Seeing a Few Sights of Omaha

After a good night’s sleep from seeing Iowa towns like Des Moines and Ames, I made my way back into Nebraska to see the last place on my Midwest tour – Omaha. Nebraska’s largest city, Omaha is home to close to 447,000 people and sits on the banks of the Missouri River. Although there were cool things I saw in the capital city of Lincoln, Omaha had its own share of visit-worthy places I wanted to check out before heading home.

Upon arriving in town after a two-hour drive, the first stop I went to was the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. Spanning 3000 feet long and crossing the Missouri River, this bridge links the cities of Omaha, Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge
The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.

One super cool activity that can be done here is standing in both Nebraska and Iowa at the same time – and that I did!

Although it was a weekday morning, there was still a constant stream of foot traffic here. Many folks were getting their morning run in, while others simply came to see this piece of American engineering. This bridge has probably the best view of the Missouri River here in town! Signs placed all around served to educate visitors about the history of the river, the bridge’s origins, and so forth.

Missouri River in Omaha

Bob Kerrey Bridge educational panel

Before heading into downtown Omaha, I stopped briefly at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters and Visitor Center, located right next to the Bob Kerrey and run by the National Park Service. As the name suggests, this place is the headquarters of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail system, which stretches through eleven states(with Omaha being a stop!).

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters and Visitor Center.
The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters and Visitor Center.

Although most of the building is office space used by the National Park Service, the first floor had several exhibits that talked about Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Venturing across the United States in an effort to map out and study the west, this journey took over two years back in the early 1800s. Photos and maps displayed here gave me a good clue as to the places the explorers passed through. There were also a few interactive activities that make this a good family-friendly stop. A gift shop sold Lewis and Clark themed merchandise, as well as NPS hats and other souvenirs.

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters and Visitor Center

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters and Visitor Center

When doing my trip planning, I saw that Union Pacific had their headquarters in downtown Omaha, and I stopped there briefly, wanting to see if there were tours available or exhibits on display.

Union Pacific headquarter building
The headquarters of Union Pacific.

My advice: not really worth stopping by unless you know someone there that can show you around. There weren’t tours, and the gift shop was disappointing. Pretty much it was just a typical multi-story office building.

From there, it was off to my next stop, the Durham Museum, a railroad museum located inside the city’s former Union Station.

Durham Museum
The Durham Museum.

Now this place is much more interesting! Built in 1931, Union Station quickly became a hub of activity, with 1.5 million passengers passing thru in its first year. Various rail lines brought people in and out of this station. However, starting in the mid-50s, rail service began to stop running thru Omaha, and the station was shuttered and turned into a museum in the 70s.

Not just any boring museum, the station’s interior has been well preserved, and is now a main focal point of this place! From the still-operating soda fountain bar to the ticket counter now serving as a gift shop, it almost felt as though I stepped back in time.

Durham Museum Great Hall
The great hall inside the Durham Museum. Look at that architecture!

Behind the Great Hall were several exhibits talking about the history of the station.

Durham Museum
Various artifacts from the station’s heyday are displayed.

Downstairs, several train cars were on display. Fully open to climb onboard, it was cool seeing how rail transportation was like back in the day.

rail cars inside a railroad museum
Pretty much all the cars were open, allowing for a glimpse into the days of rail travel.

Honestly, many of the seats inside these cars are much more comfortable than those on today’s commercial airplanes!

Durham Museum

Durham Museum

There was also a steam locomotive as well as an Omaha streetcar on display.

Durham Museum

Durham Museum Streetcar

Although a whole exhibit section and model train display was down here as well, I had to get going since my parking meter was about to run out of time, 10 minutes away back at Union Pacific’s headquarters. When I was writing this post, however, I discovered that there was free parking at the museum, so when you go, don’t make the same mistake that I did!

Durham Museum Great Hall
The Durham Museum is a must-see while in Omaha.

After lunch at Panera Bread was my last stop in town, Nebraska Furniture Mart. Living in Dallas, we have a huge NFM, which is also the biggest store in Texas. However, Nebraska Furniture Mart got their start in..you guessed it, Nebraska. I was curious to see how good(or bad) the home store would be.

