Tag Archives: prairie

Homestead National Monument of America

Overview

In the midst of the Civil War, a Republican-dominated legislature passed the Homestead Act of 1862, which allowed citizens to stake a claim to 160 acres of unappropriated government land.  Until its repeal in 1976, over 270-million acres across 30 states were transferred from public land to private ownership under this law.  Potential landowners had to apply and pay a fee then “prove up” their claim by farming at least 10 acres and building a home within five years.  Nebraska’s Homestead National Monument of America was authorized in 1936 to remember this era of settlement.

Highlights

Heritage Center, film, Palmer-Epard cabin, Freeman School, restored tallgrass prairie

Must-Do Activity

Since 1939, half of this 200-acre piece of land has been managed to resemble the tallgrass prairie that existed here when the Freeman family claimed this T-shaped homestead on January 1, 1863.  It was one of the first farms started after passage of the Homestead Act by Congress.  Inside the Heritage Center, there are many unique exhibits that tell the story of settlement across the western United States of America (plus Florida).  Do not forget to stop by the Education Center and one-room Freeman Schoolhouse that was used from 1872 to 1967.

Best Trail

At the National Monument, 2.5 miles of walking trails connect the museums at the Heritage Center and the Education Center, passing by hedgerows of Osage-orange trees. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Heritage Center’s roofline is designed to resemble a single-bottom plow stands and it sits at the edge of a restored tallgrass prairie ecosystem.  Similar to Fort Scott National Historic Site and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas, prescribed fire is used here to promote the growth of native plants.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/home/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved except a short section to access the parking lot for the Freeman School.  The parking lot at the Heritage Center is exactly one acre in size to help visitors visualize the 10 acres required to farm for “proving up” a homestead.

Camping

Four miles east of the National Monument, Beatrice, Nebraska has two city parks with campgrounds.

Related Sites

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (Kansas)

Scotts Bluff National Monument (Nebraska)

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site (Arizona)

Explore More – Which First Amendment right was first challenged in court because of its use in teaching at the one-room Freeman School?

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Fort Scott National Historic Site

Overview

Near the border of Kansas and Missouri sits Fort Scott, which like Fort Smith (to the south) was an important frontier military post during the Mexican-American War and skirmishes with Plains Indians.  Several buildings were sold off in 1853, two becoming hotels that catered to pro-slavery and anti-slavery clients when this region was dubbed “Bleeding Kansas.”  During the Civil War, the town became a strategic location utilized to quell uprisings and maintain supply lines.  Abandoned by the military after the war, soldiers returned when settlers opposed railroad construction in the 1870s.  This 17-acre historic site was authorized in 1965 but not established as a part of the National Park Service (NPS) system until 1979.

Highlights

Museum, film, Officers’ Quarters, restored tallgrass prairie

Must-Do Activity

The NPS visitor center is located in the old hospital at Fort Scott National Historic Site.  There are 11 original structures here and you can walk through the well-maintained Officers’ Quarters, bake house, and carriage house.  Posted here 1842-1853 were flamboyantly-uniformed dragoons, who were elite fighters on foot or horseback.  Dragoons knew they were only as effective as their horses, so they took good care of them.  In fact, the horse stables remain the largest building at Fort Scott on the edge of the beautifully-landscaped parade ground.

Best Trail

The site may be small and surrounded by roads and development, but it does maintain five acres of restored tallgrass prairie (utilizing controlled burning) with a short nature trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The site is especially pretty in November, when the maple leaves turn red and orange in sharp contrast to the white buildings.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fosc/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is a city-operated campground about two miles from the fort, as well as several state parks in the region.

Related Sites

Fort Smith National Historic Site (Arkansas-Oklahoma)

Fort Larned National Historic Site (Kansas)

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (Kansas)

Explore More – What are the three architectural styles reflected in the buildings are Fort Scott?

Fort Laramie National Historic Site

Overview

Fort Laramie National Historic Site in eastern Wyoming was originally founded in 1834 for its strategic location at the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte Rivers.  Purchased by the U.S. military in 1849, it saw its share of history as a major military post on the Oregon Trail, Pony Express, and Cheyenne-Deadwood stage route. West of the fort, stop at Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site and Register Cliff where pioneers left their mark along the North Platte River.

Highlights

Museum, film, 1874 Cavalry Barracks, 1849 “Old Bedlam”

Must-Do Activity

Come for the free 4th of July festivities and explore the restored buildings encircling the parade grounds, in between watching demonstrations of cannon firing and oxen plowing.  The National Park Service (NPS) employees host a variety of old-fashioned activities for kids and adults, including a three-legged race for adults.  Grab a partner and join in the fun or simply watch from the sidelines with a cold sarsaparilla, cream soda, or birch beer in your hand.  You are sure to have a good, old-fashioned good time even if you head home before the fireworks.

