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Our Town Beatrice: Homestead Future

Pure Nebraska
Published: Feb. 16, 2022 at 10:19 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The National Park System site near Beatrice used to be called Homestead National Monument of America. Now, the park’s name is “Homestead National Historical Park”, and for good reason.

“It’s not just a monument or a building, it’s a total experience,” Rich Hovendick with Friends of Homestead said. “People when they plan on coming here, it’s not going to be just for a five or ten minute period. They can spend the whole day here, or days here. I think the name change is really going to describe what this park is all about.”

Friends of Homestead members say they park recently went through a name change. The idea to change the name gained momentum after a survey. “We had a survey done of first-time visitors to the park, and found out that over a year’s period, 89 percent of those people were confused by the old name,” Hovendick said. “They thought a ‘monument’ was just one thing they were going to come see instead of the entire park experience.”

It’s believed the name change will bring in more visitors, and help people realize just how much there is to do at the park. “We, of course, have the cultural resources, but we have a lot of American History,” Tim Colyer with the National Park Service said. “You can view the cabin, which is an original homesteader cabin, and imagine what it might have been like to live in that tiny cabin with a family of eight. If you like bird-watching or wildlife viewing, the tallgrass prairie provides great opportunities. If your interest is farming, we have the farm implement wing that shows different pieces of farm equipment through the agricultural history that goes with the homestead.”

The group “Friends of Homestead” worked with Nebraska’s congressional delegation for years to make the name change a reality. It all began in 2008, when a bill was introduced in the United States House of Representatives. That bill didn’t pass. Then, a bill was brought up again in 2018, but did not pass, either. Finally, another bill did pass the House in 2019, and the Senate in 2020...but almost didn’t see the light of day. “The very last day of 2020, December 31st, all of the bills have to be passed or they have to go through the cycle again for another two years,” Hovendick said. “It was the absolute last bill that was brought to the floor and passed was our bill and then they adjourned. Then the bill sat on the President’s desk and he signed it into law on on January 13th, 2021.”

The group “Friends of Homestead” is thankful for Nebraska’s congressional delegation for helping the bill become law. With the new name, the park can continue to focus on the significance of the Homestead Act of 1862, which brought settlers west. “Homestead National Historical Park sits on the original 160 acre homestead parcel, that was established by Daniel Freeman and he did what they call “prove up” on that property so it became his after 5 years,” Colyer said. “We tell the story not only of Daniel Freeman but of all the homesteaders, and we continue to build on that story.”

What’s in a name? In this case, the Homestead name change means an even brighter future. “During the pandemic years, I think it’s a little too soon to talk about just how it impacts our visitation patterns,” Colyer said. “But it definitely changes our messaging, and helps people better understand what the park has to offer. So many times when you hear ‘monument’, you think of a singular resource that you are focused on. Homestead National Historical Park has a lot more than that.”

So the next time your are in Our Town Beatrice, make sure you take a short drive outside of town, to experience Homestead National Historical Park.

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