Once a rough and rowdy river town, Nebraska’s largest city became a major transportation hub in 1868 with the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Today, it’s a 21st-century leader in telecommunications, insurance and manufacturing, as well as the home of the Strategic Air Command, a vital link in national defense. An active downtown is based around a five-block area known as Old Market. Attractions here include art galleries, trendy boutiques, gourmet dining, dynamic night life and two world-renowned museums. Beautiful architecture blends with memories of a time gone by at the Durham Western Heritage Museum. Opened in 1931, Union Station was built by the Union Pacific Railroad as a showpiece in the city of its headquarters. Now the renovated Art Deco building offers a look at Omaha’s history from prairie town to thriving metropolis. Joslyn Art Museum is a Smithsonian affiliate. It houses 19th- and 20th-century European and American art. It’s most noted for its impressive Western art collection, which includes sculptures, paintings and photographs by such noted artists as George Catlin, Frederic Remington and George Caleb Bingham.
Located on the campus of Metropolitan Community College, the General Crook House Museum was built in 1878 to serve as the residence for the commander of the Department of the Platte. Its first occupant was General George Crook and his family. Crook gained fame in the Civil War during the Shenandoah Valley campaign, and then went on to become a U.S. Army Indian fighter. To his credit, even his Native American adversaries considered him an honorable man. The house is an Italianate style, which represented the no-nonsense grandeur of the military frontier. Adjoining the museum is an heirloom garden with more than 110 trees, shrubs and flowers native to Nebraska.
Specialty museums include Boys Town USA Hall of History, El Museo Latino, Florence Mill, Mormon Trail Center, Nebraska Jewish Historical Society, Great Plains Black History Museum and Sokol South Omaha Czechoslovak Museum.
Fort Robinson State Park is northwest Nebraska’s key historical attraction. This outpost served from the days of the Indian Wars until just after World War II. This was the site of the 1879 Cheyenne Outbreak and the death of famed Sioux Chief Crazy Horse. Over the years, the fort has been headquarters for the Red Cloud Indian Agency, a cavalry remount station, a K-9 dog-training center, a POW camp and a beef-research station. Today its 22,000 acres offer Pine Ridge scenery, compelling Old West history exhibits, vast outdoor recreation opportunities and comfortable lodging. The State Historical Society now operates a museum year round that details the varied activities that have occurred on the site. This group also maintains many restored and reconstructed buildings and opens them for public tours during the summer months.
The Museum of the Fur Trade is built on the grounds of a 19th-century American Fur Co. post. Exhibits explain the materials and the methods of the fur trade from Greenland to Alaska and from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico during the five centuries of active trading with native people. The museum’s collection of more than 6,000 items represents every type of object exchanged by Europeans and Americans with the native people of North America. A special part of the museum’s collection is firearms made exclusively for sale to Indians. More than 200 Northwest guns manufactured between 1751 and 1900 in England, Belgium and the United States are on exhibit. See the earliest known intact trade gun, which was made in the Netherlands before 1650, as well as the personal firearms of Kit Carson and Chief Tecumseh. The obvious kinds of artifacts such as weapons, blankets and beads are represented, but many unusual goods such as gimlets, quill smoothers, playing cards, trunks, tobacco boxes and jewelry are also displayed.
Nebraska’s capital city is home to the University of Nebraska, whose Cornhuskers football team is so popular that it has sold out every home game since 1962. The University of Nebraska State Museum is known for its collections of elephant fossils and Native-American artifacts.