The mission of Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer is to preserve and portray the inspiring era of the pioneer town builders who created the first communities in Nebraska.
What is Stuhr Living History Museum?
Praised as “one of the top ’10’ places to relive America’s past” by Good Housekeeping magazine, Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer offers a hands-on living history experience that tells the story of early town building in Nebraska. Stuhr Museum is a world-class, nationally recognized educational and cultural institution, and an outdoor living history museum.
For more than forty years, Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer has given visitors a glimpse of pioneer life. Described as a “crossroads in time,” Stuhr Museum preserves and portrays the inspiring story of the pioneer town builders who created the first communities in Nebraska. The pioneers who challenged the land did not think their story remarkable, but visitors and students are amazed at the spirit and accomplishments of common people who shared a vision for the future and built satisfying and productive lives on the prairie.
Since 1961, Stuhr Museum has collected and preserved historical objects and information relating to life in Nebraska’s prairie communities from the 1840s through 1920. These artifacts-the buildings and the objects-are important tools to bring history to life and enable today’s citizens to understand the economic, political, and cultural development of these plains communities. As such, they play a key role in Stuhr’s “living history” and educational programs. These programs focus on the diversity of Nebraska’s heritage, not just the dates and patterns of settlement but on the people, their lives, hopes, and ethnic background. These historical artifacts are a tangible part of this heritage and help make this story real to the museum’s visitors.
Begin your visit in the Stuhr Building. Open year-round, the stately Stuhr Building was designed by the late, world-renowned architect Edward Durell Stone. The Stuhr Building’s many indoor exhibits of period rooms, tools, household articles and furnishings introduce visitors to Nebraska’s history by tracing pioneer lifestyles from 1880 to 1920. The museum’s attractive main building also houses the Prairie Treasures Gift Shop and ever-changing exhibits on a year-round basis. Elegant marble floors, graceful twin spiral staircases and four stylish fountains enable you to tour in a peaceful environment. Prairie Treasures carries a wide assortment of unique gift items, Nebraska items, goodies, keepsakes, jewelry, postcards, and a substantial selection of books on Great Plains history and people.
Across from the Stuhr Building, find the Gus Fonner Memorial Rotunda, also open year round. The unique wagon wheel floor plan with the Native American bronze “The Arrow maker” at the hub provides a unique venue. Home to the museum’s Native American and Western artifacts, the Fonner Rotunda showcases exhibits reflecting the contrasting cultures of the Plains Indians and early western settlers, while also exposing the myth of cowboy life.
Outdoors to the west, discover the authentic Railroad Display, where you can view a 1901 Steam Locomotive, a 1912 Caboose and an 1871 Coach at walk-in level.
Moving south, visit the reconstructed Pawnee Earth Lodge. The Pawnee are the only tribe indigenous to Nebraska. The Lodge represents a part of one of the oldest communities in Nebraska around the 1840 period, after they have begun to interact with travelers from the east.
On the museum’s southern grounds, visit Runelsburg, with a turn of the century farm, its charming rural church and authentic one-room schoolhouse, arousing nostalgia in every visitor. Representing a community “missed” by a railroad, Runelsburg illustrates a town that never fully developed.
Step back in time as you enter Stuhr Museum’s own 1890s village, Railroad Town. The summer season brings excitement at Stuhr Museum as history comes to life in the re-created town from May 1 to September 30. Townspeople dressed in period clothing are found throughout this charming community as they go about daily life on the Plains in the 1890s. Visitors will experience a part of community life in the late 19th-century as though they have literally entered a time machine, through hands-on activities, intergenerational learning, outdoor fun, and indoor exhibits. Be sure to stop by the Visitor Services Desk in the Stuhr Building to see what activities are planned for the day. Railroad Town contains more than 60 original shops, homes, barns, and other structures. Four historical homes grace Railroad Town, including the cottage in which Henry Fonda was born in 1905. Dressed for life in the 1890s, the “residents” of Railroad Town will help visitors experience the lifestyle of the early prairie town builders – how they lived, worked, and played. As you walk the wooden boardwalks of Railroad Town, you will hear the clang of the blacksmith’s hammer as he goes about his work. Pull up a bench and spend an afternoon experiencing the history and skill of the blacksmith. Stuhr Museum’s own line shaft powered Merrick Planing Mill features equipment from the late 19th century that is still in operation today. Listen at the Telephone Exchange and have a conversation on an antique telephone. Help the women of the town go about their daily chores of baking, washing or sewing, or play an old-fashioned game in their parlor. Stop by Amanda Glade’s Millinery and help create a hat or dress, write a letter to one of the townspeople at the Post Office, or see what the Tinsmith is up to. Pause for a refreshing drink or a snack at the Silver Dollar. The Railroad Town Mercantile is the place to stop and purchase reproduction items handmade in Railroad Town. A large assortment of unique items that you can only find at the Mercantile fills the store. Women’s jewelry, hatpins, hard pretzels and candy, coffee, toy mechanical banks, pottery and scented soaps are just a small portion of the items available from the Mercantile.
