Day 7: Beatrice, NE

Trip Start Jul 21, 2010
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Trip End Jul 29, 2010


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Where I stayed
Homestead National Monument of America (U.S. National Park Service)

Flag of United States  , Nebraska
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When we finish in Lincoln, (with several pieces of pie for the road) we hop into the car again and go an hour south of Lincoln to Beatice, NE (pronounced Bee-Atris, accent on first syllable). What is in Beatrice, NE, you ask?  Well, this is the sight of the very first homestead after The Homestead Act of 1862 was passed.  On this location is now the Homestead National Monument of America, and the National Park Service runs a museum, education center, and an original restored one-room schoolhouse. The monument was actually planned back in 1936 when the government bought back the land from the descendants of the first homesteader.  He
was one of the 40% of homesteaders who actually managed to "prove up" on
their claim and got to keep his land.  I can hardly say enough about this National Park (Mom bought a bumper sticker that says "I support ANP – America's National Parks," if that gives you an idea).  It was really well put together, enjoyable, easy to follow, and informative.

To start, the Park Service maintains the Daniel Freeman School in its original location, up the street from Education Center.  It was built in 1872 and was still in operation until 1967, making it the oldest continuously operating school in Nebraska.  The schoolhouse has since been restored to around its founding year, with wooden desks, slates, and textbooks from the era.  In addition, we saw pictures and grade books from the school’s history; some of the kids still live in Beatrice or near by communities.  The grass behind the school has been mowed quite a few times to make room for a playground, but the grounds have never been plowed, making it original prairie soil. Pretty cool!

Next, the education center down the road features two different picture exhibits. The first exhibit entitled "Landmarks in a Sea of Grass: Grain Elevators and the American Landscape by Bruce Selyem," is striking black and white photographs of grain silos from all over the Midwest.  These grain silos used to be central to pioneer towns along the railroad because they stored all of the town’s grain for the cold winter and storm season.  With the advent of the interstate, however, these grain silos became unnecessary, since farmers now shipped their grain and towns developed more sophisticated storage methods.  Sadly, these once great buildings are now abandoned and falling apart.  Once we were aware of this issue, we began noticing grain silos in many of the cities we drove through so we took our own pictures (see attached.)  There was also a farm implement equipment shop that taught us about the evolution of corn harvesting

Finally, we watched a video on farm implements that was actually pretty interesting and walked around the exhibits at the Heritage Center, just a little further up the road.  The building itself is very odd looking, like the front end of it tips up into the sky,  It turns out it is supposed to look like land that has just been plowed.  Along the entrance to the museum is a wall with flat metal shapes of each of the states that allowed homesteading.  Each shape has a square cut out to represent the percent of homestead lands.  The museum did a really good job of recognizing and incorporating the joy and excitement of the Manifest Destiny with the pain and heartache of the American Indians who were driven off their land during this time.  We learned that freed slaves were able to homestead and saw an old poster encouraging them to do it.  The exhibits answered some of our questions about the process of homesteading for families like the Ingalls and Wilders. All around the Education Center there were plaques and banners honoring the decedents of homesteaders, including, among others, Whoppi Goldberg.  Before we left, we saw a century old log cabin with the backdrop of prairie grasses.

More pictures of Days 7 & 8 at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=192683&id=837899636&l=7aa16c6b18
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