Out and About
Discover Our State’s History
By Deborah Daley
American novelist Pearl S. Buck said, “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” History reveals the story of who we are, where we came from, and, potentially, where we are headed. Nebraska is fortunate to have an organization called History Nebraska which collects, preserves, and shares the stories of Nebraskans. Their records are open to anyone who wishes to learn more about the state and its people.
The group was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society. The citizens who founded it recognized that Nebraska was going through great changes, and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883.
Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. In 2018, the agency was rebranded as History Nebraska to broaden the reach of the organization, especially in the digital world, and to remove any barriers (like a membership requirement) that the term “society” might bring.
“I think people would be amazed at the vast network of sites and the opportunities we have to learn about history in person and also digitally,” says Marketing Director Chris Goforth. “Our services include archaeology, collections, digital curation, publications, managing numerous historical sites and museums, identifying and maintaining historical markers, and much more.”
The home office is in Lincoln, but there are sites, museums, and historical venues all over the state. The agency manages and maintains all the sites, including the buildings, staff, artifacts, and special collections.
In Lincoln, their historical sites include the Thomas Kennard House and the Nebraska History Museum. Thomas Kennard was Nebraska’s first Secretary of State, and his house is the oldest remaining structure in the original housing plat of Lincoln. The Nebraska History Museum covers 13,000 years of history with over 125,000 historical objects. It is a popular destination for school field trips.
In Omaha, History Nebraska manages the Ford Conservation Center adjacent to Gerald Ford’s home. The staff there provides conservation services and historical item consultation to individuals, museums, libraries, corporations, and government agencies.
In the northeastern part of the state, you’ll find the John C. Neihardt Home in Bancroft. It houses exhibits and a library of works by Nebraska’s first poet laureate. In Neligh, you can walk through the Neligh flour mill to see how flour was produced with water power in the late 19th century.
Head to the northwest corner of the state to visit Fort Robinson and see artifacts from its active period from the mid 19th century through World War II. Out in the panhandle, you can visit the Chimney Rock Museum to see the landmark spire and a visitor’s center showcasing westward migration. In McCook, you can check out the preserved home of Senator George Norris, who served in the United States Congress for 40 years. Senator Norris fought to bring public power to rural Nebraska through the Rural Electrification Act.
History Nebraska is committed to providing comprehensive avenues for involvement and has many virtual programs for easy access. “Teachers across the state enjoy bringing students to our museums and sites,” Chris notes. “We have developed educational programs to assist them with learning Nebraska history.” Families with Nebraska roots also enjoy exploring the history of the state. “We have the largest collection of Nebraska artifacts in the world, and our services are for everyone.”
History Nebraska is responsible for historical preservation and for registering and managing the state’s historical markers. Sites range from homes to identifiers of important locations of battles or other historical activities.
Chris was born and raised in Nebraska. He worked in radio for 15 years and came to love learning about his community and its heritage. He joined History Nebraska seven years ago. “Some people think history is just in books. There are so many other ways to experience history!” Chris asserts.
History Nebraska challenges itself to present history in creative ways. It is funded by the state, with additional support from generous donors, earned revenue, and optional memberships that provide access to free tickets at historical sites, discounts at gift shops, and a quarterly magazine. Neil Dustin Thomas, a visitor from Lincoln, describes his experience as “awesome and intriguing.” Sue Peterson Clement of Grand Island says, “History Nebraska does the important work of being the caretaker and promoter of the gems of Nebraska history in every corner of our state.”
“Many people and cultures have made Nebraska their home,” Chris concludes. “We are here to share their amazing stories from our rich past.” Learn about History Nebraska’s programs, historical sites, and events at history.nebraska.gov. The main office is at 1500 R Street, in Lincoln. Reach them by phone at 402-471-3270.
Chris Goforth, Marketing Director