Nebraska is known for its vast and beautiful prairies, an incredible food scene, the friendliest people around, and a low cost of living — but our amazing state is also bursting with history. There are more than 500 historic sites around Nebraska that are waiting to share the stories of great people, places and events that made our home what it is today.
We rounded up 18 must-see attractions around the eastern part of the state, so you can get started on planning your historic tour of Nebraska! Which landmark will you visit first?
Start planning out your road trip using our interactive map!
Photo courtesy of Arbor Lodge Mansion
Did you know that Arbor Day was founded in Nebraska? In 1872, Nebraska City locals J. Sterling and Caroline Morton challenged people everywhere to plant as many trees as they could on April 10th. On that first Arbor Day, as it came to be known, it’s estimated that over a million trees were planted in the Nebraska territory. Today, you can tour the Mortons’ home and the stunning grounds that are, of course, full of trees, shrubs, walking trails and beautiful gardens.
Around 12 million years ago, a volcano in southwest Idaho spread a blanket of ash over a very large area, including one or two feet of grasslands in northeastern Nebraska. As animals continued to graze on the ash-covered grass, they began to die, leaving their skeletons completely preserved. At the Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park, you can explore the laboratories, view historic treasures and even picnic throughout the grounds!
Regarded as the oldest building in Nebraska, the Bellevue Log Cabin was constructed between 1830 and 1835 and built close to the Missouri River as a part of the Jacob Astor Fur Trading Post. The cabin was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, and you can schedule a tour of the property by contacting the Sarpy County Museum.
In 1917, Edward J. Flanagan rented a boarding house on the edge of downtown Omaha and established a refuge for homeless boys of all races and religions. In the first year, they served over 1,000 young men and became known as Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys. When they realized that more space was needed, they secured a farm west of Omaha, which became the permanent home for the Village of Boys Town. Boys Town has been a National Historic Monument since 1985 and offers plenty of space for you to explore, from the Hall of History to the Boys Town Visitor Center.
The Ferguson House, built between 1909 and 1911 by William Henry and Myrtle Ferguson, is located in downtown Lincoln. While this gorgeous home has had many uses over the years, it currently houses the Nebraska Environmental Trust. Because the Ferguson House is used as an office building, it isn’t open to public tours except for one open house a year in early December. But, even if you can’t get a look inside, the exceptional exterior architecture is definitely worth seeing in person!
In 1867, Elijah and Emma Filley, along with their two sons and Elijah’s father, arrived in Gage County. They lived in a tent until they completed building their seven-room dwelling, “Cottage Hill Farm”. Elijah then began to build a barn, the news of which spread throughout the territory and brought men from all over the area looking for work. They finished the still standing stone barn in 1874. Today, you can visit the outside anytime you like, or schedule a tour of the barn interior by contacting the Gage County Museum. Plus, don’t forget to stop by during the annual Harvest Festival in October, which features antique tractors, horse-drawn equipment, blacksmith demonstrations and more!
Photo courtesy of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
Established in 1820 on the recommendation of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Fort Atkinson was the first U.S. military post west of the Missouri River. If you’re looking to get a taste of American history, you can visit the reconstructed outpost any time you’d like! Bring the whole family and enjoy one of their living history demonstrations, which take place throughout the summer and fall.
The Fontenelle Bank is settled at the corner of Mission Avenue and Main Street in Old Towne Bellevue. Built in 1857, the bank operated there for just a few months before failing due to the Panic of 1857. It then was used as a courtroom and office building before being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969. It is considered the oldest commercial public building in the state of Nebraska. You’re welcome to tour it and see the historical artifacts inside after making an appointment with the Sarpy County Historical Museum.
This authentically restored home of General George Cook was built in 1879 in an Italianate style and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. You can tour the home any day of the week and get a taste of what life was like for a commanding officer living in the Frontier during the 1880s. No matter what time of year you visit, the home is sure to be a stunning sight with the gorgeous heirloom garden blooming in the warmer months and the grand holiday decorations that adorn the entire house during November and December!
