Lincoln Museums Offer so much
If you’re looking for architectural tours, nature centers, gardens or parks, Lincoln has something for both kids and adults. Here are a few sights worthy of a visit.
Designed by Bertram Goodhue, the “tower of the plains” was built over 10 years from 1922 to 1932. The 400-foot monolith is visible from far outside of Lincoln, and from countless points inside the city.
Topped by The Sower, a nearly 20-foot-tall bronze figure casting the seeds of life to the wind, the building is spectacular. The interior is rich in detailed motifs and employs an immense variety of materials—from mosaic and gold and richly colored tiles to solid walnut and myriad inlaid woods, carved limestone and painted murals. Laden with allegory and themes taken from agriculture, history and early people, it is recognized by architects as the nation’s first truly vernacular state capitol building. Free guided tours of the building at 1445 K Street begin each hour, 8-5 weekdays, 10-5 on Saturdays and 1-5 Sundays. Get more information at capitol.nebraska.gov.
Hyde Memorial Observatory
The observatory at Holmes Park in south Lincoln is dedicated to public education and viewing. Staffed by volunteers, Hyde Memorial Observatory is the only U.S. observatory built and furnished entirely by donations. Admission is free. Hyde is usually open every Saturday evening year-round and hosts astronomy presentations for visitors. The website provides information on weather conditions, upcoming sky events, and the current stars and planets in view. For program information about the observatory at 3701 S. 70th Street and updates visit hydeobservatory.info.
University of Nebraska State Museum
at Morrill Hall
A top-notch natural history museum, the University of Nebraska State Museum is on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s City Campus at 14th and Vine streets. Archie, a 5,000-pound, life-sized bronze replica of the Archidiskidon imperator maibeni, greets visits at the door leading into Morrill Hall. Archie was installed in 2006 as a tribute to the museum’s Elephant Hall, housing the world’s premier collection of preserved mammoth, mastodon and four-tusker skeletons and tracing the 10,000-year history of elephant forebears once found in the central United States. With the swipe of a fingertip, users can travel through the phylogenetic tree to understand how all life on earth shares common ancestry.
The Hall of Nebraska Wildlife features 16 dioramas and interactive exhibits providing a look into the sights and sounds of Nebraska wildlife from meadowlarks to bison. Other permanent exhibits include the First Peoples of the Plains, which looks at cultural traditions past and present. Weapons Throughout Time illustrates the development of hunting, fighting and ceremonial weapons, and the Mesozoic Gallery explores the Age of Dinosaurs, featuring Nebraska fossils of ancient sea giants. Interactive exhibits allow visitors to enter a dig site and experience the processes of paleontology.
And, after being closed to the public for more than 50 years, the museum’s fourth floor level has been transformed into state-of-the-art exhibits using modern technology. Celebrate Nebraska’s natural heritage, and travel through time and space to learn how the state’s birds, plants and animals are shaped by geological changes and human beings. An added attraction is the Mueller Planetarium showcasing an amazing multimedia show.
Visit www.museum.unl.edu for updates and hours.
Nebraska History Museum
Native Americans and explorers, fur-traders and homesteaders, farmers and patriots—all the Plains people—combine to tell the story of this land at the Nebraska History Museum at 131 Centennial Mall North on the southern edge of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s City Campus.
More than 125,000 objects and documents make up its ever-growing collection. The museum’s School Program offers lessons and fun for every age group, including Curiosity Labs and guides.
Visitors can examine historical documents, photographs, artifacts and learn the wisdom of elders. Past exhibits have included sod house portraits by Solomon Butcher and historic photographs.
Admission is free. Learn more at history.nebraska.gov/museum.
Lincoln Children’s Zoo
The perfect outing for the entire family, this beautifully landscaped zoo at 1222 S. 27th Street is home to more than 40 endangered animals, including the Humboldt penguin and snow leopard. Its mission is to offer children first-hand learning by interaction with living things, and to pursue saving endangered animals.
