Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
Scotts Bluff, Nebraska

Text Only Version

Please note that this text-only version, provided for ease of printing and reading, includes 23 pages and may take up to 10 minutes to print. Printing this page will print the introduction, the three essays, the list of sites, and all of the descriptions for the sites featured in the itinerary. If you would like to print a specific section, click on one of the links below, and mark the section you would like to print.

American Indians, Traders, Trappers, Travelers, and Settlers
Cultivation, Irrigation, and Urbanization
Trains and Cranes: Building a Community
List of Sites and Descriptions
Map (print separately)
Learn More (print separately)
Credits (print separately)


The National Park Service’s Heritage Education Services and the South Dakota State Historical Society’s State Historic Preservation Office, in partnership with the South Dakota Heritage Fund and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers proudly invite you to explore Scotts Bluff, Nebraska.  This Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary highlights 27 historic places listed in the National Register of Historic Places that bring the history of Pierre and Fort Pierre, South Dakota to life.

The Scotts Bluff travel itinerary offers several ways to discover and experience the historic places that shaped and illustrate the history and development of Pierre and Fort Pierre:

• Descriptions of each featured historic place on the List of Sites highlight its significance, photographs and other illustrations, and information on how to visit.

Essays with background on important themes in the development of Scotts Bluff offer context for understanding historic places featured in the itinerary. Visitors can read about Cultivation, Irrigation, and Urbanization, American Indians, Traders, Trappers, Travelers, and Settlers, and Trains and Cranes: Building a Community.

Maps to help visitors plan what to see and do and get directions to historic places to visit.

• A Learn More section provides links to relevant websites such as tourism websites with information on cultural events and activities, other things to see and do, and dining and lodging possibilities. This section also provides a bibliography.

View the itinerary online or print it as a guide if you plan to visit in person. The Scotts Bluff itinerary, the 50th in this ongoing series, is part of the Department of the Interior’s strategy to promote public awareness of history and encourage visits to historic places throughout the nation. The itineraries are created by a partnership of the National Park Service; the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers; and federal, State, and local governments and private organizations in communities, regions, and heritage areas throughout the United States. The itineraries help people everywhere learn about and plan trips to visit the amazing diversity of this country’s historic places that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service and its partners hope you enjoy this itinerary and others in the series. If you have any comments or questions, please just click on “comments or questions” at the bottom of each page.

American Indians, Traders, Trappers, Travelers, and Settlers

Scotts Bluff, in the North Platte River Valley of western Nebraska, has long been culturally and historically significant. It was a major landmark not only for pioneer travelers and settlers but also for native peoples of the High Plains thousands of years earlier. In fact, the bluff was such a prominent focal point that more than 50 pre-contact archeological sites lie within its shadow.

Long before European exploration and American settlement, native inhabitants left their distinctive mark upon the region. Several sites elsewhere in western Nebraska show that nomadic big-game hunters roamed across the area at the close of the Ice Age, some 8,500 years ago. As the climate continued to warm, however, many large animal species that once had been primary elements of their adaptation became extinct. Bands of people began to hunt smaller game, in addition to the communal pursuit of bison, and to gather a wide variety of plant foods.

Horticulture emerged among many peoples of the Plains by the start of the Common Era, which permitted a more settled lifestyle. The harsh environment of western Nebraska, however, did not favor crop production, so a continued reliance on the collection of wild plants and the hunting of small game were essential to sustain the native population. Small villages could come together seasonally in river valleys where horticulture was possible, but family groups still needed to range out at different times of year to exploit traditional hunting and gathering places.

Beginning in the early decades of the 19th century, trappers, traders, missionaries, gold-seekers, soldiers, homesteaders, and others came to the valley. Many of the trails to the west coast passed through the Scotts Bluff region, most notably the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails, as well as the Pony Express route. These trails were instrumental in the settlement of the American West. Today, Scotts Bluff National Monument memorializes the thousands who traveled along the region’s various overland trails.

Much of the West including the Scotts Bluff area remained essentially unknown to white men until the 19th century. Many Indian tribes made their homes in the region though, including the Arapaho, Arikara, Cheyenne, Crow, Hidatsas, Kiowas, Mandans, Pawnee, Poncas, and Shoshone, among others. By the time others began to push west in earnest, the Sioux tribes, who moved in from the Great Lakes region starting in 1685, dominated the Great Plains by means of conquest. The Tetons, Yanktons, and Yanktonais, or the tribes comprising the western Sioux, were linked by their culture, interests, and intermarriage. The Sioux pushed steadily west in search of beaver and buffalo through the Missouri River until their territory included Minnesota, Yellowstone, and the Republican River by the late 1800s. Tribal wars for rights to hunting grounds often pitted one or more Sioux tribes against other native hunters and farmers.

Although Spain and France claimed portions of what is now the American West prior to the 19th century, they left much of it unexplored. When President Thomas Jefferson acquired the Louisiana Territory from France’s Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803, white exploration of the West began in earnest. The early reports from government-sponsored expeditions, such as those of Lewis and Clark (1803 to 1806) and Zebulon Pike (1806 to 1807), testified to the bounty of natural resources that lay in the West, which trappers and traders soon began concerted efforts to exploit for profit.  They were interested primarily in obtaining and selling valuable animal hides, especially the in-demand beaver pelts used in fashionable clothing in the eastern United States and Europe.

The first fur trappers passed through the Scotts Bluff region as part of the Astorian Expedition in 1811-1813. Named after its sponsor, the multimillionaire fur trader John Jacob Astor, the expedition of Astorian trappers travelled to the Pacific Coast and founded the trading post of Astoria in Oregon Country at the headwaters of the Columbia River. Led by Robert Stuart, the trappers followed the route that would eventually become known as the Oregon Trail. During their return trip, they also discovered the South Pass in what is now western Wyoming, which would eventually become the chief route through the Rocky Mountains. They wintered in the Scotts Bluff region. In the ensuing years, hundreds of other traders followed the Astorian/Oregon route along the Platte River.  Trappers typically headed west in the early summer, passing through the Scotts Bluff area to the Rocky Mountains, and returned east in the autumn with their furs. By the 1830s, fur trapping reached its peak. Demand for furs waned as fashions changed in the middle of the 19th century, and fewer trappers headed to the rich trapping grounds in the upper Missouri and the Rocky Mountains.

In the 1840s, emigrants replaced trappers on the westward trails. In 1841, the first group of emigrants, a wagon train of 80 people known as the Bidwell-Bartleson Party, passed through the Scotts Bluff region on their way to settle in the fertile farmland of the Willamette Valley in Oregon under the guide Thomas Fitzpatrick. Also accompanying the party was well known Catholic missionary, Father Pierre-Jean De Smet. Missionaries had long travelled throughout the western wilderness seeking American Indian converts, and were among some of the first travelers along the Oregon Trail. As homesteaders sent positive reports of the Oregon territory back east, the renown of the region spread, and more settlers embarked on the arduous journey.  The number of emigrants using the trail reached its peak in 1852, when more than 70,000 emigrants headed west. Most settlers traveled through the North Platte River Valley on their 2,000-mile trek west. Since the shallow North Platte River proved difficult to navigate because it flowed east rather than west, most trans-continental travelers used land rather than water routes. Occasionally, mountain men used bullboats, an adaptation of a native design. Made of buffalo hides stretched over willow boughs, these boats, with their light weight and small draft, made navigation of the shallow North Platte River possible.

Most of the pioneers bound for Oregon were families seeking farms. Wagon trains, usually comprised of multiple families, embarked in late April or early May, each guided by a train leader. Emigrants had three primary needs on their journey: food for their company; grazing lands for their animals; and good, safe campsites. With wagons pulled by oxen, the trains could travel 15 to 20 miles a day across the plains, but make significantly fewer miles in the mountains. The trek took up to six months.

The journey west was not for the faint of heart. Difficulties ranged from the relatively minor, such as boredom or the irritation of the dust kicked up by the feet of hundreds of oxen, to more threatening environmental disasters. Should wagon trains manage to navigate these pitfalls, further threats of starvation, dehydration, exhaustion, and disease remained; cholera alone killed thousands of travelers. Out of a total of roughly 350,000 emigrants, about 20,000 people died during their journey.

Violence resulting from tensions between settlers and travelers and the Plains Indians was also a danger.  At night, the wagon convoys formed into protective circles, as bulwarks against possible Indian attack. White travelers and settlers reduced the number of buffalo, encouraging intertribal war over hunting grounds, which in turn caused more danger to settlers. White travelers also brought new diseases with them, wiping out large numbers of Great Plains Indians. The ever-increasing number and size of homesteads on the plains and irrigation projects for farming further threatened buffalo populations, as well as Indian territory. In addition, settlers often established homesteads or towns on land set aside for Indians by the United States Government.  The tensions often erupted into wars throughout the 19th century, when circumstances provoked both sides to attack in a series of bloody confrontations and massacres throughout the West.

More than 70,000 Mormons crossed Nebraska’s North Platte River Valley seeking religious freedom in the West. In 1846, following the murder of their founder Joseph Smith, the Mormons were driven out of Nauvoo, Illinois. Led by Brigham Young, who became the president of the Church of the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after Joseph Smith’s death, the group found refuge in the Salt Lake City area, in modern-day Utah. Mormon converts continued to move into the Salt Lake Valley over the next few decades. At first, the Mormon Church created an emigration fund to assist those who had difficulty making the dangerous and costly journey due to illness or poverty. As thousands of Mormons utilized the aid, however, funds became scarce, and Young decided to provide less expensive handcarts instead of wagons. As a result, many of those on the Mormon Trail, who could not obtain a wagon, went all the way to Salt Lake on foot, pushing carts laden with their possessions. The Mormon handcart migration continued until the advent of the railroad in the late 1860s.

In 1849, the largest wave of migration to the West began.  In 1848, James W. Marshall discovered gold in California at Sutter’s Mill. Tens of thousands of “forty-niners,” named for the first year of the gold rush, joined the exodus to California to seek their fortunes. Unlike settlers to Oregon, who often travelled in family units, most “forty-niners” were young men, either unmarried or unaccompanied by wives. The most commonly used route to the California goldmines followed the Oregon Trail west through the Scotts Bluff area and turned southwest toward California at Fort Hall. The gold rush became the largest overland trail migration in American history. In 1850 alone, nearly 55,000 emigrants passed through the Platte Valley, most headed to California. By 1853, the gold rush slowed as easily accessible gold deposits ran dry, and most emigrants travelling along the trail were once again homesteaders and not gold-seekers.

Geographical landmarks, often huge rock formations, were important to overland travelers and often used as benchmarks of the journey. Scotts Bluff, not to be confused with the county or nearby town, was well known to travelers of the trail. Many of the westward pioneers romanticized the grandeur of Scotts Bluff in their diaries. The landmark was a welcome sight after miles and miles of flat prairieland, and only Chimney Rock was mentioned more often. Other nearby recognizable rock formations included Courthouse Rock and Jail Rock, near modern-day Bridgeport.

Besides being a visual landmark, the Scotts Bluffs were a physical obstacle to emigrants. The imposing bluffs blocked travelers from following directly along the banks of the North Platte River as they had done in earlier parts of the journey. Two historic paths passed through the bluffs. Gold rushers utilized the Robidoux Pass, south of the river. First used in the 1820s and 1830s by fur traders, Robidoux Pass continued to serve travelers well into the 1850s. Once through the pass, travelers headed west toward Fort Laramie. About 1851, with the opening of Mitchell Pass, Robidoux Pass began to fall into disuse. Troops from Fort Laramie were perhaps the first to take wagons through Mitchell Pass, possibly engineering the pass to be wider and less steep, thus making it passable for wagon trains. Before long, most homesteaders were using Mitchell Pass because it was a more direct route and had easier access to water. Established in 1864, Fort Mitchell was an important center of commerce for the emigrants.