Photo courtesy of Collin Rasmussen via Downtown Lincoln
The Haymarket can be traced back to Lincoln’s first decade as a town. In 1867, at the very beginning of Lincoln’s history, “Market Square” was a designated space between O and P Streets and featured an open-air market for produce and livestock as well as a camping ground for immigrants. In 1874, the city and state donated the original “Market Square” and moved the market two blocks north, creating “Haymarket Square”, where scales were provided for weighing hay, cattle and produce. Today, the area is full of great restaurants, unique shopping and fun nightspots located among restored turn-of-the-century warehouses.
The Homestead Act of 1862 was one of the most significant events in the westward expansion of the United States. The act granted 160 acres of free land to claimants, turning vast amounts of the public domain to private citizens. 10 percent of the United States was claimed and settled under this act and the Homestead National Monument of America, located in Southeast Nebraska, was created to commemorate it. The area offers plenty of things to do including exploring the Homestead Heritage Center, which is full of exhibits where you can learn about the impact of the Homestead Act on the United States. You can also visit the Palmer-Epard Cabin, see the community garden, and hike the oldest restored tallgrass prairie in the National Park Service!
While Joslyn Castle might not be an actual castle, it’s still a remarkable site. This gorgeous mansion is located in the Gold Coast Historic District of Omaha and was built by Sarah and George Joslyn, the area’s first millionaires and philanthropists. Many local institutions benefited from George and Sarah’s generosity, including the University of Omaha, the Nebraska Humane Society, the Fontanelle Home for the Aged and many more. The castle-like mansion was completed in 1903 and features 35 different rooms (including a few hidden ones) that you can explore during a guided tour.
Lincoln’s railroad era began in 1870 when the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad became the first line to enter the new capital. They went through several different station buildings before landing on the current, 1927 Neo-classical Revival style depot that still stands today. The building was renovated in 1989, to provide shops, offices and the “Great Hall” in the former waiting room. Today, the station is an event venue — adding the perfect touch of history and glamour to holiday parties, weddings or any other shindig you can think of!
In addition to being home to our nation’s only one-house nonpartisan legislature, the Nebraska State Capitol is also recognized for its unique architecture. Instead of the grand dome you’ll often find in capitol buildings, ours features a 400-foot tower with an observation deck that offers unbeatable views of the city. Visit the building to take in the history, observe some great artwork and soak in the views! After you’re done touring the inside, take a load off at one of the Capitol Courtyards to enjoy a picnic and the beautiful city.
Laurence Fossler served as professor of German Language at the University of Nebraska from 1889 to 1926. In 1905, Fossler wrote the Board of Regents about wanting to plant the Schiller Linden Tree on the University grounds, intended as a homage to the linden-lined street in Berlin, Germany. During WWI, the tree became a symbolic victim to the wrath of the anti-German sentiment around the country and the tree’s plaque mysteriously disappeared. In 1933, a new plaque was dedicated after Fossler’s death and the tree continues to stand proudly as a testament to Fossler and the rest of Lincoln’s German community who helped make the university what it is today.
Built by Nebraska’s first Secretary of State, the Kennard House is the oldest remaining building in Lincoln’s original plat. It was restored during Lincoln’s centennial anniversary in 1967 and features beautiful Victorian furnishings and exhibits that will transport you directly to the past. You can get a tour of the gorgeous estate any time of the year by calling 402-471-4445!
Photo courtesy of Durham Museum
While the old Union Station now houses the Durham Museum, that doesn’t mean you can’t soak up the history when you visit. The stunning architecture has been preserved and harkens back to days gone by. Plus, the museum has ties with the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, the National Archives and the Field Museum in Chicago so you can dig even further into history than you ever thought possible!
Willa Sibert Cather was an American writer who is recognized for her novels about frontier life on the Great Plains. When she was 9 years old, her family moved to Red Cloud, Nebraska to escape the tuberculosis outbreaks that were rampant in her home state of Virginia. Her novels were intensely influenced by the dramatic weather and environment of the Nebraska Prairie. You can visit the home where she grew up and became inspired by the landscape all year long! The National Willa Cather Center invites you to experience the life, times and work of one of the West’s most beloved authors by touring her home, reading her work and even visiting her favorite opera house. Click here for the museum’s full hours.
Ready to explore?
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