark, the side-wheel steam-powered dredge was used starting in the 1930s to maintain the Missouri River's navigability. In 1976, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gifted the dredge to the Nebraska State Historical Society. Today it sits on dry land in Brownville and houses the Museum of Missouri River History, which is more interesting than it might sound.
5. Fort Atkinson, Fort Calhoun
This fort was the first U.S. Army post built west of the Missouri River, and it has been credited as the very first town in what is now Nebraska. Inhabited from 1819 to 1827, the fort had all of the services and conveniences of any frontier town. The fort buildings at the modern site are reconstructions of the originals. This is a fun place to experience some Nebraska history first-hand.
6. Fort Robinson, near Crawford
This former Army fort in the Pine Ridge region played an important role in the struggles between the U.S. Army and the Native Americans who inhabited the area. Crazy Horse surrendered and was killed here in 1877, and the fort later housed the first all-black unit, the Buffalo Soldiers. There is so much more history at Fort Robinson than we can squeeze in here, so it's best to visit the site and learn all about it while enjoying a day out in one of Nebraska's most beautiful regions.
7. Nebraska State Capitol Building, Lincoln
The state capitol building is a magnificent piece of architecture designed by Bertram G. Goodhue. The interior is full of gorgeous murals, tile mosaics, and historic chambers. It's a one-of-a-kind experience that every Nebraskan should have at least once. Even if you aren't an architecture fan, this building and its grounds are very impressive.
8. Robidoux Pass, near Gering
Comfortable resting places were few and far between on the Oregon Trail, so the trading post at Robidoux Pass - a natural opening through the bluffs - was a welcome sight to thousands of emigrants. The trading post was abandoned after another, easier gap was opened. The buildings at the site are all reconstructed and provide a great look at Nebraska life in the Oregon Trail days. You'll have to venture to the nearby Scotts Bluff National Monument to read up on Robidoux Pass, but since you're in the area already you should definitely be visiting both places anyway.
9. Susan LaFlesche Picotte Hospital, Walthill
Dr. Susan Flesche Picotte was the first Native American doctor. This hospital was the first developed for Native Americans on a reservation that was funded privately with no government money thanks to the doctor's tireless fundraising efforts. Although it hasn't been used as a hospital since the 1940s, it has been in continuous use in various capacities since then. It is currently the home of Mi'Jhu'Wi Ministries which provides services to people on the Omaha reservation.
10. Willa Cather House, Red Cloud
This historic house is where the famed Nebraska writer lived as a child. Her experiences here and in the surrounding area provided inspiration for her books about prairie life. Much of the town is dedicated to memorializing Cather, with several tours leading visitors through various buildings.
These are just a sampling of the historic places to visit in Nebraska; many more are of equal significance and interest but aren’t (yet) designated by the federal government as such. Have you visited all of these landmarks? Which was your favorite? Share your stories in the comments.