Events of the 1860s transformed Scotts Bluff and the West as a whole. Because of population growth and business concerns on the frontier, businessmen sought a way to ensure faster communication between the East and the West. The first attempt at an efficient, transcontinental mail-route was the Pony Express, which began on April 3, 1860. The Pony Express delivered mail on horseback, with carriers riding from station to station. The operation only ran until October of 1861, when the Pacific Telegraph, which went through Mitchell Pass, was completed. Although short-lived and a financial failure, the Pony Express demonstrated the feasibility of fast transcontinental communication. Located near Courthouse Rock, the Mud Springs Pony Express Station served as a stagecoach station and a telegraph station over the years in addition to being a Pony Express station. The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1867, when the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads met at Promontory Point, Utah, marked the end of widespread use of the Oregon Trail. Train travel was safer, more reliable, and quicker than travel by wagon.

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Cultivation, Irrigation, and Urbanization
Atop Scotts Bluff, the horizon is visible for miles. The land is a patchwork of fields—tall green stalks of corn and crops of dry beans and sugar beets separated by rural gravel roads. Closer to the bluff, the rural roads turn to asphalt and tidy arrangements of buildings replace fields. The large industrial holding tanks of the Great Western Sugar Company lie on the edge of the city near the fields, serving as a constant reminder of the interplay between the region’s agricultural roots and the subsequent urbanization of the Scottsbluff and Gering communities.

The Scotts Bluff region has deep roots in commerce. The earliest evidence of white men in the region dates to 1811, when a group of intrepid fur trappers on the Astorian Expedition led by Robert Stuart travelled along the North Platte River returning east from Oregon. By the 1820s, the Rocky Mountain beaver fur trade was flourishing. Trapped nearly to extinction in areas farther east, beaver remained plentiful in the Rocky Mountain wilderness and areas west of Scotts Bluff. Trappers provisioned in St. Louis and other eastern markets for the long march to the Rockies, which often passed through the North Platte River Valley. One of these trappers was Hiram Scott, Scotts Bluff’s namesake. After a full season of hunting, trappers would return to St. Louis laden down with beaver pelts.

Throughout the 19th century, emigrants utilized the trappers’ route to head west in search of land, gold, and religious freedom, and trading posts sprang up along the route. Journal accounts by travelers often mention an enterprising Frenchman, either Joseph or Antoine Robidoux, who established a blacksmith operation and trading post at Scotts Bluff as early as 1849. The American Fur Company operated another trading outfit southeast of Robidoux Pass at Fort John. Later in the 1850s, as the majority of emigrants began to utilize Mitchell Pass, the American Fur Company moved further north near Fort Mitchell to capitalize on westward bound traffic. These trading posts were the first long-term, nonmilitary, white settlements in the region.

Although largely known today for crop cultivation, the earliest agricultural concerns in the Scotts Bluff region centered on cattle ranching. The first cattle ranches were road ranches, temporary resting areas set up by enterprising traders, who sold or exchanged cattle with emigrants heading west. Some reports mention that Robidoux’s outpost included a road ranch. By the 1870s, large-scale cattle ranching in the region had begun, and the number of road ranches declined. Following the Civil War, Texas cattlemen were flush with excess cattle, because they had been unable to sell their herds to the North during the war. To capitalize on the high prices offered for cattle in northern States, Texans began to herd their longhorns northward to the Great Plains, where railroads could ship the cattle back east. Herding eventually stretched into the open ranges of Nebraska.

Nebraska’s vast open plains made for good grazing land. Within the Scotts Bluff area, most of the cattle were concentrated along the North Platte River Valley and Pumpkin Creek. By the 1880s, years of cattle speculation at trading centers in the East and two successive brutal winters in 1885-1886 and 1886-1887 led to hard times for many western Nebraska cattlemen. On top of this economic downturn, cattle ranchers in western Nebraska increasingly came into conflict with homesteaders. Farmers began moving into western Nebraska, first claiming homesteads along rivers and near creeks or streams, and the increased settlement in the area brought ranchers and farmers into competition for prime land locations. The tension between the two groups came to a head in the late 1880s, when homesteaders in Scottsbluff called for a special election with the explicit purpose of enacting a Herd Law to force cattlemen to pay for damages caused to farms by open-range cattle. The homesteaders carried the election, and following the enactment of the Herd Law, many of the largest cattle outfits in the area moved farther west into the still-open range of Wyoming. From the late 1880s onward, most of the cattle raised in western Nebraska did not come from large-scale cattle ranchers grazing their herds in the public domain. Instead, most of the cattle were raised by granger cattlemen—farmers who used a portion of their homestead to raise a small stock of cattle as secondary income.

Though cattle ranching dominated the early agricultural period of the North Platte Valley, the region did not flourish until the successful introduction of crop cultivation in the 1890s. Despite the tens of thousands of westward-bound travelers, who experienced the vast open expanse of western Nebraska during the first half of the 19th century, most emigrants thought the land was unsuitable for long-term agriculture, and few people staked land claims. The low water supply deterred potential farmers. Rainfall was sporadic and unreliable in western Nebraska, and early settlers were fearful of farming there. One year of low rainfall could bankrupt a farmer—or even worse, lead to starvation. A nearly decade-long drought beginning in the late 1880s devastated the few farms in the region, further convincing farmers that access to a reliable water supply was crucial to successful farming in the Nebraska Panhandle. Increasingly, these farmers sought to implement irrigation systems in order to water their withering crops.

In 1890, a group of farmers, many of whom had farmed in the irrigated fields of eastern Colorado, developed the Farmers Canal Company. The company’s goal was to construct an irrigation canal to provide a steady flow of water to over 80,000 acres of cropland. Despite the company’s lofty ambitions, large scale private irrigation projects were costly and difficult to implement. Although the Farmers Canal Company constructed more than 10 miles of canals and reclaimed many acres of land for cultivation, the high costs of canal construction doomed the company. Despite the company's financial failure, the project securely planted the idea with many homesteaders of improving the soil of western Nebraska through irrigation. Irrigation projects made the land more productive and valuable, but the capital needed to implement large-scale projects was considerable, as illustrated by the Farmer’s Canal financial failure. During the 1890s, however, many forward-thinking farmers engaged in small-scale, homesteader-implemented irrigation. Many of these projects involved tapping the resources of nearby creeks or streams to water one or two homesteads. In some cases, the irrigation works were significantly more advanced.

Western Nebraska pioneer C.C. Hampton advocated the use of Aeromotor windmills to extract water for crops and livestock. Under Hampton’s irrigation practices, his modest 160-acre homestead ballooned into a 3,000-acre farm and ranch in less than a decade, thus proving that homesteading on the western Nebraska frontier could be successful despite limited water supplies. Though C.C. Hampton’s success was atypical, he embodied the spirit of numerous homesteaders in the area. By 1899, Scotts Bluff County led the State with more than 150,000 acres of irrigated land under cultivation, with much of the water supplied by small-scale, homesteader-implemented irrigation projects. By the 1920s, farmers had begun tapping into Nebraska’s rich aquifers using internal combustion pumps to draw water from shallow wells.

Because of the prohibitive costs, large-scale irrigation did not begin in the region until the Federal Government’s passage of the Newlands Act of 1902, also known as the Reclamation Act. The law provided government funds to finance the North Platte Irrigation Project, which opened up nearly 150,000 additional acres of reclaimed arable land in Scotts Bluff and Morrill Counties for large-scale agricultural use. Because of the complex system of private and public canals that crisscrossed the region, the Scotts Bluff County Commissioners required canal companies to erect bridges, such as the Interstate Canal Bridge, where county roads intersected privately owned canals.

Large and small-scale irrigation works opened up much of the western Nebraska frontier to farming, but many farmers lacked the education and experience required to manage irrigated crops grown in sandy soil. In the early part of the 20th century, several organizations, both public and private, attempted to teach farmers methods of irrigated crop cultivation. The Tri-State Land Company was an early private developer of irrigated farming. Tri-State encouraged and taught farmers how to grow crops on the company’s irrigated fields. The company also purchased the assets of the defunct Farmers Canal Company and restored and lengthened the Farmers Canal, opening up additional acreage to farming. Even the United States government was involved in teaching local farmers. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) established the Scotts Bluff Experiment Farm, a research facility designed to facilitate agricultural research and disseminate agricultural information. Scotts Bluff Experiment Farm, now part of the University of Nebraska’s Panhandle Research and Extension Center, is home to the Knorr-Holden Continuous Corn Plot, which has provided detailed scientific research data on irrigated corn cultivation in the region since 1912.

By the early 20th century, emboldened by the government’s promise of 160 acres of land under the Homestead Act (1862) and accounts of farming successes in western Nebraska, more homesteaders began to settle in the North Platte River Valley. Though only allowed 160 acres of land under the terms of the Homestead Act, many settlers increased their holdings either through preemption—buying an additional 160 acres of land outright at the government’s minimum price of $1.25 per acre—or, perhaps, if funds were short, obtaining additional acres through the Timber Culture Act of 1873. Under the Timber Act, homesteaders could gain an additional parcel of 160 acres, if they agreed to plant trees on at least 40 acres. These additional avenues for land acquisition allowed many homesteads in western Nebraska to grow well beyond the government’s decree of 160-acre homesteads.

In 1904, Nebraska Congressman Moses Kinkaid further bolstered homesteading by sponsoring the Kinkaid Act. This law increased the amount of land available to homesteaders from 160 acres to 640 acres. Despite the increased size of homesteads, successful irrigation projects, both stream and subterranean pump-based, ensured a stable supply of water for crop use. Because of these developments, homesteading in the North Platte Valley reached fever pitch by the early 20th century. Thanks largely to scientific breakthroughs in agriculture and the ease of obtaining vast tracts of land, the western Nebraska plains, once thought by many overland trail emigrants to be an infertile desert, became one of the nation’s premier agricultural regions.

The dominant commercial crop in the region was initially sugar beets. Headquartered at Scotts Bluff, the Tri-State Land Company first introduced the sugar beet on a large-scale to western Nebraska by growing it on their irrigated, privately owned farms as early as 1901. Less than a decade later in 1910, the first beet processing company in the area, Scottsbluff Sugar Company, formed. Later that year, the Colorado-based Great Western Sugar Company took over the company. Introduction of the beet crop revolutionized the North Platte River Valley. Beets provided revenue from direct crop sales, and the tops of beets cut off during processing fed Nebraska cattle. The feed production boosted cattle growth and fueled the region’s meat packing industry. Manure that the cattle produced became fertilizer for crops such as grain, beans, potatoes, and alfalfa. Beet cultivation stabilized agriculture in western Nebraska, which in turn helped increase the number of permanent citizens. It is no coincidence that the greatest period of population growth in Scotts Bluff directly followed the introduction of the beet. Census records indicate that between 1910 and 1920—the years that marked the beginning of major beet cultivation and processing in the region—the population of Scottsbluff increased 263 percent, from 1,746 to 6,912.

One of the ancillary effects of beet cultivation was an increase in ethnic diversity. Beginning with the establishment of the Great Western Sugar Company processing facility in Scottsbluff in 1910, immigrant labor became a mainstay of the Scotts Bluff area economy. Up until the 1920s, German, Russian, and Japanese migrant laborers performed most of the beet cultivation. By 1925, however, demographics shifted with Hispanic workers performing most of the labor. Today, many local townspeople descend from these original immigrant workers and contribute to Scottsbluff’s cultural diversity.

