KEARNEY, Neb. (KMTV) – Known as the home of the Sandhill Crane, Kearney is a town for all seasons. With a combination of historical and cultural attractions, Nebraska’s central city is ideal for a day trip or a weekend adventure. Here’s what to check out when visiting Kearney.
You can not miss it. the ark spans Interstate 80, tracing the history of the Old West as European-Americans traveled west along the California, Oregon, and Mormon trails. In search of a better life, people packed up their belongings and headed for the plains. Sadly, as you will learn through interactive exhibits, they experienced trouble, loss and death. The trails became a dumping ground, as people threw away their material possessions – from pianos to cabinets – to lighten the loads in their boxcars, which got bogged down in mud and soft ground.
Exhibits provide insight into key events and places people encountered on the trails, such as seeing Chimney Rock, meaning they were approaching the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Even tragic events, like the Donner Party, are covered.
The Ark also presents a different take on westward movement, with a gallery centered on US Highway 30, aka the Lincoln Highway. It was the country’s first transcontinental highway, connecting the two coasts and traversing 17 states. With the advancement of modern transportation, Highway 30 opened up America to new experiences, and the museum examines camping, drive-ins, and malt shops.
The museum also includes attractions for children, with a small playground outside. After exploring The Archway, head to the nearby trail for a short walk and watch for waterfowl on the small Archway pond.
Nebraska State Fire Museum
Offering insight into the history of the Nebraska Fire Department, the Nebraska State Fire Museum and the education center shares the roles of firefighters and EMS personnel with the public. Finding permanent housing was important to the state fire association after it had two temporary homes before moving to Kearney in 2009.
With firefighting equipment from the early 1900s, including horse-drawn hose carts, to modern equipment, the firefighter museum showcases a range of classic trucks.
Outside, you’ll find a memorial honoring more than 100 Nebraskanians who dedicated their lives as firefighters or emergency medical personnel responders, volunteers, or in professional roles.
Nebraska Art Museum
the Nebraska Art Museum (MONA) is one of the coolest museums we’ve been to. It all starts with the building. Located inside a century-old former post office, the building was designed in the classic Art Deco style, seemingly prophetic for its later life as an art museum.
Inside, you’ll find paintings, sculptures, and other works by Nebraska artists or artists with Nebraska ties. The galleries are open, making it easy to move from exhibit to exhibit. Sure, you’ll find paintings and photographs of sandhill cranes, but they sit alongside pieces showcasing the state’s geography, people, and wildlife. Landscapes, cityscapes and agrarian scenes come to life on three floors.
My favorite part of MONA is the Cliff Hillegass Sculpture Garden. Named for the University of Midland alumnus and founder of CliffsNotes – yes, the CliffNotes that many of us used in school when we didn’t have the time or interest to read some of the classics for class. The garden features unique pieces, such as a man and woman playing basketball, wild animals, and even a sculpture of Hillegass, sitting on a bench with a copy of CliffsNotes in his hand.
MONA is undergoing a major expansion that will almost double its surface area. The work should be completed in 2023.
Classic car collection
It’s so easy to spend hours at Classic car collection. Conveniently located on Highway 30, the museum’s collection boasts over 200 vintage vehicles, most from Bernie and Janice Taulborg. The other vehicles have been donated by other car enthusiasts or are on loan from other collections.
As the Taulborgs grew older, they sought to find a home for vehicles, ranging from vintage trucks to Corvettes, rather than selling them piecemeal. In 2011 they agreed to donate 137 vehicles for a new museum in Kearney. Later, they donated six more vehicles. As the museum grew, it added classic cars and trucks.
The museum is a fun walk through history. From Model Ts to Ford Thunderbirds, visitors discover an impressive automotive history. Exhibits tell a story, whether with photos from certain eras or scenes, like an old-fashioned drive-in theater, gas station, or retro downtown setting.
Fort Kearny State Historic Park
Explore a blacksmith building, parade grounds, or perhaps throw a misbehaving member of your party into the stockade at Fort Kearny State Historic Park. With a shell of an 1800s military fort, the reconstructed buildings provide a glimpse of prairie life for cavalry soldiers.
Established in 1848, Fort Kearny served as a stop for Pony Express riders and provided protection for settlers traveling along the California and Oregon trails, as well as gold diggers. Soldiers also provided security for workers building the transcontinental railroad.
The fort was decommissioned in 1871, its buildings demolished and the land sold under the Homestead Act. In the early 1900s the land was purchased by a civic group and later became a state park in 1959.
Home to special exhibits on its history, Fort Kearny is also a great place to view sandhill cranes in the spring. A State Parks Permit is required and can be purchased locally.
Fort Kearny State Recreation Area
With over 180 acres, the Fort Kearny State Recreation Area offers camping, fishing, hiking or simply the opportunity to spend time in nature. With a paved path, it’s great for walking, running, or biking.
With several sandy lakes, the recreation area includes swimming in a park lake, as well as the Platte River. Fish the waters or spot wildlife, as the area of the state is another great place to spot sandhill cranes in early spring.
Modern and primitive camping is available at Fort Kearny State Recreation Area. The park requires a state parks permit for entry.
GW Frank Museum of History and Culture
Built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, the Frank Mansion was an example of wealth when it was built in 1890 for George and Phoebe Frank. Originally located outside of Kearney, the mansion was built of Colorado sandstone and was among the first in the western United States to have electricity installed when it was built.
the GW Frank Museum of History and Culture features a look at the Frank family, as well as other exhibits highlighting Kearney’s history, such as an exhibit recalling when tuberculosis patients were cared for on the mansion’s third floor in 1912, during the ‘White Death’.
While Kearney makes a great day trip from Omaha (about a two and a half hour drive), you might want to spend a weekend and check out other attractions, such as the Kearney Area Children’s Museum and the Trails and Rails Museum. Kearney also presents exceptional catering options for a unique weekend trip.