Best Trail

Fort Laramie was never a condensed, palisaded fort, so walking to all 11 restored structures covers quite a bit of distance (like Fort Union in New Mexico).  You can also hike along the banks of the Laramie River where the Oregon National Historic Trail once led.

Instagram-worthy Photo

“Old Bedlam,” the former quarters of bachelor officers, dates to 1849 making it the oldest documented building in Wyoming.  The right side is now restored to appear as officers’ quarters and the left side to post headquarters in 1863 when Lt. Col. William O. Collins lived on the second floor with his wife.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fola/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The last portion of the drive is a graded dirt road, as is the parking lot.

Camping

The town of Fort Laramie offers camping at its small municipal park, or head west to Guernsey State Park with its historic Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) structures.

Related Sites

Scotts Bluff National Monument (Nebraska)

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (Colorado)

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)

Explore More – What was the name of the original stockade constructed by fur traders in 1834?

Fort Union National Monument

Overview

Fort Union was a military outpost on the historic Santa Fe Trail first constructed in 1851.  An earthwork fortification was built during the Civil War before Confederate troops were pushed back into Texas after a nearby battle in early 1862 (see Pecos National Historical Park).  At its peak, 1,666 soldiers were stationed here, making it the largest fort in the southwest U.S.  This expansive post was abandoned in 1891 and officially became a National Monument in 1954.

Highlights

Museum, film, adobe ruins, wagon ruts on the Santa Fe National Historic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Fort Union was not the most popular place to be stationed in the 1800s, especially for the military wives who bemoaned the constant winds and frequent dust storms.  That said; expect it to be windy during your visit.  The adobe walls here are smoothed by years of erosion and appear to be melting back into the prairie soil from which their bricks were formed in the 1860s.  If you line it up right, you can take a neat photograph where all the window frames are in a row.

Best Trail

Wagon ruts can be seen at Fort Union since it was located on the 1,200-mile Santa Fe National Historic Trail (like Fort Larned in Kansas and Bent’s Old Fort in Colorado).  Since there was no stockade around the fort, walking to all of its ruins covers quite a distance (like Fort Laramie in Wyoming).

Instagram-worthy Photo

The smooth adobe walls make a great backdrop for a wagon that looks like it needs a fresh coat of paint before it hits the Santa Fe Trail again.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/foun/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The fort is not far off Interstate 25, but the last portion of the drive is a graded dirt road, as is the parking lot.

Camping

Storrie Lake State Park is 33 miles from Fort Union and there is also free camping in the summer at Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge located just off Interstate 25.

Related Sites

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (Colorado)

Fort Larned National Historic Site (Kansas)

Pecos National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Explore More – When did Spain grant Mexico its independence, opening up commerce with the United States and starting the Santa Fe Trail?

Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

Overview

Herbert Hoover was raised in a Quaker community in West Branch, Iowa.  After he was orphaned in 1884 at age nine, his uncle in Oregon took him in.  Hoover’s 1895 geology degree from the recently-established Stanford University in California then took him around the globe.  After eight years as Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge, he became President at exactly the wrong time in 1929, only nine months before the stock market crash.  His years out of the spotlight were spent mostly on philanthropic work until his death in 1964. 

Highlights

Historic buildings, museum, film, Tallgrass Prairie Trail

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) runs a small visitor center and maintains several historic buildings on the 187-acre property in West Branch, Iowa.  A walking tour includes the 14×20-foot cottage was where Bert was born in 1874, a blacksmith shop similar to the one his father ran, and a schoolhouse built in 1853 and moved many times before being relocated by the NPS in 1971.  The gravesite of Herbert and his wife Lou Henry is also here.

Best Trail

2.2 miles of trails run through the tallgrass prairie south of Hoover’s gravesite.  The prairie ecosystem was restored by the NPS starting in 1971 and contains the Isaac Miles Farmstead, contemporary to Hoover’s childhood here.

Instagram-worthy Photo

While Hoover was in London, World War I broke out and he helped organize a relief effort that gained him international fame.  The citizens of Belgium gifted Hoover a statue of Isis, the Egyptian goddess of life, following the war.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/heho/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, but the nearby Presidential Library and Museum are not free.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There are campgrounds around Lake McBride, 9 miles north of Iowa City.

Explore More – Hoover was the first President born west of which major river?