The earliest businesses in the days of the Oregon Trail revolved around trading with emigrants bound for the West, but irrigated farming and the introduction of direct rail lines into Scottsbluff in 1900 led to an economic boon for citizens of the region. Direct rail lines ensured that area farmers could ship their perishable goods to distant markets without fear of spoilage. The towns of Scottsbluff and Gering quickly rose to prominence as the urban center of western Nebraska. By 1920, businesses such as the Gering Brick Company, which Danish immigrant Severin Sorenson owned and operated, and the Carr & Neff Lumber Company provided raw materials to build Scottsbluff and Gering into thriving towns.

The Scottsbluff business district largely consisted of low-rise commercial and industrial buildings. At the south end of the district stood the cityscape’s major focal point, the six-story Lincoln Hotel. By 1940, Scotts Bluff County was the third most populous county in Nebraska, and Scottsbluff was the sixth most populous city. During this boom period, the city saw the construction of many distinctive buildings—among them the Fontenelle Apartment House, the Marquis Opera House, and the Western Public Service Building.

Although Scottsbluff and Gering have blossomed into the major urban center of western Nebraska, the region’s prominence still rests on agriculture. In more recent times, corn, dry beans, and alfalfa joined the historically important sugar beets as the dominant irrigated crops. Crop processing plants provide numerous jobs within the region. With a labor market of more than 57,000 workers, the Scottsbluff/Gering micropolitan area is the site of western Nebraska’s greatest concentration of agricultural production facilities, manufacturing firms, and retail stores. While farming still maintains a dominant position in local life, citizens in the region are in an advantageous position—able to partake of city life, while remaining true to their agricultural roots.

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Trains and Cranes: Building a Community

Historically, Scotts Bluff is primarily known for its importance to the westward migrations of the mid-19th century. At that time, the area was most noted for its striking geological features—from the spectacular natural monument of Scotts Bluff, an imposing rock face jutting over 800 feet skyward from the flat terrain of the Nebraska plains, to the remarkable spire of Chimney Rock. For many western travelers, weary from mundane and exhausting overland travel, the change in topography was a welcome respite.

Few towns in western Nebraska pre-date the railroads. The limited settlements were largely concentrated around military forts--Fort Sidney, Fort Robinson, and Fort Mitchell--as well as Pony Express stations and trading posts. The earliest permanent white settlements in the region were cattle ranches and farms. By the 1870s, the North Platte River Valley was a prominent grazing land for open-range cattle. Most of the valley’s cattle were Texas longhorns, driven up from Texas after the Civil War. Opportunities for employment on cattle ranches lured many of the region’s earliest pioneers to the Scotts Bluff area. With few permanent homesteads in the area, cattlemen generally had free reign to graze their livestock on the public domain throughout the region. However, by the 1880s, farmers began to take ownership of land under the Federal Government’s Homestead Act of 1862, which allowed settlers to claim 160 acres of land on easy terms.

While settlers could easily obtain land under the terms of the Act, pioneer life on the western Nebraska frontier was not for the weak-spirited. Though undaunted by earlier reports of sandy soil and scarce water, homesteaders discovered that growing hearty crops was a difficult task when winters were harsh and summers were hot. On the Nebraskan plains, the treeless horizon was visible to the gaze in all directions for miles and miles. To combat isolation, pioneers often forged communal bonds with distant neighbors. Some early homesteaders came to western Nebraska completely unprepared for the difficult task that lay ahead. Lacking equipment and stock to improve their land, they relied on neighbors, sometimes swapping their labor for the opportunity to borrow farm implements. Even many of the adequately prepared homesteaders found it necessary to obtain additional income to what their farms provided.  The terms of the Homestead Act allowed claimants to leave their homesteads for up to six months a year in order to procure work, and many early settlers made full use of this clause. They travelled as far as Wyoming or Montana to work on cattle ranches and then returned to their homesteads, money in hand, to improve their claims.

Due to the lack of adequate timber in the area, many early homesteaders lived in crude sod dwellings. Soddies, as they were known, were damp, dark, and small, often forcing large families to live in only one or two rooms. What the sod houses lacked in material extravagance, however, they more than made up for in utility.  Sod was a good insulator and kept the houses cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Because of the limited timber reserves, pioneers turned to auxiliary forms of fuel to warm their soddies or prepare their food. Settlers often used cow chips, the dried dung of buffalo or cattle, for fuel. Found in great abundance throughout the area, the chips gave off little smoke and provided heat for warmth and cooking.

Rain fell sporadically on the plains, and the total amount of precipitation varied greatly from season to season. Even a relatively minor period of drought could devastate a farm. During the early 1880s, western Nebraska farmers witnessed a prolonged drought that stretched nearly a decade, devastating even the most successful farmers. Frustrated by the lack of water, but convinced that with properly watered fields farming could be successful, farmers turned to costly—though effective—irrigation projects to ensure an always available water supply. Because of local farmers’ determined efforts, limited crop cultivation in the region was successful and, in time, more settlers came looking to claim homesteads.

By the turn of the 20th century, local farmers embarked on a series of ambitious irrigation projects, and numerous privately operated canals and irrigation ditches crisscrossed the North Platte River Valley. The population of homesteaders in the area skyrocketed when the Federal Government passed the Newlands Act, or Reclamation Act, in 1902. The act provided Federal funds to construct expensive, permanent irrigation works to reclaim the Great Plains soil. Another Federal law, the Kinkaid Act of 1904, that Nebraska Congressional Representative Moses Kinkaid sponsored, further bolstered population growth in the region by allowing homesteaders to claim 640 acres of land. With a stable water supply and large sections of cheap land available to farmers, the North Platte River Valley quickly rose from a backwater area used primarily for grazing open-range cattle to rapidly settled farmland.

Increased settlement and farming attracted the eye of profit-seeking railroad companies eager to tap budding freight and passenger markets. Seeking new opportunities in western Nebraska, railroad companies platted Gering and Scottsbluff. These became the two largest towns in Scotts Bluff County. The city of Gering was originally founded in 1886 by Oscar Gardner, and named in honor of German immigrant and banker Martin Gering.  Although officials from the Union Pacific railroad platted the town in 1887, the railroad did not lay tracks until 1910.

With a growing population and the promise of a major rail line, settlers in Gering and the surrounding region began to demand political recognition in the late 1880s, arguing that Cheyenne’s county seat at Sidney was too far away to efficiently serve much of the county’s population. In November 1888, following local elections, Scotts Bluff County officially split from Cheyenne County, and voters selected Gering over Mitchell as the new county seat. Following Gering’s designation, the city experienced sustained growth. This period saw the first brick buildings in the town erected, a jail built, and the establishment of numerous churches and civic organizations. In 1921, Gering constructed the Scotts Bluff County Courthouse that is still in use today.

Just north of Gering across the North Platte River, Scottsbluff became the region’s first town located on a railroad line. The Lincoln Land Company, a subsidiary of the Burlington Railroad—the main business rival of Union Pacific, founded and platted the town in 1899. By 1900, Burlington Railway laid tracks into Scottsbluff and placed a discarded boxcar alongside the track to serve as a depot. Within three months of the introduction of rail lines into Scottsbluff, the nascent community became an incorporated village, and some older Gering businesses relocated to the higher-trafficked town. The railway line was an economic boon to the entire region. Settlers could now easily travel to and from the remote region, and farmers could supply distant markets with their perishable goods. Throughout this period, local businessmen also made concerted efforts to attract homesteaders to the area. The Scotts Bluff County Land & Immigration Company printed and disseminated pamphlets lauding the area’s agricultural potential.  They also visited local and State fairs to preach the gospel of irrigation and try to influence visitors to the fairs to move west. By 1910, business in the town boomed. Economic prosperity led to an increase in population. Growing into a single urban community by 1950, Scottsbluff/Gering  had become the economic hub of western Nebraska.

As the cities’ regional importance increased, Scottsbluff and Gering constructed new civic and public buildings. Scottsbluff was one of several Nebraska towns to receive a Carnegie Grant, which facilitated construction of the Scottsbluff Carnegie Library between 1921 and 1922. In 1931, Scottsbluff erected the monumental Scottsbluff Post Office, a far cry from the old days of the Pony Express. Scottsbluff/Gering boasted four local papers. Local news dailies, the Scottsbluff Republican, Scottsbluff Herald, Scottsbluff Star, and Gering Courier informed citizens throughout the county of local and national news. The Star and Herald later merged to produce the Star-Herald, a local paper that, along with the Gering Courier, is still published today. For entertainment, townsfolk could attend the opera at the Marquis Opera House, constructed in 1910, or the Egyptian Theater, an extravagant movie theater. When the Egyptian burned down in 1945, the modernistic Midwest Theater rose in less than a year later to take its place. Now renovated, the theater remains a valuable cultural asset in the community.

Scotts Bluff County’s long relationship with transportation continued through the early 20th century.  Constructed in the 1910s, the Henry State Aid Bridges were part of a major state-funded operation to promote bridge construction.  New Deal-sponsored programs in the 1930s created Summit Road, the narrow road that traverses the summit of Scotts Bluff.  The Civilian Conservation Corp (C.C.C.) and other government agencies built the road during the height of the Great Depression.  Summit Road is Nebraska’s oldest concrete road and boasts the State’s only passenger vehicle tunnels.

In the 1950s and 1960s, controversy arose in Scotts Bluff County with the Federal Government’s proposed plan to rout the interstate highway, which later became Interstate 80, south of the Platte River. Because local citizens feared that such a route would adversely affect the region economically, Ogallala, Oshkosh, Gering, and Scottsbluff all passed resolutions urging a more northerly route. The State of Nebraska endorsed the Scotts Bluff region’s resolution, but the Federal Government opted for the more cost-effective southern route. Although the Interstate Highway System bypassed Scotts Bluff, the region’s fears of economic decline and isolation were never realized.

Today, Scottsbluff and Gering are accessible by Nebraska Highways 92 and 26, both of which are part of the Scenic Trail Historic Byway. Current road construction plans call for connecting the recently completed John McLellan, Jr. Expressway—the four-lane highway connecting Scottsbluff and Gering—to the larger network of the Heartland Expressway. When completed, the Heartland Expressway will be a multi-lane divided highway that will connect Rapid City, South Dakota, to Denver, Colorado, via Scottsbluff. The Heartland Expressway is but one component of a much larger transportation network known as the Great Plains Trade Corridor. When all sections of the corridor are finished, the highway complex will link many cities and trading centers on the Great Plains to the rest of the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico.

The region’s main economic strength continues to rest on agriculture, even as recent growth in food processing, retailing, manufacturing, and health services add to the prosperity of the region. Tourism has also contributed to economic growth. Some of the tourist sites in the vicinity are Scotts Bluff National Monument, Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, numerous local museums, and the Riverside Zoo. Today, the Scottsbluff/Gering area is the economic hub of the entire Nebraska Panhandle. As of 2007, Scotts Bluff County boasted a population of more than 37,000 people, making it Nebraska’s sixth most populous county.