To the north, a collection of log structures represents a Road Ranche, one of countless early settlements on the Plains. Scattered along the overland trails, Road Ranches served early travelers as they moved back and forth across the Plains.
East of the Log Cabins is the Antique Farm Machinery and Auto Exhibit, open May 1 through Labor Day at 10 am and 2 pm, featuring steam and gas powered tractors along with many vintage automobiles, 200 pieces in all are housed in the exhibit.
Stuhr Museum is located just four minutes north of I-80 Exit #312 at the intersection of U.S. Highways 281 & 34 in Grand Island, Nebraska.
Henry Fonda said, “This is Henry Fonda inviting you to look back with me into history, and see life as it was in the railroad towns of yesteryear…
…nostalgia grips us at every turn…at every doorway…everything is so completely authentic…so painstakingly collected…so beautifully restored.
I hope you enjoy your visit to Stuhr Museum, where Nebraska’s pioneer heritage lives for tomorrow.”
Stuhr Living History Museum Facts & Accolades
Each year, more than 75,000 visitors enter Stuhr’s gates. Approximately half of these visitors are from Nebraska and the other half come from the other 49 states and over 40 foreign countries.
Stuhr Museum is accredited by the American Association of Museums. In 2001, Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer was again awarded this highest honor a museum can receive: accreditation by the American Association of Museums. Accreditation certifies that a museum operates according to standards set forth by the museum profession, manages its collections responsibly and provides quality service to the public. Of the 15,000 museums nationwide, only 750 are accredited; only five museums in Nebraska are accredited.
Stuhr Museum is a 2001 recipient of a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. IMLS is a federal grantmaking agency located in Washington, D.C. that fosters leadership, innovation, and a lifetime of learning by supporting museums and libraries.
Stuhr Museum was named Outstanding Tourism Entity in 2005 by the Nebraska Division of Travel & Tourism
Stuhr Museum’s “Christmas Past & Present” event was named Outstanding Event in 2004 by the Nebraska Division of Travel & Tourism
Stuhr Museum’s website was named Outstanding Website in 2003 by the Nebraska Division of Travel & Tourism
Stuhr Museum was named an Outstanding Tourism Partner with a Star Tourism Award from the Grand Island/Hall County CVB in 2005
Stuhr Museum was honored for its work with the Heartland Heritage Festival with a Moonshell Arts Award in 2005, and was awarded the Literary Award in 2009 for the book “The Leschinsky Photographs” and the Patron of the Arts Award in 2010 for their work with artists throughout the museum’s history.
In 2010, Hampton Inn chose Stuhr to compete in a “Save A Landmark” competition, which Stuhr won.
In 1990, Stuhr Museum received the prestigious Sower Award from the Nebraska Humanities Council for outstanding programming in the humanities.
In 1986, Stuhr was named as “one of the ten best places in the nation to relive America’s past” by Good Housekeeping magazine.
Stuhr has been featured in many nationally recognized publications, including: Country Living, Ladies Home Journal, The Wall Street Journal, Family Fun, American Cowboy, Home and Away, Travel America, German Life, Civil War Times, ideals Country, Good Housekeeping, America’s Heartland, Nebraska Life, Heartland View, National Geographic Traveler, Victorian Decorating and Lifestyle, Family Tree Magazine’s Heritage Travel, and more.
In any given year, one-third of the museum’s visitors are students and adults from over 50 counties across Nebraska and Kansas who participate in the museum’s structured educational programs. Nearly 4,000 adults will accompany them on this learning experience. The Heritage Activities for Today’s Students program (H.A.T.S.) is a 7-year program and is the only one of its type in the country. Another 2,500 students visit each year on field trips. Over 1,000 students and adults from over 57 communities across Nebraska and 15 other states participate in the museum’s summer school program each year.