Nebraska Furniture Mart
The home store of Nebraska Furniture Mart.

Founded right here in Omaha in 1937, what started as a family business has now grown to four locations in four states. The company is currently owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

This location is made up of three buildings. The main showroom has all sorts of furniture for sale. Everything from lamps to beds can be found here!

Nebraska Furniture Mart interior
Think of a Rooms To Go store and make it several times bigger, and you’ve got NFM Omaha.

Walking around, I was slightly disappointed. With low ceilings, and not as much energy as the Texas store, it would have been easy to mix up the two had it not been for the name that served as the obvious giveaway.

Nebraska Furniture Mart interior
No second floor, but there is a basement!

The appliances and electronics building, right next door, had gizmos like cameras, computers, and dryers. A Subway restaurant here allowed you to take a break when you got a bit tired of looking for a new washer.

Nebraska Furniture Mart interior

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The last place was Mrs. B’s Clearance Center. Also started by Rose Blumkin, the founder of NFM, this is an outlet type store selling floor samples and various clearance items.

Mrs. B's
Mrs. B’s.

There was an ample selection of products, and a constant stream of people coming in and out. One thing to keep in mind about Mrs. B’s – all sales are final.

Mrs. B's
One giant outlet store.

All in all, although it didn’t come close to the Texas location in terms of size or people, the home store still had lots of merchandise and friendly sales associates. It was interesting seeing how this huge store many know of in Texas had humble roots right here in the Midwest.

Nebraska Furniture Mart Logo
Although I didn’t walk out with a new sofa or some rugs, it was still cool seeing NFM’s roots!

From there, it was off to the airport for my flight back home. It had been nice seeing Omaha, and what it had to offer. Although I didn’t get to visit places like the Old Market, an area in downtown filled with dining and shopping options, it was still cool checking out some of the places that make up the “Gateway to the West”.

Until next time, Nebraska!

Lincoln, Nebraska – The Capital City of the Cornhusker State

A few weeks ago, I set off to visit two new states – Nebraska and Iowa. Although most folks associate these midwestern states with nothing but farmland and cornfields, I wanted to see what really was out there, as well as to just get a deeper understanding of our country’s backbone. My first stop on this three-day trip was to Lincoln, the capital city of Nebraska.

Although the city’s roots started with settlers arriving in the mid-1800s, Native Americans had occupied the area for thousands of years. After the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862, more people began to inhabit this new village. In 1869, the City of Lincoln was incorporated, named after President Abraham Lincoln. Today, Lincoln is home to over 280,000 people and is the second most populated city in the state.

The first place I checked out was the Nebraska State Capitol. Completed in 1932 and rising 400 feet into the Midwestern sky, it is the second tallest capitol building in the country.

picture of the nebraska state capitol
The Nebraska State Capitol.

The interior of this building was nothing but grand. It felt like I was walking into a historic church or castle of some kind tucked away in Europe.

Nebraska State Capitol

Nebraska State Capitol

One of the places I enjoyed seeing here was the observation deck, located on the 14th floor! Free and open to the public, you can get some great views of Lincoln.

The state library was also open, and it contained an abundance of books spread out across two floors.

Nebraska State Capitol Library

Nebraska State Capitol Library

Something that I hadn’t seen elsewhere were these handheld reading lamps!  Fully functional, they looked like they could belong in an antique store. I could see these lamps being handy, especially back in the day when the lighting was dim.

Nebraska State Capitol Library reading light
Quite a few of these were installed throughout the library.

No visit to a state capitol would be complete without checking out the legislative chambers. I was surprised to hear that although there are two chambers, only one was being actively used, since Nebraska only has one legislative body! This unicameral setup is the only one of its kind in the nation. The west chamber(the one in use) happened to be closed, but I was able to peer in and take a look.

Nebraska State Capitol legislative chamber
The actively-used legislative chamber.

I was able to go inside the east chamber, used until the start of the unicameral system in 1937 and since closed-off. Much like the rest of the building, the design of this room didn’t disappoint!

Nebraska State Capitol Legislative Chamber
The other legislative chamber, which hasn’t been used since 1937.