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List of Sites (Click on the name of any site in the list to go directly to a specific text-only version found below)

Fontenelle Apartment House-Scottsbluff
Gering Courier Building-Gering
Lincoln Hotel-Scottsbluff
Marquis Opera House-Scottsbluff
Midwest Theater-Scottsbluff
Saddle Club-Scottsbluff
Scottsbluff Carnegie Library-Scottsbluff
Scotts Bluff County Courthouse-Gering
Scottsbluff United States Post Office-Scottsbluff
Severin Sorensen House-Gering
Tri-State Land Company-Scottsbluff
Western Public Service Building-Scottsbluff

Farther Afield
C. C. Hampton Homestead
Camp Clarke Bridge Site
Chimney Rock
Courthouse and Jail Rocks
Fort Mitchell
Henry State Aid Bridges
Interstate Canal Bridge
Knorr-Holden Continuous Corn Plot
M. B. Quivey House
Morrill County Courthouse
Mud Springs Pony Express Station
Robidoux Pass
Sandford Hall
Scotts Bluff National Monument
Signal Butte

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Fontenelle Apartment House

The handsome Fontenelle Apartment House illustrates Scottsbluff’s eagerness to designate itself an urban and cultural center in the early 20th century.  The apartment house is located on the corner of Fourth and Fifteenth Streets, just four blocks east of the Scottsbluff central business district.  Noted local architect Otto John Hehnke designed the building, and G.J. Appleburge constructed it in 1917 at the time of the town’s greatest population expansion. The apartment house represents a rare urban property type in Scottsbluff, constructed just 17 years after the founding of the city and representative of a period when Scottsbluff’s growth potential appeared unlimited. Many citizens believed that the need for multiple-dwelling complexes would be so great that the extra investment in modern, architect-designed buildings would be necessary.

Nestled in a neighborhood largely composed of bungalows, the Fontenelle’s highly ornamented façade and imposing size are still striking. The Fontenelle dates from the height of the Arts and Crafts movement in the United States, which ran from about 1900-1940. Although structurally little more than a rectangular box, the original dwelling housed 12 individual apartments (later increased to sixteen) and has details that exemplify both of the major styles that are identified with the Arts and Crafts movement. The ornamental brickwork located at the top of the Fontenelle’s windows, vestibules, and cornice line displays Craftsman elements, as do the massive brick columns that support the roofs of the vestibules. The linear form of the cornice and vestibule brickwork visually lowers the profile of the building. This motif, repeated throughout the building, from basement brickwork to the horizontal brick bands that form the base of the building, is a staple in Prairie style design.

The Fontenelle Apartment House is located at 1424 Fourth Ave. in Scottsbluff, NE. The apartment house is currently divided into private residences and is not open to the public or available for tours.

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Gering Courier Building

Pioneer newspaperman Asa Butler Wood constructed the two-story Gering Courier Building in Gering in 1915. The building is significant for its association with the newspaper publishing business in western Nebraska and the lives of A. B. and Warren Wood, as well as for its architecture. Designed by Danish emigrant Jens Pederson, the two-story, 28-by-60-foot brick Courier Building is located prominently in the center of town. It exhibits characteristics of the Colonial Revival/Neoclassical Style, with symmetrical pedimented entrances flanked by pilasters, and a parapeted roofline with a large classical cornice.

The Gering Courier was the first newspaper published in Gering. The history of the Courier Building is interwoven with the lives of the first owner, editor, and printer, A. B. Wood, and his son Warren C. Wood. Eventually becoming one of Nebraska’s most important citizens, A. B. Wood was 21 years old when he arrived in Gering to set up the newspaper. Over the years he recorded the news, events, and activities of the new settlement. Apart from his duties as an editor, he served as postmaster, was very active in community organizations, and helped lobby for the creation of new counties in western Nebraska. Wood was also politically active and was elected to the Nebraska State Senate. Warren C. Wood succeeded his father as owner, editor, and publisher of the Gering Courier, and he was an active promoter of the town and western Nebraska as a whole. He later became Major General of the Nebraska-Iowa National Guard and was highly decorated for his military service in World War II.

The Gering Courier Building is located at 1428 10th St., in Gering, NE. The building is currently vacant and not open for the public to tour.

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Lincoln Hotel

Constructed from 1917 to 1918, the Lincoln Hotel is a local landmark in the south portion of the central business district in Scottsbluff. Architect A. Bandy designed the six-story building for the Nebraska Hotel Company. For years, the hotel was a source of civic pride and an emblem of material and cultural accomplishment in the rapidly developing city.

The Lincoln Hotel is an important example of early 20th century Classical Revival commercial architecture in the region. The six story building stands out from the low scale commercial buildings around it and derives its exterior architectural distinction from its Classical Revival facades. The hotel is supported by a reinforced concrete frame, with integrally poured columns, beams, and slabs forming a uniform grid. The frame is expressed externally as spandrel beams and columns on the east and south walls; here it is infilled with brick panels. The brick is laid as curtain walls on the north and west facades, hiding the concrete structure. The hotel has a flat roof with decorative terra cotta and brick parapets bordering three sides.

The historic importance of the Lincoln Hotel lies in its association with the hotel industry and, more specifically, the Nebraska Hotel Company. During the 1910s, modern hotels penetrated secondary markets of smaller Nebraska towns. Local communities pursued hotel companies, such as the Nebraska Hotel Company, to develop hotels in their towns. These “grand hotels” were a source of civic pride and prestige for many townspeople, and the Lincoln Hotel in Scottsbluff was no different. When approached with the opportunity to develop a “first class hotel,” the Scottsbluff residents courted and even donated money to the Nebraska Hotel Company entrepreneurs.

After opening in 1918, the Lincoln Hotel immediately became a centerpiece of Scottsbluff commercial and social life. Advertised as “Mighty Like a Home,” it hosted the majority of overnight visitors in the town and fed a steady stream of travelers and townspeople in the Lincoln Restaurant on the first floor. The basement of the hotel boasted a beauty parlor for women and a cigar shop for men. Meanwhile, the Scottsbluff Room on the sixth floor was the scene of numerous social events and served as the meeting hall for numerous community organizations.

In 1921, the Lincoln Hotel’s parent company, the Nebraska Hotel Company, filed for bankruptcy. That same year, ownership of the Lincoln Hotel passed to hotel entrepreneur Eugene Eppley. Eppley’s hotel empire oversaw management of the Lincoln until 1956, when he sold the hotel to the Sheraton-Midcontinent Group. Shortly thereafter, Sheraton sold the hotel to the Fields Nebraska Corporation. Less than five years later, the Fields Nebraska Corporation declared bankruptcy, and the control of the hotel fell into the hands of a series of short-term proprietors who allowed the hotel to deteriorate. By the 1960s, the Lincoln Hotel was no longer Scottsbluff’s premier hostelry as motels located along Highway 26 became the preferred places to stay. In 1965, Hiram Scott College bought the Lincoln to be used as a student dormitory. In the late 1990s, Metroplains Development of Saint Paul, Minnesota acquired the hotel and adaptively reconfigured the building for use as subsidized senior housing. Though only a shadow of what it was in its heyday, the Lincoln Hotel still stands as a testament to the ambition and determination of a young community attempting to define itself through the opulence and prestige associated with a “grand hotel.”

The Lincoln Hotel is located at 1421 Broadway in Scottsbluff, NE.  The building is currently used to provide subsidized senior housing and is not open to the public.

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Marquis Opera House

Constructed from 1909 to 1910 in the heart of Scottsbluff’s business district, the Marquis Opera House illustrates the hopes of pioneer entrepreneurs that the community would support a town opera house.  One of the first buildings on Main Street, the Victorian building utilized an “opera house block” style that was popular for opera houses in Nebraska during this time period. In accord with the “opera house block” style, it was originally two-stories, but gave the appearance of three stories on the exterior. The lower level of the building had a design that incorporated retail and office space, while the upper floor held the opera house auditorium. In 1916, the building was extensively remodeled.  A third floor was added, and the exterior was altered to produce the stucco Neoclassical character that the building exhibits today.

Lewis and Lulu Marquis constructed the building in partnership with C.R. Inman. The opera house was never a financial success. In 1936, Wade Flynn purchased and renamed the opera house the Flynn Building. Flynn divided the interior of the building into individual units to create additional retail and office space. Though the building never succeeded in its intended function, the construction reflects the courage of frontier entrepreneurs who leveraged large amounts of capital to create lavish, culturally significant buildings in rural Nebraska towns in the hope that the towns would flourish.

The Marquis Opera House is located at 1601-1603 Broadway in Scottsbluff, NE. The building currently houses a retail shop and is partially vacant. The retail shop is open to the public, but the building is not open for tours.

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Midwest Theater

The Midwest Theater was constructed in 1946 in Scotts Bluff.  The new theater replaced the Egyptian Theater that dated from 1923, after it was destroyed by fire in 1945.  Since its construction, the Midwest Theater has served as an entertainment venue for the citizens of Scottsbluff and the surrounding region.  The theater closed on September 12, 1996, and the owning corporation donated the building and its fixtures to the Oregon Trail Community Foundation for use as a community performing arts and entertainment center. The theater is now operated by the Friends of the Midwest Theater.

The two-story, rectangular-shaped building is a showpiece of theatrical innovation. The theater is an excellent example of the Modernistic-style architecture found in 1940s motion picture theater design and exhibits an exceptionally high degree of exterior and interior integrity. The most impressive features on the front street facade of the building are the theater’s marquee and tower. The horizontal 50-foot by 3-foot illuminated marquee is positioned eight feet above the sidewalk surface. Above the marquee, a large aluminum canopy features three horizontal bands of neon lights. The most striking feature of the primary façade is a stainless steel and aluminum tower flanked by glazed masonry panels and extending 60 feet above the theater’s entrance.

The Modernistic style can also be found in the building’s interior design elements, which feature smooth lines, visually softened curved walls, and glowing indirect lighting. The lobby’s coffered ceilings are irregularly shaped, suggesting cloud formations or atmospheric details. Meanwhile, the theater’s auditorium is an aesthetic blend of light, color, and ornamentation. Historically speaking, the Midwest Theater hearkens back to a time when theaters existed exclusively in downtown districts and when attending a motion picture was truly an event.

The Midwest Theater is located at 1707 Broadway in Scottsbluff, NE. The restored theater offers a wide variety of entertainment, including film, music, dance, and theater. The theater hosts a film festival in October in even-numbered years. Visit the Midwest Theater website for more information or call 308-632-4311 for shows and times.

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Saddle Club

Established in 1947 to promote horseback riding, horsemanship, horse shows, and safe riding experiences, the Saddle Club was the first organized equestrian club in Scottsbluff. Since its inception, the Saddle Club has been an important community institution within Scotts Bluff County.  The club held its first horse show in 1948, the same year it purchased land for a new home for the club.  In April of 1949, the club celebrated the construction of its new clubhouse with a grand opening featuring a square dance in the building.  The club sits on some 9 acres of land on the western edge of Scottsbluff, just north of the North Platte River.  On the grounds are the historic clay tile brick clubhouse, several arenas, two round corrals, and horse barns and runs.

The organization was created at a time when daily life across the western Nebraska Panhandle was becoming increasingly mechanized. Club founders hoped that their organization would help local residents maintain a tangible link to equestrian activities and that the club would promote community involvement. The club’s activities illustrate its drive for community action. These have included everything from sponsoring local horse shows, to organizing town-wide square dances and a Pony Express ride reenactment, to providing education on proper care and maintenance of horses for adults and young people. Socially, the Saddle Club has passed along "horse sense" to generations who otherwise may have had no opportunity to learn the official creed the club enacted, known as "A Trail Rider's Creed." In doing so, the Saddle Club keeps alive the rich and vibrant history that defines the Scotts Bluff region.

