Sunday, May 27, 2012

Seeing the Homestead Act Up Close and Personal

Heritage Center
all photos on this page taken by
and copyright Susan Petersen 2012
Not only does 2012 mark the release of the 1940 census records, it is also the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act of 1862. The Homestead Act opened millions of acres across the nation to settlement and cultivation. Thirty of our nation's 50 states had homestead lands at some time during the Homestead Act's existence (1863 - 1986).

For the past month, all four pages of the Homestead Act have been on display at the Homestead National Monument of America near Beatrice, Nebraska. This was the first time the Act had been on display outside of Washington, D.C. and the first time all four pages have been publicly displayed as a unit.

The major events celebrating the Homestead Act at the monument have drawn to a close and the folding chairs under the Chautauqua tent were packed up yesterday morning. Tomorrow is the last day that the Homestead Act will be on display in Nebraska.

Yesterday morning, I took off on the short drive to Beatrice to spend the morning at the Homestead National Monument of America and to see the Homestead Act.

Honor to the Homestead States
Not one to enjoy crowds, I was glad I had waited a week for my Homestead adventure. About 2,000 people were on hand for last weekend's events. When I arrived shortly after 9 a.m. yesterday morning, there were less than 10 cars in the parking lot. No rush, I took my time to savor the exhibits before actually viewing this historic document.

The entrance to the Heritage Center is lined with outlines of each state where homesteads were issued. The cutouts on each graphic represent the proportional amount of land that was homesteaded in each state.

As you can see, a significant portion of Nebraska was open to homesteaders.

I have ancestors who were homesteaders. On, I have discovered the homestead documents of my 2nd great grandfathers, John Bellinger and Daniel Landon, as well as other affiliated family members.

Reading those documents provides much insight to the lives my ancestors lived. To "prove up," the homesteaders had to submit documentation that they had lived on the property for at least five years and describe the improvements made to the property. This usually meant that friends or relatives had to attest to knowing the homesteader and describe the improvements.

Palmer-Epard Cabin
On the grounds of the Homestead National Monument of America is the Palmer-Epard cabin, which was moved to the grounds in 1950. It's a small one-room home where a pioneer family ate and slept. Peeking through the windows provided a glimpse of life in the 1880s.

The Freeman Graves

Down the hill from the Heritage Center are the graves of Daniel and Agnes Freeman. Freeman was the very first homesteader. The 160 acres of land occupied by the Homestead National Monument of America are on the very homestead where the Freemans lived and worked.

The Homestead Act of 1862

As might be expected, stepping up to view the Homestead Act was a breathtaking and emotional experience. As I read the first words of the document, my eyes filled with tears, realizing that I was connected to this piece of history through my ancestors. It also saddened me, knowing how many of our Native population was displaced because of this westward expansion.

Roaming the grounds of the monument was quiet, peaceful and calming. At times, I did feel as though I had been taken back in a time machine to the lands settled by my ancestors.

Should your travels bring you through Nebraska, I certainly can recommend you make plans to visit the Homestead National Monument of America.


LongLostRelative's Homestead Act Toolbox with links to news articles

Virtual tour of Homestead National Monument (more than 50 photos that I took yesterday)


  1. Thanks for sharing. I love reading about local history!

  2. Love the Homestead Act. Great experience! Thanks for sharing! ;-)

  3. Thanks for reading, Sally and Bill!

  4. Hello. It was good to read your piece. I visited this place back in 1994 when I was cycling across Nebraska, east to west. (I'm a Brit, by the way.) You might be interested to look at my book The Red House On The Niobrara, an account of a six-month stay on a place settled by a Danish homesteading family, back in 1904. You can read the first 30pp free at....