Nebraska: Worth Stopping For

Getting Away
River view room at River Inn, Brownville

Nebraska, Like Oklahoma, Is Considered By East And West-Coasters As A “Fly-Over State” – One Your Plane Skips Over While Going Someplace Exciting. I Should Have Known Better, But My First Reaction Upon Being Invited To Visit Southeast Nebraska Was, “Why?” And Then I Gave Myself A Mental Shake. “That’s What People Say About Us! But Oklahoma’s Really Cool – So Maybe There’s Something I Should See In Nebraska.” It Turned Out That There Was A Lot!

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Down In The Corner Of The State – A Muddy Swim From Missouri And 30 Miles North Of The Nebraska/Kansas Border – Is The Little Village Of Brownville. Population is 131, unless it’s the spring or fall flea market weekend, and then the streets are packed with visitors looking for bargains. Brownville is pretty much a weekend town, and summer and early fall are great times to visit.

Early on, Brownville was an important river port on the Missouri River, a prime gateway into the Nebraska Territory. Before that, Lewis and Clark’s corps camped near here. But that was then. The last century has been tough on the tiny town – until a group of retired business folk saw potential for a new kind of life and a revival of the community.

A retired bank owner and his wife now own a charming bed and breakfast, the River Inn, and the former president of the Omaha stockyards cooked my breakfast. It took some prying to get that information; folks in Brownville are too busy to tout their résumés.

The town boasts a number of historic houses. Many of the oldest buildings are gone but Main Street is being recreated from old photos and drawings, with small businesses on street level and living quarters underneath for weekend entrepreneurs.

Flatwater Folk Art Museum, scheduled to open in the fall, is housed in an 1884 church.

Whiskey Run Creek Vineyard and Winery hosts Friday night concerts through the summer months and the Brownville Concert Series brings international talent to town monthly from March through December. If books are your thing, you won’t want to miss The Antiquarium, a huge collection of used and rare books and ephemera housed in the old grade school.

The biggest surprise I had in Brownville was in an old church. A gentleman in overalls stopped his hammering and sawing to show me around. Scheduled for a fall opening, this project will be a world-class folk art museum. And the carpenter creating it is George Neubert, whose bona fides include stints as director and curator of contemporary art at the San Antonio Museum of Art and associate director of art for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Keep an eye open for the Flatwater Folk Art Museum.

Brownville is approximately a six-hour drive from downtown Oklahoma City. For more information visit brownville-ne.com.

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Nebraska City Is The Home Of Lied Lodge And Arbor Day Farm – all brought about because this was the home of J. Sterling Morton, the father of Arbor Day. When Morton and his wife moved to Nebraska Territory in 1854, the landscape was one vast grassland prairie. Morton changed that – and the world.

His mansion is open to the public, part of a state park adjacent to the Arbor Day property. That parcel includes a massive lodge and conference center in addition to Arbor Day Farm’s acres of orchards and vineyards, green houses, historic barns, the Pie Garden Café, the Apple House (carrying fruit in season, jams, jellies and fruit wines) and the Tree Adventure.

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure, educational, entertaining and offering plenty of space for kids to run and play

The Tree Adventure combines fun with education and indoor activities with outdoor exploration. With trails and tree houses, this is a kids’ wonderland.

The accommodations and amenities are first class, offering a great getaway for grown-ups. The whole experience may be so inspiring that you, like I did, may wind up joining the Arbor Day Foundation and starting your own forest with the 10 tiny seedlings you’ll get with your membership.

For more information, go to liedlodge.org and arbordayfarm.org.

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History Buffs And Retired Schoolteachers Head First For The Capitol. That’s fine – it’s an interesting building and you can get a great view from the tower. But there’s a lot more to do in Lincoln, which is also home to THEIR Big Red: the University of Nebraska.

Campus highlights include tours of the athletic facilities, gardens, arboretum and sculpture garden. Some of the tours are self-guided; tours of the Memorial Stadium and Bob Devaney Sports Center are guided, by appointment. Museums include the University of Nebraska State Museum, with the natural, geological and anthropological history of the state, and the Sheldon Museum of Art. The Great Plains Art Museum features artists like Albert Bierstadt, William Henry Jackson and Frederic Remington. The Eloise Kruger Gallery in Architecture Hall displays four centuries of interior design in miniature, while the International Quilt Study Center and Museum on the university’s east campus has the world’s largest publicly held quilt collection.

tate Capitol interior features elaborate mosaics and murals.

Elsewhere in town, don’t miss the Museum of American Speed, established by Speedway Motors founder Bill Smith. You could get lost in the three floors of exhibits – racing cars, street rods, show cars, even vintage pedal cars. And for die-hard car fans, engines and accessories add to the interest.

You don’t have to be a child to enjoy the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, one of few in the country. Designed to be intimate, the zoo is proud of having over 40 endangered animals including a very rare tree kangaroo.

Penguins at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo have wing tags identifying each bird. The penguin in the middle is a male named Topper.

Downtown Lincoln boasts bunches of restaurants, galleries and shops. The Historic Haymarket District, once home to warehouses, is becoming a major shopping, dining and entertainment area.

The most beautiful spot in all of Lincoln, however, is a tiny one-and-a-half acre park which dates back to the Depression. It’s planted primarily with annuals – about 30,000 of them – with a new theme each year. Jam-packed with color, it’s the perfect postcard shot of your visit to southeast Nebraska.

Head online to lincoln.org and visitnebraska.com for more information. 

Categories: Travel