A Trail Rider’s Creed
As a Trail Rider, I will recognize the following obligations:  To my mount—those considerations known as good horsemanship.  To my fellow riders—those common courtesies of the right of way, which provide for the safety of others.  To Society—never to perform any act of destruction or neglect.

I will remember:  That a cigarette may be down but is never out.  Fire is one of our best friends, yet our worst enemy.  That fences were erected both to keep animals in and out; and that the gates therein must be kept as the owner desires. That signs are erected for our safety and guidance and must be observed. - taken from the Saddle Club meeting minutes.

The Saddle Club is located at approximately the 1800 block of South Beltline Highway West in Scottsbluff. The club is a members-only organization. More information can be obtained by calling 308-641-2940 or visiting the Saddle Club website.

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Scottsbluff Carnegie Library

Constructed from 1921 to 1922, the Scottsbluff Carnegie Library was one of the libraries in 68 communities, townships, or countries in Nebraska that philanthropist Andrew Carnegie funded. Providing money to construct libraries in communities in the United States was one of the first and foremost of wealthy industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s many charitable endeavors. Many communities benefitted from the program. Thanks to a $15,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation, the Scottsbluff Carnegie Library became one of the last two Carnegies Libraries built in Nebraska. The Scottsbluff Carnegie Library is one of the few remaining buildings with unique architectural features from the early period of Scottsbluff’s growth.

Scottsbluff was laid out in 1900 by the Lincoln Land Company, a subsidiary of the Burlington Railroad. The town grew so rapidly from the time the community received the Carnegie grant in 1917 until construction of the library in 1921 that the library quickly needed additional space. During this period, the economy boomed after the introduction of irrigation and the growing and processing of sugar beets in the North Platte River Valley. Scottsbluff was developing into the wholesale and warehouse center for western Nebraska that it remains today.

Robert A. Bradley of Hastings designed the library in the Neoclassical Revival style typical of civic architecture during the period. The rectangular, one-story building sits over a raised basement. To accommodate the rapidly growing population of the city, the Works Progress Administration funded a large addition to the outgrown Carnegie Library in 1936. The addition that O. J. Hehnke of Scottsbluff designed is sensitively done and retains key architectural elements of the original building including the parapet, window, water table, and entablature lines. Originally, the entrance was on the western end, but Hehnke moved it to the north side. The building housed the public library until 1966 and is now the home of the West Nebraska Arts Center.

The Scottsbluff Carnegie Library is located at 106 East 18th St., in Scottsbluff, NE. The West Nebraska Art Center, which occupies the building, is a non-profit organization that supports the arts. The center has an art gallery that is open to the public Monday through Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm and Saturday 1:00pm to 5:00pm. Artwork is typically for sale. There are usually about 12 exhibits a year. Call 308-632-2226 for information.

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Scotts Bluff County Courthouse

Completed in 1921, the Scotts Bluff County Courthouse in Gering, Nebraska is an excellent, largely unaltered example of County Citadel architecture. Besides being architecturally significant, the courthouse is also important for its historic associations with politics and local government.

The courthouse exhibits features of the Classical Revival style, such as symmetric arrangement, monumental shapes, smooth surface finish, a relatively simple entablature, and colossal columns. The rectangular building is three stories set upon a raised basement. Unlike the typical courthouse, however, the raised basement is not differentiated by different materials or wall surface patterns; the entire wall surface is faced with tan brick.

On the main entrance, which is the east portico, six colossal Tuscan limestone columns support a shallow limestone entablature. The parapet has an openwork grill with a starburst pattern and a round clock centered above the round-arched entrance. The windows above are in three-parts, and the second story window has a wrought iron balcony with simple stone consoles.  The courthouse building is an excellent example of public architecture in the community and contains good examples of design features and facilities distinctive to its use as a courthouse. The design conveys the impression of a government building representing modernity, simplicity, strength, and prosperity.

Scotts Bluff County split out from Cheyenne County after the issue was put to a vote in 1888. After another election the following year, Gering became the county seat and the first courthouse was built in 1891. The courthouse served adequately, but discussion of a replacement building took place at the turn of the century. Despite this talk, there was no immediate action. Voters finally approved a bond issue for a new building in 1919, and the county finished its new courthouse in 1921. The courthouse is historically significant as the focal point for the administration of local government and institutions in Scotts Bluff County.

The Scotts Bluff County Courthouse is located at 1725 10th St, at the corner of 10th and Q Sts., in Gering, NE. The courthouse is open Monday-Friday, except holidays, from 8:00am to 5:00pm.

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Scottsbluff United States Post Office

The United States Post Office in the central business district of Scottsbluff is a significant example of Late Renaissance Revival architecture that reflects sophistication through its fine craftsmanship and building materials. The architectural design features the city’s grandest display of terracotta as a building material and serves as a testament to the refinement of Federal architecture of the time. The Late Renaissance Revival style was popular for monumental buildings constructed in Nebraska between the late 1890s and World War II.

The community conceived the post office project at an optimistic time of tremendous growth in the Scottsbluff community in the 1920s. Originally, the ambitious young city called for a much larger post office building complete with elevator shafts and a courtroom.  Due to the onset of the Great Depression, however, the post office the Federal Government constructed between 1931 and 1932 was on a much smaller scale. Despite the reduction in size, the building is one of the most notable landmarks in the city.

James A. Wetmore, the Acting Supervising Architect of the United States Treasury, was responsible for the design. The post office is a two-story, rectangular masonry building with an imposing terracotta front façade. The front façade is comprised of seven bays, and the middle five bays are light, buff-colored terracotta, while the outer two bays are red brick. The bays are divided by six monumental pilasters. Each pilaster features a heavily molded base, a simple shaft of smooth terracotta blocks that alternate in one- and two-block courses, and an ornate classical capital. A simple entablature spans the pilasters with “United States Post Office” engraved in the center. The impressive lobby has a grand staircase to the second floor.

In the late 1980s, the United States Postal Service erected a new, larger post office in Scottsbluff.  Baker and Associates, Inc., an engineering and architectural firm, purchased the historic post office building.  The firm did a sensitive renovation of the building’s features and subdivided it into office space.

The Scottsbluff United States Post Office is located at 120 E. 16th St. in Scottsbluff, NE. The building is used for private offices and is not open to the public for tours.

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Severin Sorensen House

The Severin Sorensen House in Gering dates from 1910. Sorensen, a Danish immigrant, headed the S. Sorensen and Sons firm, which operated the Gering Brick Company and did work as general building contractors. As a locally prominent businessman, Sorensen played a significant role in the early industrial interests of Gering. His brick factory prospered for nearly 30 years and provided building material for the construction of numerous residential and commercial buildings in the North Platte Valley. The Severin Sorensen House demonstrates the Sorensens' approach to residential comfort and style, expressed through the family craft of brick making. The Sorensen family constructed the original house in 1910 as a basement house and added the first story sometime between 1914 and 1916.

Several factors may have influenced Severin Sorensen’s design of his house. A native of Denmark, Sorensen may have drawn upon his ancestral customs in the design layout of the dwelling. Brick houses were common in Denmark in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the Danish were fond of clean and modern habitations. Another influencing factor may have been economics. As the owner of the Gering Brick Company, Sorensen utilized the readily available brick from the family-owned business to build his home. The economic conditions of the time most likely allowed for only the construction of a basement house for the Sorensen family, and the family of 12 lived in only four rooms for a period of time. A few years later, likely as business improved, Sorensen enlarged the dwelling and added the first story.

The house is a unique vernacular product of the Renaissance Revival style, which was popular in much of the United States in the mid-to-late-19th century, although not popular in Nebraska until the early years of the 20th century. Compared to other Renaissance Revival buildings in Nebraska, the Sorensen House is modest in size and design. Despite its modesty, the house displays key features of the style—a formal plan; projecting entrances, porches, or balconies; belt or stringcourses; heavy cornices; and raised entries. The relatively late settlement patterns in western Nebraska produced simplified vernacular styles of architecture compared to similar buildings farther east. High styles, such as Queen Anne and Italianate, dominated the architectural scene in eastern Nebraska. The smaller, less pretentious vernacular styles of western Nebraska, though, played an important role in developing the Scotts Bluff area’s local architectural character.

The Severin Sorensen House is located at 2345 17th St., in Gering, NE. It is a private residence and is not open for tours.

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Tri-State Land Company

Built in 1907, the Tri-State Land Company’s headquarters is the only remaining corporate building associated with this company that was so influential in the development of the region. The large one-and-one-half-story commercial building is on West Overland Street at the edge of the Scottsbluff business district. The building’s exterior and interior maintain a high degree of integrity, and the building is the only known example of the Dutch Colonial Revival Style in the region.

As an early private developer of irrigation, the Tri-State Land Company had a considerable impact on farming in the Scotts Bluff region. Among Tri-State’s most enduring influences was the introduction of the sugar beet. The company helped introduce the sugar beet on a large scale and encouraged its cultivation by growing the crop on company land. The sugar beet became one of western Nebraska’s most important cash crops. The beet helps generate income for a variety of groups. Today, by-products from sugar beet cultivation continue to serve as feed for western Nebraska cattle, and the Great Western Sugar Company, the major beet processing facility in the region, provides numerous jobs to area residents.

While irrigation was still in its infancy in western Nebraska, the Tri-State Land Company purchased an underdeveloped canal, increased its length, and restored it to its original purpose, allowing for increased agricultural production in the area. Tri-State owner and businessman, H.G. Leavitt, believed that irrigated beet farming opened other economic avenues for the region, and the company’s charter reflected that. The Tri-State Land Company invested in a number of other economic pursuits including building large sugar factories, creating larger canals, buying and selling vast tracts of land, and, in time, harnessing canal water energy to produce hydroelectricity. Though not all of Leavitt’s ideas came to fruition, the Tri-State Land Company had an enormous influence on building Scottsbluff.

The Tri-State Land Company is located at 13 West Overland St., in Scottsbluff, NE. The building is currently a commercial property owned and operated by the Herstead Monument Company and is not open for tours.

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Western Public Service Building

The Western Public Service Building is a prominent local landmark associated with the development of the electric power supply in Scottsbluff and the surrounding region. Designed by Scottsbluff architect Everett L. Goldsmith and built from 1930 to 1931, the building is both architecturally and historically significant. The four-story Western Public Service Building embodies the distinctive characteristics of the Art Deco Style and exudes a unique, sleek feeling in the small town streetscape. This small Art Deco gem is enhanced with beautiful non-structural decorative elements, including terracotta-sheathed facades and reeded pilasters that draw attention upward to an elaborate bas-relief floral and sunrise crown. The ornamental doorway entrance, decorated with stylized floral and geometric patterns in cream-colored terracotta, and the scalloped features under the window are also noteworthy embellishments. The intact interior spaces lend to the attractiveness of the building as well.

Development of electric service in Scottsbluff began in 1909 with the privately-owned Scottsbluff Electric Power Company. At first the company provided only a small amount of unreliable electric power. The Inter-Mountain Railway, Light & Power Company bought the company in 1916. After World War I, the company began selling power to multiple communities including Bridgeport, Broadwater, Melbeta, and McGrew. To reflect its growing consumer base, the company changed its name to the Western Public Service Company in 1922 and kept that name even after Stone and Webster, a Boston holding company with multiple and varied interests, purchased the company in 1925.

By 1929, the company had outgrown its office space and selected the E. L. Goldsmith Architect Company of Scottsbluff to design a new office building. The new design incorporated space for the local office and engineering section as well as the company's general headquarters offices. The company selected Ernest Leafgreen as the general contractor and let the contract in July of 1930. The total cost of the new building came to $123,567.23. The Western Public Service Company Building opened on March 30, 1931, to much local acclaim.

