Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln | Homestead National Monument | September 2020
For our last adventure together in September, we left Charlotte at home and drove Southwest for a short day trip. Our first stop was in Lincoln to see both the Lancaster County Courthouse and the Nebraska State Capitol. We parked inbetween the two and went for a short walk around to see and take pictures of both. The courthouse wasn’t anything exciting, just a large plain government building. The capitol building wasn’t all that ornate either — it kind of reminded us of Oregon’s, but with a very tall tower in the middle. It was kind of odd. But hey, another capitol building closer to seeing them all.
Next, we drove South to Gage County. We stopped in Beatrice to see the courthouse — much more architecturally pleasing than Lancaster’s — then continued West to our main stop for the day: Homestead National Monument.
Homestead National Monument exists to commemorate and educate about the Homestead Act of 1862, which was the most significant event in the Westward expansion of the United States. Anyone who was a head of a household, over the age of 21, and had never taken up arms against the US was able to claim a 160 acre plot of land and try out homesteading. People who were able to ‘improve the land’ for 5 years were then given title to their land for free. This system existed in varying forms all the way until 1976, and then until 1986 for Alaska only.
The monument was built on land that was given to Daniel Freeman, the first person to take advantage of the Homestead Act. We started our tour in the Heritage center and museum (which is currently still open with COVID-19, masks required for indoor spaces) and learned about how the Homestead Act was created, how revolutionary the idea was at the time, what people had to do to claim the land, and the struggles they faced while homesteading.
After that, we went for a long walk on the grounds, starting with the Palmer-Epard Cabin, all the way to the education center and Freeman School, then looped back to the Heritage Center. The NPS has made a conscientious effort to return the land to tallgrass prairie, much how it would have appeared in 1862 when Mr. Freeman first claimed his stake. We really enjoyed our time here — the only downside is that dogs aren’t allowed on the grounds, which is why Charlotte had to sit this adventure out. Curtis completed the Not-So-Junior Ranger program and got his matching pin.
We then began our drive home, this time taking US-136 East to Tecumseh to see the Johnson County courthouse — definitely one of our favorites so far! Finally, we took NE-50 back to Omaha.