We love exploring America’s back roads and small towns and finding overlooked gems that the tourist brochures never cover. In a series of weekly blog posts we will be sharing some of America’s lesser-known small town museums, historic sites, and oddball attractions, on a state-by-state basis. We don’t have room to cover each and every attraction in every state, but hope to give you some ideas for places to see in your travels.
Alliance: A rather odd attraction you’re sure to remember is Carhenge. Built to resemble England’s mysterious Stonehenge, the zany folks who erected this oddity used old automobiles instead of massive stones.
Alliance: Dobby Lee’s Frontier Village includes a general store, post office, bootlegger’s cabin, Chinese laundry, saloon, blacksmith shop, and even a brothel.
Ashland: The Strategic Air & Space Museum is regarded as the nation’s foremost facility telling the story of the Cold War’s Strategic Air Command. The Museum displays historic aircraft and missiles ranging from a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird to a Soviet MiG 21F.
Aurora: The Plainsman Museum here is one of the finest small town museums anywhere, with displays of farm implements, Indian artifacts, a pioneer sod house, a log cabin, and other structures.
Aurora: The Edgerton Explorit Center is an interesting hands-on science museum named after Dr. Harold Edgerton, an Aurora native who invented the strobe light.
Beatrice: At the Homestead National Monument of America near Beatrice, you can see an 1867 cabin, an 1872 schoolhouse, watch a video on the homesteading era, and walk a 2½ mile trail through nearly 100 acres of restored tallgrass prairie.
Burwell: Costumed guides at restored Fort Harstuff State Historical Park recall the days in the late 1800 when this was a working Army post, with parade grounds, barracks and jail.
Chadron: The Museum of the Fur Trade here is a restored 1833 trading post where traders and mountain men came together to trade furs for supplies.
Columbus: The Quincentenary Belltower in Pawnee Park is a unique monument to Columbus’ first voyage to the New World, made from 10 large bells that peal every 15 minutes, and are historically significant to the area.
Comstock: Custer County, the Sod House Capital of the World, is home to the Dowse Riverview Homestead. The original soddy, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is furnished with period pieces and even the original plow which cut the soil. The Dowse Homestead was the first one in Custer County.
Elmwood: Author Bess Streeter Aldrich lived in Elmwood and the local library houses the Bess Streeter Aldrich Museum.
Fairbury: Rock Creek Station State Historical Park near here includes ruts carved into the earth by wagons headed west on the Oregon Trail and a visitors center with displays on the Oregon Trail and Pony Express. Wild Bill Hickok got his gun slinging start here when he killed the owner of Rock Creek Station and wounded two other men in a gunfight in 1861.
Grand Island: Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer offers a hands-on living history experience that tells the story of early town building in Nebraska. Exhibits include over 100 historic buildings on 200 acres, including log cabins, an 1893 farm, church, schoolhouse, Railroad Town with 50 buildings, and the house where actor Henry Fonda was born.
Harrison: Agate Fossil Beds National Monument preserves extensive fossil beds, and visitors can walk along marked trails to see fossils unearthed by archaeologists.
Hastings: The Hastings Museum displays local historical items and a collection of pre-World War I automobiles.
Hebron: The World’s Largest Porch Swing is located in the city park and will seat 20 adults.
Holdredge: The Nebraska Prairie Museum has been called the “best kept secret in Nebraska” and houses an outstanding collection of pioneer artifacts, as well as displays on the World War II prisoner of war camp that operated near Holdredge.
Kearney: You can experience history at the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument. Audio/visual effects enhance immersive exhibits that come alive for young and old. Listen to stories of the Oregon, Mormon, and California Trails as you stroll along the trail. Ride with the Pony Express, hear the rumble of the Iron Horse, and watch a drive-in movie as you trace the history of transportation and communication right up to the fiber optic age.
Lexington: The Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles at 606 Heartland Road displays everything from Jeeps to trucks to ambulances and armored half-tracks.
Lincoln: The National Museum of Roller Skating houses the world’s largest collection of roller skates and roller skating memorabilia, including a pair of 1819 French roller skates, posters, toys, and anything and everything related to roller skating.
Minden: The Harold Warp Pioneer Village complex comprises 28 buildings on 20 acres housing over 50,000 irreplaceable items of historical value, restored to operating condition. There are 12 historic buildings around the circular “green”; a frontier fort, an original Pony Express Station, steam locomotive, and sod house. The village also has a general store, a toy store, and an original art collection including 25 Currier and Ives prints. Visitors can ride a steam carousel, see 17 historic flying machines, 100 antique tractors, and 350 antique cars.
Nebraska City: Arbor Day was founded in Nebraska City and the home of J. Sterling Morton, the man who conceived the holiday, is now part of Arbor Lodge State Historical Park.
North Platte: During World War II, volunteers at the North Platte Canteen met every troop train coming through town with a warm smile and a hot cup of coffee for the soldiers going off to battle. Relying strictly on donations and volunteer labor, the Canteen served over six million servicemen during its five years of operation, daily pouring out over 14,000 gallons of coffee, another 527 gallons of iced drinks, feeding them 109,500 sandwiches, and nearly 50,000 donuts. The memory of these volunteers’ contributions to the war effort are honored today at the Lincoln County Historical Museum in North Platte. Along with displays on all themes of local and regional history, the museum has a gallery devoted to the North Platte Canteen. Here visitors can see the faces of the young women who met the trains to offer the troops a sandwich and a smile, as well as the faces of those brave young men on their way to combat.
North Platte: Indian scout and Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody built a home on his ranch in North Platte and named it Scout’s Rest. Today the home is Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, with displays from Cody’s life and his famous touring cowboy show.
Omaha: The Durham Museum, housed in the art deco Union Station, tells the story of how railroads shaped the old West and has an impressive collection of artifacts relating to Omaha’s history.
Omaha: Located at Offutt Air Force Base, the Strategic Air Command Museum focuses on the Cold War, displaying a large collection of aircraft and missiles including a B-25, B-29, B-17, and a C-47.
Omaha: The Mormon Trail Center preserves the site where 4,000 Mormon pioneers wintered in 1846 before setting out toward Utah. Displays include pioneer artifacts and one of the handcarts the Mormons used to carry their possessions.
Omaha: The history of African American homesteaders is honored at the Great Plains Black History Museum.
Plainview: More than 2,400 clown dolls of all sizes are displayed at the Klown Doll Museum here.
Red Cloud: Author Willa Cather lived here as a girl and several of her books are set in Red Cloud. Her home is now a State Historic Site, with displays on her life and career.
Royal: Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park is situated on 360 acres of rugged rangeland in the scenic Verdigre Creek Valley. A volcanic eruption 12 million years ago blanketed the area and killed the animals that lived here. Fossil evidence at the site reveals complete, articulated skeletons of large mammals, birds, and turtles, as well as seeds of grasses and trees.
Scotia: The Happy Jack Peak and Chalk Mine has more than 6,000 feet of honeycombed caverns, and features the only publicly accessible chalk room and pillar mine in North America as well as a spectacular view of North Loup Valley.
Scotts Bluff: This was an important landmark for travelers on the Oregon Trail because it meant they had covered a third of their trek west. At Scotts Bluff National Monument visitors can watch a film on the Oregon Trail and see historical exhibits.
Thought For The Day – The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend. – Aristotle