The Consumers Public Power District eventually purchased the company in 1942. Later, the District merged into the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), a public corporation and political subdivision of the State of Nebraska. Both the regional and the local offices of NPPD continued to operate out of the "Electric Company" building, later known as the "NPPD Building." As jobs transferred to Columbus, the number of regional employees working in the office gradually diminished. To fill the empty space, other businesses rented out offices on the upper floor. In March 2003, the local office moved to the newly remodeled facility at NPPD's Bluffs Station on First Avenue in Scottsbluff, and Frank Enterprises of Scottsbluff purchased the Western Public Service Building.

The Western Public Service Building is located at 1721 Broadway in Scottsbluff, NE. The building  is currently used for office space and is not open to the public to tour.

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C. C. Hampton Homestead

Born in Clyde, Iowa in 1867, Commodore C. Hampton moved to the western portion of Cheyenne County (now part of Banner County) at the age of 20.  He filed his papers for a homestead claim and created the C. C. Hampton Homestead. From modest beginnings, Hampton grew his 160-acre claim into over 3,000 acres within a decade, before selling his ranch and moving to a farm near Gering. The original 160-acre C. C. Hampton Homestead (Warner Ranch) is located in northwestern Banner County near the headwaters of Pumpkin Creek. In addition to Hampton’s log house, the original ranch consisted of numerous outbuildings, including a bunkhouse, a small stone spring house, a coal storage shed, a grain bin, a banked barn, and a machine shed.

C.C. Hampton influenced life on the Nebraska frontier by introducing several long-lasting and progressive agricultural methods. Knowing that the soil of Banner County proved productive when properly watered, Hampton was an early proponent of water conservation and management. He was also an early promoter of the Aeromotor Windmill, which was all metal with curved sheet-steel sails set at angles to derive the most power from the wind. Through a complex series of gears, the Aeromotor proved efficient at extracting water from aquifers. By distributing these windmills to his fellow ranchers, Hampton assured that adequate water was available for livestock, farming, and domestic use in the area.

In 1902, Hampton sold his homestead and moved to a farm in Gering. The ranch passed through three different owners before Lawrence Warner bought Hampton’s original 160-acre property in 1942. The Warner family renamed the homestead the Warner Ranch and conducted a ranching and farming operation on the land for over 50 years.

The C.C. Hampton Homestead is located near Harrisburg (Banner County), Nebraska at 2170 Road 40.  The ranch is a private residence and not open for tours. Visitors wishing to learn more about farm life and ranching in the Scotts Bluff area are encouraged to visit the Farm and Ranch Museum, located one mile west of Gering, off Old Oregon Trail, on the way to the Scotts Bluff National Monument. The museum is open to the public from May 1 to October 1 from 10:00am to 5:00pm Monday-Saturday, and Sunday 1:00pm to 5:00pm, or by appointment. The museum fees are $3.00 for adults and children 12 years of age and under are free.  For more information call 308-436-1989, or visit the Farm and Ranch Museum website.

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Camp Clark Bridge Site

In 1874, General George Armstrong Custer’s army expedition discovered gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which reignited gold fever in the American West. Getting supplies to the remote region where gold deposits had been discovered concerned many of the prospectors. The most direct route to the mines was overland along the Sidney-Deadwood Trail, a 267-mile route that stretched from the Union Pacific Railway at Sidney, Nebraska to Deadwood, South Dakota. That route, however, required the construction of a bridge to allow freight wagons and stagecoaches to cross the North Platte River just west of what is now Bridgeport, Nebraska.

Contracted by Omaha businessmen in 1875, Henry T. Clarke, a veteran bridge builder, designed a toll bridge to span the river. Clarke’s impressive structure measured over 2,000 feet in length and had sixty-one trusses and pilings set deep into the soft bed of the North Platte River to help stabilize it. Use of the bridge was at its highest shortly after its completion during the peak of the Black Hills gold rush between 1876 and 1880. During this boom period, the area around the bridge featured a saloon, blacksmith, hotel, general store, and corral.
By 1882 though, gold fever was cooling, and a direct rail line into the Black Hills made the overland route unnecessary. A new bridge built several miles to the east at the nearby town of Bridgeport in 1906 effectively replaced the Camp Clarke Bridge, which was closed. By 1913, many of the buildings around the old bridge site were in disrepair, and subsequently they were razed. No structures remain at the site today.

A historical marker located four miles west of Bridgeport, NE along US Hwy 26/92 marks the site of the Camp Clarke Bridge, which is no longer standing. A scale model of the bridge and other information regarding the structure can be found at the North Platte Valley Museum. The museum is open Monday-Friday from 9:00am to 4:00pm and 1:00pm to 4:00pm on Saturday and Sunday. Admission costs $3.00 dollars for adults, $1.00 for children six to 12 years of age; children five and under are free. The museum is located at 900 Overland Trails Rd. at the corner of J St. and 11th St. in Gering, NE. For more information, call 308-436-5411 or visit the North Platte Valley Museum website.

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Chimney Rock

Designated the Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Chimney Rock is one of the most famous and recognizable landmarks for pioneer travelers on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails, a symbol of the great western migration. Located approximately four miles south of present-day Bayard in Millard County, at the south edge of the North Platte River Valley, Chimney Rock is a natural geologic formation, a remnant of the erosion of the bluffs at the edge of the North Platte Valley. A slender spire rises 325 feet from a conical base. The imposing formation, composed of layers of volcanic ash and brule clay dating back to the Oligocene Age (34 million to 23 million years ago), towers 480 feet above the North Platte River Valley.

Though the origins of the name of the rock are obscure, the title “Chimney Rock” probably originated with the first fur traders in the region. In the early 19th century, however, travelers referred to it by a variety of other names, including Chimley Rock, Chimney Tower, and Elk Peak, but Chimney Rock had become the most commonly used name by the 1840s. 
After examining over 300 journal accounts of settlers moving west along the Platte River Road, historian Merrill Mattes concluded that Chimney Rock was by far the most mentioned landmark. Mattes notes that although no special events took place at the rock, it held center-stage in the minds of the overland trail travelers. For many, the geological marker was an optical illusion. Some claimed that Chimney Rock could be seen upwards of 30 miles away, and though one travelled toward the rock-spire, Chimney Rock always appeared to be off in the distance—unapproachable.

Because of this optical effect, early travel accounts varied in their description of the rock. Some travelers believed that the rock spire may have been upwards of 30 feet higher than its current height, suggesting that wind, erosion, or a lightning strike had caused the top part of the spire to break off. Throughout the ages, the rock spire has continued to capture the imaginations and the romantic fascinations of travelers heading west. Chimney Rock and its surrounding environs today look much as they did when the first settlers passed through in the mid 1800s. Erected on the southeast edge of the base in 1940, a small stone monument commemorates a gift from the Frank Durnal family to the Nebraska State Historical Society of approximately 80 acres of land, including Chimney Rock. The plot of land that the State owns provides a buffer zone to protect the historic landmark from modern encroachment. The only modern developments are Chimney Rock Cemetery, located approximately one-quarter mile southeast, and the visitor center nearby. Chimney Rock was designated a National Historic Site in 1956. The visitor center provides information on the history of the Overland Trails and Chimney Rock.

The Chimney Rock Visitor Center is located 1.5 miles south of Highway 92 on Chimney Rock Road near the town of Bayard in Morrill County, NE. The center houses museum exhibits, media presentations, and other educational materials concerning life on the overland trails, and a museum shop. The Visitor’s Center is open 9:00am to 5:00pm daily including Memorial Day, July 4, and Labor Day. Closed on State holidays. Admission is $3.00 for adults, and children with adults are free as are members of the Nebraska State Historical Society. For more information visit the Nebraska State Historical Society’s Chimney Rock website.

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Courthouse and Jail Rocks

Located near present-day Bridgeport, the Courthouse and Jail Rocks are the erosional remnants of an ancient plateau that bisected the North Platte River. The rocks sit at over 4,050 feet above sea level and rise more than 240 feet above nearby Pumpkin Creek. Like Chimney Rock, these rock structures have long been recognized by pioneers as prominent landmarks on the transcontinental journey west.  The Courthouse and Jail Rocks were the first monumental rock features that emigrants would encounter heading west.  The rocks also served as an important crossroads, where two major trunks of the Oregon and California Overland trails merged.

Like Chimney Rock, the Courthouse and Jail Rocks went by a series of names before arriving at their current designations. Because of Courthouse Rock’s grand and imposing appearance, many emigrants described the rock in terms of a large public building, naming it the Castle or the Courthouse. When viewed at distance from the east, the Courthouse and Jail Rocks appear to merge into a large, single unit, and descriptions sometimes referred to them as a single formation, the Solitary Tower or the Lonely Tower. Once travelers approached Courthouse Rock, however, the second, smaller escarpment, the Jail Rock, became visually distinct. Though travelers applied various titles to both features, by the 1840s, most people used the names Courthouse and Jail.

Apart from their historic significance as landmarks on overland trails during the 19th century, the northwest side of the rock complex boasts a Dismal River archeological site. Dismal River archeological sites have been found throughout western Nebraska. Artifacts obtained from the sites have helped archeologists document American Indian people believed to have migrated into western Nebraska c. A.D. 1675. The remains of the Courthouse Pony Express Station, the first station west of Mud Springs, lie on the southwest corner.

Courthouse and Jail Rocks are located two miles south of Bridgeport, NE, on Highway 88.

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Fort Mitchell

The outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 stretched the Federal Government’s resources for the West thin, making it increasingly difficult for the government to protect emigrants and other travelers on overland trails. Many U.S. soldiers went back East to fight for the Union, which weakened the frontier garrisons. Beginning in 1860, the short-lived Pony Express followed the Oregon Trail past Scotts Bluff and daily stage coach service along the route began in 1861, the same year the transcontinental telegraph line went through.  These changes prompted Indian raids. Beginning in 1861, frequent attacks by Sioux and Cheyenne war parties on telegraph lines, overland mail service, stage coaches, and wagon trains forced the government to establish several small military outposts, among them Fort Mitchell, on the Oregon Trail near Scotts Bluff.  Both the fort and the nearby pass through the bluffs got their name from General Robert B. Mitchell, commander of the military district of Nebraska.  

Colonel William Collins of Fort Laramie designed Fort Mitchell as an outpost of Fort Laramie, which had too few troops to combat the Indians.  Constructed in 1864, the 180-by-100-foot sod and adobe fort consisted of barracks, shops, and a horse corral. Company H of the Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry under the command of Captain J. S. Shuman garrisoned the fort.  Soldiers from Fort Mitchell participated in a famous skirmish with Sioux and Cheyenne Indians at Mud Springs in 1865 that was prompted by the massacre of hundreds of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians at Sand Creek, Colorado in 1864. 

In 1866, two travelers in the area described the fort.  Julius C. Birge recounts:

‘At Fort Mitchell there was stationed a company of soldiers to impress upon the Indians the idea that the strong military arm of the U.S. government extended over the West.  As we learned later, three-score soldiers were but a feeble menace to the thousands of dissatisfied warriors who were then roaming over the plains, awaiting some assurance from our authorities that the last of their ancient hunting grounds would not be invaded or traversed by the whites.’
The wife of Colonel Henry B. Carrington traveling with her husband on an expedition to the Powder River country reported:

‘Almost immediately after leaving the Bluff, and at the foot of the descent, after the gorge is passed, we find Fort Mitchell.   This is a sub post of Fort Laramie of peculiar style and compactness.  The walls of the quarters are also the outlines of the fort itself, and the four sides of the rectangle are respectively the quarters of officers, soldiers, and horses, and the warehouse of supplies.  Windows open into the court or parade-ground; and bed-rooms, as well as all apartments, are loop-holed for defense.’

