Tucked away in a grassy corner of southeastern Nebraska is Homestead National Monument of America, site of one of the first claims staked under the Homestead Act of 1862. The quiet, 160-acre site preserves a small remnant of the streamside woods and tall-grass prairie that pioneers encountered on the Great Plains.

Homestead National Monument
©National Park Service
The Homestead Act of 1862 is remembered and honored
at the Homestead National Monument of America.

Daniel and Agnes Freeman claimed the quarter-section and began to "improve" the land, as the Act directed. They busted sod, cultivated the land, and built a brick schoolhouse. After five years of hard work, the land was theirs.

The one-room schoolhouse, built in 1871, still stands. It was used until 1967 and also served as a church and polling place. In 1899, Daniel Freeman took the school board to court because the teacher was giving Bible lessons at school. The case went all the way to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which ruled in Freeman's favor, upholding the principle of separation of church and state.

The site also contains the Palmer-Epard cabin, relocated to the monument from a nearby homestead. Built in 1867, it is typical of frontier houses in the region, erected when timber was available. When it wasn't, homesteaders cut blocks of densely packed sod to construct homes called "soddies," or they lived in hillside dugouts.

A 21/2-mile trail winds through the restored prairie and past the Freeman family cemetery.

Homestead National Monument Information
Address: 8523 W. State Hwy. 4, Beatrice, NE
Phone: 402/223-3514
Hours of Operation:

  • 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays and summer
  • 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m., winter weekends
  • Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day

Admission: Free

Learn about these other national monuments:

­Agate Fossil Beds National MonumentColorado National MonumentGeorge Washington Birthplace National MonumentNatural Bridges National MonumentScotts Bluff National Monument
Alibates Flint Quarries National MonumentDevils Postpile National Monument George Washington Carver National MonumentOcmulgee National MonumentSunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Aniakchak National Monument and PreserveDinosaur National MonumentGila Cliff Dwellings National MonumentOregon Caves National MonumentTimpanogos Cave National Monument
Booker T. Washington National MonumentEffigy Mounds National MonumentGrand Portage National MonumentOrgan Pipe Cactus National MonumentTonto National Monument
Buck Island Reef National MonumentEl Malpais National MonumentHohokam Pima National MonumentPetroglyph National MonumentTuzigoot National Monument
Cape Krusenstern National Monument El Morro National MonumentHomestead National MonumentPinnacles National MonumentWalnut Canyon National Monument
Capulin Volcano National MonumentFlorissant Fossil Beds National MonumentHovenweep National MonumentPipe Spring National MonumentWupatki National Monument
Casa Grande Ruins National MonumentFort Frederica National MonumentJewel Cave National MonumentPipestone National Monument
Castle Clinton National MonumentFort Matanzas National MonumentJohn Day Fossil Beds National MonumentPoverty Point National Monument
Cedar Breaks National MonumentFort Stanwix National MonumentLava Beds National MonumentRainbow Bridge National Monument
Chiricahua National MonumentFossil Butte National MonumentMontezuma Castle National MonumentRussell Cave National Monument

Find out more about travel destinations in North America:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Eric Peterson is a Denver-based freelance writer who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the Western United States.