In 1995, Stuhr’s Director of Educational Programs was named the Outstanding Middle School Educator in the nation by the Oregon-California Trail Association for the development of the best education program on the trails for middle school students. In 1993, Stuhr’s Education Department received the Founder’s Day Award for outstanding contributions to education in Central Nebraska from the Alpha Delta Kappa Educators’ Honorary Society. In 1997, Stuhr Museum received the Award of Recognition from the Nebraska Museums Association for its structured educational programs.
Stuhr Museum preserves over 150,000 historical artifacts in its collections, including 60 historic buildings and various railroad equipment. This collection has been described it as “one of the finest collections of regional artifacts in North America and one possessing intrinsic significance for local, regional, and national audiences.”
Stuhr Museum has been given a unique opportunity to combine Nebraska history and the performing arts. The museum has served as a location for three major television specials, all of which won Emmy Awards: The 1995 production of Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” starring Jason Robards, Eva Marie Saint, and Neil Patrick Harris; Hallmark Hall of Fame’s “Sarah Plain and Tall” with Glenn Close and Christopher Walken (1991) which was the most watched TV movie of the decade, reaching over 21 million households; and David Devrie’s “Home at Last,” a PBS Wonderworks special (1987) starring Adrien Brody, a 2003 Oscar winner.
The PBS Show “The History Detectives” filmed at Stuhr in 2010.
In addition, Stuhr has been the site for numerous productions for Nebraska’s Educational Television. These films helped Stuhr meet its educational goals in a singular way as each is the story of the challenges settlers of all nationalities faced in Nebraska and their struggle to carve out a better future for their children. These films also helped the museum to be seen by a national audience.
Stuhr Museum was established by the vote of the citizens of Hall County on November 8, 1960 . This vote established the museum and approved the use of property taxes to help maintain and operate it. Today, Stuhr Museum is funded from 3 primary sources: a Hall County mill levy (43%); earned income (19% from admissions, program fees, membership, museum shop sales); and grants/donations (35%) and other (3%). By law, Hall County funds can only be used for operation and maintenance–not for new construction.
In 1980, the Stuhr Museum Foundation was founded as a non-profit corporation created under Internal Revenue Code 501(c)3 exclusively for the support of the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. The Foundation was created to help secure the short- and long-term financial future of the museum. Its activities focus on raising endowment funds, unrestricted funds, and funds for special projects.
In 1998, the Foundation launched the first capital and endowment campaign in the history of the museum. The Stuhr 2000 campaign, with a goal of $2.6 million, focused on four major areas: the re-creation and endowment of an 1890s farm; restoration of the museum’s buildings, grounds, railcars, and artifacts; augmenting the museum’s endowment funds; and providing some operating funds for the museum. The campaign exceeded its goal on March 31, 1999.
The Name ‘Stuhr’
Leo Stuhr was the son of Peter and Anna Stuhr, pioneer settlers of Hall County. Peter Stuhr was a native of Holstein, Germany. The Stuhr family came from the Probstei area of Holstein, including the communities of Prasdorf and Barsbek.
Peter (1828-1889) was among 32 German immigrants in a colony that settled in Hall County in July of 1857. Peter’s first wife, Catharina Scheel Stuhr died in 1866. His second wife, and Leo’s mother, was Anna Scheel Stuhr (1841-1916).
The Stuhr family farmed about one-half mile east of the present city of Grand Island, in section 14 of Washington Township. The first family home was a log house. The deed for the farm was granted to the family in 1867.
Leo Stuhr was born in 1878. He graduated from Grand Island high school in 1897 and from the University of Nebraska in 1901, where he majored in chemistry.
After college, Leo was employed as a chemist for the American Crystal Sugar Company’s beet sugar factory in Grand Island. He later served in management positions with beet sugar factories at Rocky Ford, Colorado, and Oxnard, California.
In 1908 he returned to Grand Island and took over the operation of his family’s farming interests.
He served in Nebraska’s House of Representatives in 1917-1918 and went on to become the state’s first Secretary of Agriculture in 1918. In 1930 he was appointed to the Federal Farm Board by President Herbert Hoover.
Stuhr had a considerable interest in Hall County’s history and was a founder of the Hall County Historical Society. In 1960 he announced the donation of $25,000 and 35 acres of land on which to build a county museum. Additional funds were required but his offer stimulated a county-wide project. Stuhr was named president of a museum board shortly before his death in 1961. A substantial bequest from his estate provided essential financial support for the establishment of the museum. Many artifacts collected during his lifetime became part of the historical collection now held by the Stuhr Museum.
©2011 Stuhr Living History Museum. Grand Island, Nebraska. All rights reserved.
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