Because the United States regained control of the region after the Civil War, Fort Mitchell became unnecessary, and the United States Government abandoned the post.

The site of Fort Mitchell is a significant archeological time capsule. The site provides valuable data on the tools, weapons, personal property, and other objects used at the time. Although overshadowed by the fort, Sibson’s Road Ranch was also located at the site, and today offers important historical and archeological records. The temporal and geographical proximity of the two sites affords researchers a rare opportunity to compare civilian and military outposts of a single time period.

The Fort Mitchell site is located near Scottsbluff, though the address and visitation are restricted due to its fragility and lack of extant historic buildings. Visitors wishing to learn more about the fort can visit Scotts Bluff National Monument. The monument’s visitor center includes a scale model of the fort as it existed c. 1866, as well as other resources regarding the fort and life in and around Scotts Bluff. The Scotts Bluff National Monument Visitor Center is open seven days a week. Summer hours are 8:00am to 7:00pm and off season hours are 8:00am to 5:00pm. Visit the National Park Service Scotts Bluff National Monument website for fees and more information.

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Henry State Aid Bridges

The two Henry State Aid Bridges are among the last of the original 17 multiple-span concrete arch bridges designed and built by the Nebraska State Engineer’s Office under the State Aid Bridge program. They span two channels of the North Platte River in rural Scotts Bluff County in a setting that has seen little change since their construction. 

The Nebraska Legislature passed the State Aid Bridge Act in 1911 to assist with bridge construction across the State's larger streams. The act established a fund whereby the State and county each paid half of a bridge's cost. In 1916, the Scotts Bluff County Commissioners applied for State aid for the construction of two bridges over the North Platte River at the town of Henry. Voters approved a bond to fund the county’s share of the project.  With the assurance of State funding, the State Engineer's Office completed the design for the bridges by 1919. Erected as two series of concrete arches, and widened by cantilevering in 1959, both bridges are still in use today.  Although the total cost of the two bridges totaled over $80,000, the share the State funded, at less than $8,000, fell inexplicably short of the promised 50% match. Of the 17 multiple-span concrete arch bridges built between the inception of the State Aid Bridge program in 1911 and its phase out in 1936, only six remain, including the two Henry State Aid Bridges.

The State Aid Bridge Fund got its financing from a property tax. The fund provided a 50% State subsidy to build and later also to purchase and move county bridges that spanned streams that were at least 175 feet, later reduced to 100 feet, in width.  The money eased the distrust counties had about State interference in local affairs, and the program became very popular. The State last appropriated money into the fund in 1933 and closed the fund in 1936 after it assisted in the construction or purchase of 97 bridges in 80 locations. The State engineer emphasized the importance of the fund when he stated that “this law has done more than any other to stimulate the interest of counties in the building of permanent bridges, and sets an excellent example of the form of bridge construction in this State.”  Most of the bridges were along the Platte River and its north and south branches.

The two Henry State Aid Bridges are located south of NE 26 on Holloway Rd. over the North Platte River, 0.6 mile south of Henry, NE.

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Interstate Canal Bridge

The Interstate Canal Bridge once carried a gravel-surfaced county road across the Interstate Canal north of Scottsbluff.  Although the history of the bridge’s construction is not well documented, it probably was the result of a resolution by the Scotts Bluff County Commissioners. Dated April 20, 1915, the resolution required canal owners to construct bridges where county roads intersected their ditches and canals. Subject to the approval of the road overseer or the county commissioners, these bridges were intended to be built within 30 days of the resolution.

The Interstate Canal Bridge is a steel, Pratt pony truss bridge with upright posts, a timber deck, and concrete footings. The builder of this bridge used a non-standard design with a configuration and details that are similar to those of three other canal bridges in Scotts Bluff County.  The truss bears the characteristics of one of these c. 1915 structures making the bridge significant as an illustration of this trend in transportation and also as an example of a simple-support pony truss.

Although the State legislature in 1913 required Nebraska’s counties to use standard 20-ton capacity designs, canal companies had no such requirement. As a result, most canal companies built timber pile bridges, much weaker than steel construction. Typically poorly constructed, these small-scale bridges either collapsed or counties later replaced them with more substantial designs. The Interstate Canal Bridge and the three other bridges in Scotts Bluff County are the only known examples of steel truss bridges that canal companies erected in the State of Nebraska.

The Interstate Canal Bridge is located off Sugar Factory Rd. over the Interstate Canal, 9.3 miles north of Scottsbluff, NE.

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Knorr-Holden Continuous Corn Plot

The Knorr-Holden Continuous Corn Plot has played an important role in the educational agriculture research conducted at the University of Nebraska's Scottsbluff Experiment Station, now part of the University of Nebraska’s Panhandle Research and Extension Center. Since its establishment in 1912, the plot has been the source of valuable information about the ecology, environmental impact, soil management practices, and production principles of long-term continuously irrigated corn. The research done on this half-acre plot has played a critical role in advancing the farming techniques used in western Nebraska.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the vast and sparsely occupied Scotts Bluff region was a promising site for homesteaders. Settlers soon realized, however, that rainfall in western Nebraska was not sufficient or reliable enough for growing crops. Farmers recognized irrigation as the solution to their water needs. In the 1900s and 1910s, various groups developed many new canal and irrigation systems. Although these efforts opened large acreage to irrigation, many farmers lacked experience managing irrigated crops grown in the sandy soils of the valley.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) soon understood that farmers would need to successfully and correctly implement new techniques to farm the irrigated lands. To facilitate research and disseminate information to area farmers, the Scottsbluff Experiment Station was established in 1910. In 1912, an extensive series of both irrigated and dry land rotation experiments began at the station. The Knorr-Holden Continuous Corn Plot is one of the oldest continuous field crop experiments in the United States.

The Knorr-Holden Continuous Corn Plot is located at the Scottsbluff Experiment Station, now part of the University of Nebraska’s Panhandle Research and Extension Center, on Experiment Farm Road. To reach the farm, travel north from Scottsbluff, NE along NE 71, approximately four miles. Turn left onto Experiment Farm Rd. and travel approximately 1.5 miles. 

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M.B. Quivey House

Maurice B. Quivey was born in Hamlin, New York and came to Alliance, Nebraska in 1900. He moved to the town of Mitchell five years later. Quivey was co-owner with F. M. Raymond of the Mitchell Mercantile Company, a general merchandise store. The Mitchell Mercantile Company operated until the 1930s and was one of the largest stores of its kind in western Nebraska, serving local ranchers and farmers. Mitchell Mercantile Company sold groceries, clothing, shoes, hardware, furniture, and even included an undertaking department.

Located in Mitchell, the M. B. Quivey house is architecturally significant as a representation of the Prairie Style of architecture that was popular in the Midwest from 1900 until World War I. Reflecting the flat terrain of Midwestern prairies; the Prairie style gives viewers a sense of cohesiveness between building and landscape and is characterized by the use of natural materials with a strong horizontal emphasis in design.  Most houses of its type have two stories, low roof lines, and wide overhanging eaves. Illustrating this horizontal pattern and large roof overhangs, the Quivey house is a modest interpretation of the Prairie style.

The house is a two-and-one-half-story brick and frame dwelling.  J. W. Hall designed the  house, which Quivey had built in 1914. The property includes a garage and a one-story frame gazebo located behind the house. Other examples of Hall’s work as architect and designer can be found throughout the region such as the Christian Church in Mitchell, the interior of the Mitchell Mercantile Company’s store, and numerous private residences.

The interior of the home has several distinctive features including original crystal chandeliers from Bohemia, an ornate open stairway in the front foyer, beamed ceilings, and a built-in china closet in the dining room. Wooden doors are inlaid with ebony and mahogany in a linear design.

The house served as the Mr. and Mrs. Quivey’s home until they divorced in 1927, after which Mrs. Quivey had the home converted into apartments.

The M. B. Quivey House is located at 1462 19th Ave., in Mitchell, NE. It is a private residence and is not open for tours.

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Morrill County Courthouse

The Morrill County Courthouse is located in Bridgeport and has a rich and venerable history. In 1907, a group of local Bridgeport residents petitioned Cheyenne County to hold an election to decide if the area comprising present-day Morrill County should become its own county. In the preceding decade, the region experienced tremendous growth. The introduction of the Burlington Railway and the generous provisions of the Kinkaid Act of 1904 encouraged new settlers to build homesteads in the area. After a community-wide vote in 1909, Morrill County officially separated from Cheyenne County.

The centrally located town of Bridgeport won the county seat election and moved quickly to construct a courthouse. Local citizens in Bridgeport passed a bond issue of $15,000 to finance the courthouse construction. The Bridgeport boosters took their quest for a new courthouse beyond the bond issue ballot box. In response to a request from the Bridgeport Commercial Club in 1908, the Lincoln Land Company, a subsidiary of the Burlington Railroad, agreed to help build a courthouse if Bridgeport was named the county seat by April 1, 1909. The county received $10,000 from the company when it complied with certain stipulations. The courthouse had to be brick, cost at least $15,000, and be completed in a timely manner. In addition, the company offered the county a courthouse site, a common railroad technique for ensuring that their rail stop was also a county seat. J.P. Eisentraut of Kansas City designed and the firm Winters and Shor of Atwood, Kansas built the courthouse. Construction began in June of 1910 and by August the courthouse was complete. The Morrill County Courthouse is still in use today with some of its former services now housed in the local law enforcement building.

The Morrill County Courthouse is an excellent, unaltered example of County Citadel architecture. Identifying features of the style include a rectangular shape, a centered entrance, costly materials, distinctive ornamentation, Classical Revival style influences, and an impression of a government building representing modernity and simplicity. The building is two stories set upon a raised basement. The courthouse exhibits Classical Revival style elements in its symmetrical arrangement, smooth surface finish, simple parapet and unadorned roofline, pedimented pavilions, and tall pilasters.

The Morrill County Courthouse is located at 605 Main St. in Bridgeport, NE. The courthouse is open Monday-Friday, except holidays, from 8:00am to 4:30pm. For more information call 308-262-0860.

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Mud Springs Pony Express Station Site

Mud Springs is located near present day Dalton in Cheyenne County, Nebraska. First surveyed in 1856, the town served overland travelers on the Jules cutoff by connecting Lodgepole Creek to the Oregon Trail. The springs represented the first significant opportunity for obtaining water in a 24-mile stretch of barren overland trail. In 1860, the Pony Express established a line along the Jules cutoff and created a station at Mud Springs. In 1861, shortly before the Pony Express operations ended, a transcontinental telegraph station was positioned at Mud Springs, along with a daily stage coach service.

In 1865, Sioux and Cheyenne Indians attacked the Mud Springs station. Having recently laid siege to the small town of Julesburg to the south in retaliation for a massacre of Cheyenne at Sand Creek, Colorado, the Indians intended to deliver the same fate to Mud Springs. A quick-thinking telegrapher, however, sent a distress signal to Fort Mitchell and Fort Laramie. Within a day, U.S. troops were in place at Mud Springs to stave off any attacks.

