Homestead National Historical Park, located in Nebraska, is part of the National Park Service, within the Department of the Interior. The 200 acre park is situated four miles west of Beatrice, Nebraska. This park, established in 1936 tells the Homesteading story of America. Each year, thousands of visitors come to enjoy the unique experiences that only can be had at Homestead National Historical Park. We invite you to explore the park’s rich history. Take a hike through the tallgrass prairie and experience the sounds and smells that bring the site to life. For those seeking to learn more about the park during their visit, audio description hand held devices are available at the Heritage Center.
Homestead Heritage Center
Inside the Homestead Heritage Center state-of-the-art exhibits present homesteading in an interactive setting. Such topics as the Act’s influence on immigration, agriculture, industrialization, native tribes, the tallgrass prairie ecosystem and Federal land policies are presented in an educational and thought-provoking manner. A diverse, detailed and complete picture of homesteading and the Homestead Act are presented at the Homestead Heritage Center. The building is designed to represent the Homestead Act of 1862 with its spectacular views and unique roof line resembling a single bottom plow moving through the sod. Even the parking lot is educational in nature; it is one acre in size.
The museum at the Homestead Heritage Center focuses on the following themes:
- Legislating Westward Expansion
- Agricultural Revolution
- Displacement of American Indians
- Migration and Immigration
- Confronting Reality of Life on a Homestead
- Meeting Daily Challenges
- School Days – Then and Now
- First and Last Homestader
- Success and Failure
- Legacy of the Homestead Act
Homestead Education Center
Homestead National Historical Park uses the Education Center to provide today’s visitors the opportunity to meet their quest for further knowledge about homesteading through Hands-on arts and crafts or living history demonstrations, real life science experiences, and distance learning. The Education Center also hosts many temporary exhibits and special programs. Talk to the Ranger in the Education Center or Heritage Center about these opportunities.
The Palmer-Epard Cabin was built in 1867 from mixed hardwoods, by George W. Palmer about 14 miles northeast of the Monument. It is representative of local construction style and considered luxurious in size measuring 14 x 16 feet. Imagine living in this one room cabin with 10 children. Between 1875 and 1880, a 10 x 12 foot lean-to was added to the rear of the original cabin and the Palmers continued to live in it until 1895 when it was sold to nephews Eugene Mumford and William Foreman. A few years later, the farm was resold to Lawrence and Ida Mumford Epard. The Epards lived in the cabin for nearly 40 years. The cabin was moved to Homestead National Historical Park in June of 1950 and placed on a concrete foundation and rehabilitated by park employees. It was moved in 1954 away from Nebraska Highway 4 right of way and then again in 1961 behind the Education Center.
The Freeman School serves as a reminder of the role the schoolhouse played in the history of the prairie frontier. Officially known as school District Number 21, the school was a center of education for prairie children from 1872 until 1967. During its long history, the school was also a meeting place for the First Trinity Lutheran Church, the polling place for Blakely Township, and a gathering place for many debates, socials and clubs. It is not known if it was named after Thomas Freeman , a local bricklayer, or Daniel Freeman, a local homesteader. Both men served on the school board at one time. Daniel garnered national attention with his protest against bible-based lessons at the school. Books and supplies were precious in one-room schools. Many students had to supply their own texts, often the family Bible. However, in 1881, the Freeman School provided textbooks for its students, ten years before it was required by the legislature. Some furnishings were hand-made, but the Freeman School had desks shipped from Indiana. Teachers were young, sometimes younger than their oldest students. Salaries were meager, and many teachers were housed and fed by the student’s families.
Daniel Freeman Homestead
One of the first people to file a claim under the Homestead Act of 1862 was Daniel Freeman. The site of his claim is now the site of Homestead National Historical Park. This site commemorates the lives and accomplishments of all pioneers and the changes brought about by the Homestead Act. Legend has it that Daniel Freeman filed his claim 10 minutes after midnight at the Land Office in Brownville, NE on January 1, 1863, the first day the Homestead Act went into effect. Mr. Freeman came from Illinois to Nebraska alone and began corresponding with Agnes Suiter, a young woman from LeClaire, Iowa. Agnes had been engaged to Daniel’s brother James, who died in the Civil War. Daniel proposed marriage through the mail, and in 1865, brought his new bride back to his homestead claim. There, they had 8 children over the years. As the children grew, some married and built homes on the old homestead. During the tenure of the Freeman family, a variety of structures were built upon the land. A small log cabin was built in the north forty of the claim, as well as traditional farming outbuildings. This cabin was often photographed and later depicted in engravings as the First Homestead Cabin. In later years, the family was financially secure enough to build a two-story brick house near the woodland edge of the claim. A barn and other outbuildings were built nearby. Other features of the homestead included an Osage Orange hedgerow, planted and pruned to keep animals out of productive fields. Remains of this hedgerow still exist on the land today. The Freeman family and tenant farmers planted corn, wheat, and oats and orchards of apple and peach trees. The brick house burned in 1916, 8 years after Daniel Freeman’s death in 1908. It was replaced with a small wood frame house near that site for Daniel and Agnes’ daughter Agnes Freeman Quackenbush. A similar house was built for Agnes next to the old freight road near the center of the claim. She often cared for grandchildren there, and lived in the home nearly until her death in 1931. None of the Freeman homes exist on the site today.
Homestead National Monument of America offers over three miles of trails through the sweeping tallgrass prairie and quiet bur oak woodland for hiking, cross-country skiing, and nature study. Trail maps are available from either visitor center. In the winter the snow-covered trails are not groomed for skis.
Pack your picnic and binoculars and walk the trails to the prairie plaza. Lunch and view the wildlife in the heart of Homestead’s tallgrass prairie.
Land of Dreams Film
“Land of Dreams — Homesteading America” is a 23 minute film that can be seen at the Heritage Center. The film uses personal interviews of American Indians, homesteaders and their descendants to weave together the memories of hope and frustration, defeat, and success.
Through these accounts, the history of homesteading becomes tangible, leaping out of textbooks and engaging new generations with the stories of the people who built much of our country with their dreams and fortitude.
There is no fee to visit Homestead National Historical Park. Entrance to grounds, visitor centers, parking areas, and special events are all free.