Nebraska State Capitol Legislative Chamber

In total, I spent about two hours here, in which I explored the majority of the building.  Although many states have some gorgeous designs when it comes to their capitols, the combination of tile ceilings, marble floors, and murals make this one of the most beautiful ones I’ve seen to date!

My next stop fit right in with the state’s reputation for agriculture: The Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum.

Larsen Tractor Test Museum
One of the many tractors on display here.

Part of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus, this museum showcases various tractors from history. Several different rooms and displays talk about the various brands and models of these enormous machines. Admission is free, although donations are accepted.

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Larsen Tractor Test Museum

Here’s a fun fact: all tractors sold in Nebraska must be tested to ensure that rated performance claimed by the manufacturer checks out, and the testing is done right here! Up until 1980, testing was done in this building. Right next door was the current facility, which museum volunteer Don was gracious enough to show me around.

Nebraska Tractor test facility
The modern-day testing facility.

Don explained that testing is the ultimate example of consumer protection. Testing serves to ensure that if you buy a tractor with the Nebraska numbers on it, you can rest easy knowing that performance will be what the manufacturer claims it is. Various machines are used to complete the testing process, such as this big truck, which simulates a load.

Nebraska Tractor test facility

Right outside the shop was the testing track. Here, various benchmarks are performed in an area with ample space.

Nebraska Tractor test facility
The tractor test track.

Prior to me stopping in, I had no idea of this important measure that serves to protect our farmers and agricultural industry. Both the tour and the museum were nice!

The next stop was to the Nebraska History Museum, which exhibited different items related to the state’s history.

Nebraska History Museum
The Nebraska History Museum.

When I went, there was construction going on inside, and therefore only one floor was open. That floor had photos on display from the early days of the state, to different historical documents and artifacts.

Nebraska History Museum Exhibit
Different photos and items depict the history of this state.
Nebraska History Museum Exhibit
A windmill wheel used for many years.

Did you know Kool-Aid got its start in Nebraska? I didn’t!

Nebraska History Museum Exhibit
This famous drink got its start here in the Cornhusker State.

What I saw here was great in terms of being detailed and informative, and the best part is that there was no admission fee! I didn’t spot any free parking, and had to spend around a dollar at a covered garage about two blocks away.

After dinner was the last stop here in town, the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. The main campus of the University of Nebraska system, this huge 613-acre school was chartered as a land-grant university in 1869. Over 25,000 students call this place home. A major athletics program exists here as well.

University of Nebraska at Lincoln
One of the first buildings I came across entering UNL.

Checking out many of the buildings that make up their campus, I found that they all looked to be maintained very well. I’m sure quite a few of these halls have dated back many decades, but the exterior and interior upkeep seemed superb.

UNL buildings

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Although the architecture wasn’t nearly as nice as that of Ole’ Miss, the campus as a whole very much still had that traditional university feel to it. I only saw a few new buildings, one of which was the Howard L. Hawks Hall, home to the College of Business.

UNL Business Building
The College of Business building.

The classrooms in here looked like a great environment to learn in, and had all the modern technology one would expect for a university of this caliber. Inspirational quotes from famous people were on the wall of each room I went into.

UNL Classroom
A classroom inside the business building.

If you think their classrooms are nice, wait until you take a look at their football stadium! Memorial Stadium, on the edge of campus, is one of the largest collegiate stadiums I’ve seen to date.

Memorial Stadium
UNL’s Memorial Stadium.

Almost indistinguishable from an NFL stadium in my opinion, there were various seating levels, ranging from your standard bleachers all the way up to suites on the top floor. In total, this place is capable of seating over 85,000 people.

UNL Memorial Stadium

UNL Memorial Stadium

I had heard about UNL only once or twice before, and it was nice seeing the school in person. I knew their football program was pretty big, but it seems like academically speaking, the school has many programs and offerings the Cornhuskers can be a part of.

UNL Buildings
The Computer Science building.

Lincoln as a whole was pretty good, and I felt like my first day in Nebraska was well-spent. Out of all the places I saw here, I spent the most time at the Capitol – and I could have easily stayed another half-hour checking out the building in true detail. One could argue that there just isn’t much to do here, but if you are looking for a well-rounded introduction to the Cornhusker State, visiting this city will do the trick.

Nebraska Highway Sign
My first day in one of the least-visited states in the country went well!