The Mud Springs Telegraph Station continued operations until the 1876 rerouting of telegraph lines that made Mud Springs Station unnecessary. The area has had a vibrant history intimately tied to the Old West—as a station of the Pony Express, as a road ranch for weary westward travelers, and, finally, as a telegraph station.

No buildings or structures are still standing at the site, which a private owner donated to the Nebraska State Historical Society in 1939. A stone marker and sign post have been erected at the site to commemorate the station. The native-stone monument at the site has a bronze Pony Express symbol and plaque. The text on the monument says:

MUD SPRINGS STATION/A Station on the Pony Express Route--1860-61./A station on the First Transcontinental Telegraph Line./A station on the Overland Stage Route./Battle between Sioux Indians and U. S. Troops, Febr. 6th-7th, 1865/This site given to the State of Nebraska/by/Mrs. Etta A. Scherer and children/To be preserved as a memorial to all the early settlers who/won the West./Monument erected June 11, 1939,/by/The Mud Springs Womans Club.

The Mud Springs Pony Express Station Site can be accessed by following State Highway 88 south for several miles from Bridgeport, NE. A sign directs visitors to Mud Springs to turn onto Road 99. Follow the road for 0.2 mile. Turn left onto Road 82 and proceed 1 mile. Turn right on Road 101 and travel 5.5 miles. Then turn left on to Mud Springs Road/ Road 70 and travel for 4 miles.

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Robidoux Pass

Robidoux Pass is one of two historic passes travelers used to traverse the Wildcat Hills range. Located south of the North Platte Valley near the present-day town of Gering, this narrow pass carried thousands of emigrants traveling the Oregon-California Trail between 1843 and 1851. Robidoux Pass provided travelers with their first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains and offered a good supply of spring water and wood—both essential on the journey. The trail crossed through a narrow valley at the base of the pass, then wound its way west to the summit.

The earliest travelers to use the pass were probably fur traders and missionaries in the 1820s and 30s. The first transcontinental wagon train through the pass was the Bidwell-Bartleson Expedition, 80 emigrants bound for Oregon with the Catholic missionary Father De Smet in 1841. East of the pass lies the site of a trading post established by a Frenchman, either Joseph or Antoine Robidoux, in the late 1840s. Robidoux sold a variety of goods and provided blacksmithing services for travelers.

One emigrant described the post as a log shanty with a blacksmith’s forge on one end and a grog shop on the other. Other trading posts are known to have existed near the pass at that time, including one owned by the American Fur Company, but Robidoux’s is most often mentioned in diaries. The heaviest use of the pass was during the Oregon Migration and the California Gold Rush of the 1840s. Following the opening of Mitchell Pass in 1851, which provided a shorter trail, Robidoux Pass and the trading posts fell into disuse.

Today, none of the historic buildings remain at Robidoux Pass.  Wagon ruts and several markers show the original path of the trail. Early accounts of the trip through this area note several burials at the pass, two of which can still be seen today. Tools, wagon implements, bullets, and other materials have also been found in this area, helping to location the trading post and the blacksmith shop.

Robidoux Pass is located south of Scotts Bluff National Monument, 0.5 mile south and eight miles west of Gering, NE off Highway 71 on Robidoux Road. Robidoux Pass has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.A life-size reconstruction of the Robidoux Trading Post can be found in Carter Canyon, located one mile south of Gering on Highway 71 and eight miles west along Carter Canyon Road. Visitors wishing to explore both Robidoux Pass and the reconstructed Robidoux Trading Post can access both sites by driving to Robidoux Pass then following Rifle Site Pass Road south to Carter Canyon Road. The site is open to visitors who can take self-guided tours. Guided tours of the reconstructed trading post can be arranged in advance by calling 308-436-6886.

Four National Historic Trails run near Robidoux Pass: Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, California National Historic Trail, Oregon National Historic Trail, and Pony Express National Historic Trail. See the National Park Service National Historic Trails website for more information.

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Sandford Hall

Sandford Hall in Mitchell has long been known throughout much of the North Platte Valley as a central location for social gatherings. The hall has served the community since 1934 as a public dance hall and place for community events.  Once numerous, the simple dance halls Sanford Hall represents are very rare today.  This one has changed little over time and is the only extant example of its type in the North Platte Valley. When the Mitchell Dance Pavilion at the Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds burned down in January 1934, the County Board obtained a loan, built Sandford Hall to replace the Pavilion, and opened the new entertainment venue in just over three months, using the help of local school boys. The speed with which the community replaced the burned building with a new dance hall and the quality of the entertainment and the huge crowds it drew attest to the value the community put on having this entertainment and recreation facility.

The ability of the community to replace the destroyed Pavilion depended upon a very scarce commodity in Depression-era 1934: money. Luckily, local banker J. L. Sandford had an interest in the welfare of the community and the fate of the dance hall.  The County Fair Board gratefully named the new entertainment venue after Sandford, one of the owners of the First National Bank in Mitchell, who helped the board obtain a line of credit to build Sandford Hall.

In March of 1934, the American Legion sponsored the Grand Opening where the nationally known musical act, Herbie Kay and His Orchestra, played to a huge crowd. Movie star and singer Dorothy Lamour joined the band as the vocalist. During the heyday of the Big Band era, a number of other big names played at Sandford Hall, including Stan Kenton, Ted Weems with Perry Como, Artie Shaw, Les Brown, Glen Miller, Harry James, Henry Busse, Art Kassel, Gene Krupa, Tommy Dorsey, Lawrence Welk, and Benny Goodman. According to oral tradition, these nationally known bands would stop in Mitchell on their way to Denver from Omaha or Chicago. The Mitchell American Legion sponsored the dances.  Although Mitchell’s population in 1930 was only 2,058, more than 1,000 people would attend a dance held by a big-name band.  That Mitchell, which was hundreds of miles from a big city, could draw such nationally known entertainers and such large crowds to see and hear them attests to the popularity of Sandford Hall from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Located on a site adjacent to the County Fairgrounds track and stadium, Sandford Hall is a simple one-story wood frame building 148’ long and 80’ wide.  The arched roof covers a large open space with a 120’x50’ hardwood dance floor. Wooden, full-beam roof posts at the edge of the dance floor and the arched roof allow for a dance floor with no obstructions.  Shed extensions enclose seating and stage areas. The simple, highly functional design made the building suitable for a variety of events.

Sandford Hall is located at 130625 County Road East, on the Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds. The entry to the fairgrounds is at the intersection of 13th St. and 22nd Ave. in Mitchell, NE.

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Scotts Bluff National Monument

The National Park Service administers Scotts Bluff National Monument to protect 3,000 acres of unusual land formations that rise over the otherwise flat Nebraska prairieland. Scotts Bluff itself is an ancient landmark that was once part of the ancient High Plains.  Erosion over a long period cut the surrounding valleys down to their present level leaving the bluff and the adjoining hills. The unbroken plains now lie farther to the west. In addition to being a prominent geological feature, Scotts Bluff was a major landmark to travelers in the North Platte Valley who were part of the great westward overland migration during the 19th century. American Indians lived in the area for many years prior. The vast herds of buffalo that inhabited the region made Scotts Bluff a major hunting ground of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. An Indian name for the bluff is Me-a-pa-te or "the-hill-that-is-hard-to-go-around."

The first white men to pass through the Scotts Bluff area were the fur trappers of the Astorian Expedition, who wintered there from 1812 to 1813. Until the beginning of the overland trail routes in the 1840s, most of the whites who saw Scotts Bluff were either trappers or missionaries. The bluff takes its name from a fur trapper, Hiram Scott, who died in the vicinity in 1828. During the 1840s and 1850s, thousands of emigrants traveling along the Oregon-California trails moved through the North Platte Valley seeking land in Oregon, California, or Utah.  Although a prominent landmark on the journey west, the bluffs were also a barrier to travelers, who used two passes to traverse them. Robidoux Pass was the primary trail until 1851, when Mitchell Pass became the major route. Pony Express riders, stage and freight wagons, the first transcontinental telegraph, and the military all moved through the Scotts Bluff passes over the next several decades. The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 marked the decline of the Oregon Trail, including the portion through Scotts Bluff, although locals continued to move through the area.

Early in the 20th century, local and State interests devoted themselves to promoting Scotts Bluff as a symbol of the nation’s pioneering past. Following an intense lobbying effort, Scotts Bluff became a National Monument on December 12, 1919. Despite widespread public interest, the bluffs saw little change, save for foot trails and picnic areas, until the 1930s. With the onset of the Great Depression, the monument experienced a period of active infrastructure development under the aegis of government employment programs such as the Civil Works Administration (CWA), Works Progress Administration (WPA), and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).Workers constructed Summit Road with its three tunnels and parking lot and State Highway 92, for many years the major roadway to the site.  They also built the Scotts Bluff National Monument visitors center, which now houses a notable collection of paintings and memorabilia of the famed Western artist William Henry Jackson.

During the early 1960s, the National Park Service completed a number of construction projects to upgrade facilities, roads, and trails as part of the "Mission 66" program that marked the 50th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service. Moving forward, the Scotts Bluff National Monument staff plans to add a significant addition to the visitor center, update outdoor interpretive elements, and create an audio cell phone tour for visitors.

Scotts Bluff National Monument, a unit of the National Park System, is located 3 miles west of Gering, NE on NE 92. Click here for the National Register registration file: text and photos. The Oregon Trail Museum and Visitor Center is open from 8:00am to 7:00pm during the summer and from 8:00am to 5:00pm in the off season. Summit Rd., the road leading visitors to the top of the bluff, is open from 8:00am to 6:30pm during the summer and from 8:00am to 4:30pm in the off season. The monument trails are open from sunrise to sunset throughout the year. Visitors may drive, hike, or bicycle. For additional information and fees, visit the National Park Service Scotts Bluff National Monument website.

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Signal Butte

Signal Butte rises 120 feet above the North Platte Valley southwest of Gering, Nebraska. Signal Butte is significant as the first American Indian site of the middle pre-contact period in the Central and Northern Plains that archeologists investigated. Because of its archeological importance, the site has long been an area of investigation by the University of Nebraska, Columbia University, and the Smithsonian Institution. The dating and interpretation of archeological deposits have been controversial. The site served as both a habitation and a workshop area during three different time periods and is a rich source of valuable artifacts.

Thomas L. Gren of Scottsbluff first reported the site to William Duncan Strong of the University of Nebraska Archeological Survey in 1931. In the first excavations in 1931 and 1932, archeologists found three distinct habitation levels and uncovered storage pits, shallow fireplaces, and numerous artifacts such as sandstone or pumice grinders, hammerstones, pestles, shaft polishers, quartzite projectile points, and bones. The site proved to be important for its long stratified record of human activity.

The butte is capped with a thick mantle of gravel and windblown soil. This layer contains three distinct cultural horizons, separated by sterile soil. The approximate ages of the occupations are 3000-2000 B.C., 1000 B.C.-A.D. 500, and A.D. 900-1700. The oldest occupation is attributed to the Middle Plains Archaic period and is a component of the McKean Complex, a diverse culture widely distributed across the northern and western Plains during the period 3000-1000 B.C. Following a prolonged drought on the Great Plains, pre-contact peoples during this period developed sophisticated hunting and foraging techniques. The second group to use the site was possibly a non-pottery-producing extension of the Woodland people. Artifacts recovered from this Late Archaic period stratum include projectile points, drills and gravers, and bone awls. Within the last millennium, unrelated Upper Republican and Dismal River Apache peoples occupied the butte leaving a large amount of pottery at the site.

Signal Butte is located southwest of Gering, NE. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Because it is a fragile archeological site, the site is not open to visitors.

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