The variety of creatures in this user-friendly zoo includes white-handed gibbons, a fossa, dromedaries, a tree wallaby and many smaller mammals and reptiles. Close encounters are easy in the zoo’s butterfly house, accessible aviary and paths where peacocks roam the grounds. And a miniature train takes visitors through the grounds.
Since 2019, the zoo became a year-round attraction with the addition of indoor space. New opportunities that came with the expansion include a giraffe feeding experience, an up-close tiger encounter, a plaza with a splash stream and an indoor treehouse where visitors can climb with spider monkeys. See more at lincolnzoo.org and visit the zoo for a train ride around the grounds.
Lincoln Children’s Museum
The Lincoln Children’s Museum, one of the best in the Midwest offers exploration, sparks imagination and encourages discovery—but it’s mostly geared for play. Kids can become a newscaster, a veterinarian, firefighter, truck driver or grocer and explore aeronautics in a real plane or simulated spaceship, with uniforms and costumes provided.
A stage on the lower level of the museum at 1420 P Street has a makeup table, lights and curtain, and costumes for budding performers. A huge water table and interactive hot air balloon fascinate young scientists, and a child-sized prairie dog village allows kids to explore animal life. A toddler area with toys is available for the littlest, and art activities are offered all day long. Call 402-477-4000 or visit lincolnchildrensmuseum.org.
Just south of the state Capitol, at 1425 H Street, the Nebraska governor’s residence is tucked behind a tall, wrought-iron fence and built in neoclassical brick.
The modified Georgian Colonial was built in the 1950s and features mementos of governors past and a charming doll collection replicating Nebraska’s First Ladies in their inaugural gowns. For more information and updates regarding guided tours, call 402-471-3466 or visit governor.nebraska.gov/governors-residence.
Museum of American Speed: The Smith Collection
Called “the very best racing museum in the country,” by Automobile Magazine, the three-story museum at 599 Oakcreek Drive was founded in 1992 by ‘Speedy’ Bill and Joyce Smith. Its collection is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the growth of racing and record-breaking speed engines that drove automotive history. The museum west of downtown Lincoln displays racing autos, but also traces the history of the innovative parts and elements of the fastest engines ever made. The unusual collection is the result of the Smiths’ six decades of personal passion for racing and hot rodding. The museum usually chargers $15 for admission. For more information, check their website: www.museumofamericanspeed.com.
Near the Nebraska State Capitol, the Thomas P. Kennard House is the oldest surviving building in the city of Lincoln. Built in the elaborate Italianate style in 1869, Nebraska’s first Secretary of State hoped its architecture would inspire faith in the new city. After its sale in 1887, the house at 1627 H Street served as a fraternity/sorority house, boarding house, private boys’ home and single-family residence. Its life as a museum began in 1965, when it was designated a Nebraska Statehood Memorial; it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969. Open by appointment only. For more information visit history.nebraska.gov/visit/thomas-p-kennard-state-historic-site.
William Jennings Bryan’s Home, Fairview
Built in the early 1900s on a hilltop that provided a “fair view” of the Capitol and surrounding farmland, this historic home is worth visiting. Former U.S. Secretary of State, two-term congressman and three-time Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan is best known for his hard-earned triumph over famed attorney Clarence Darrow as the prosecutor in the notorious Scopes’ Monkey Trial, which challenged a Tennessee law that forbade teaching evolution. Science lost. Bryan won, but died days later.
Now part of the Bryan East Campus of Bryan Medical, the house at 4900 Sumner Street has been restored to its early 1900s grandeur, and its lower-level museum offers historical recordings and exhibits.
Schedule tours at least 48 hours in advance at 402-481-3032.
National Museum of Roller Skating
The National Museum of Roller Skating houses the largest collection of roller skates and roller-skating memorabilia in the world, including a gas-powered skate. Featured in Smithsonian magazine as a unique tribute to roller sports, interactive exhibits include: How to Build a Roller Skate and Evolution of the Wheel. The museum is located at 4730 South Street. For more updates and information, visit rollerskatingmuseum.org.
Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test & Power Museum
The Tractor Test and Power Museum on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus is a must-see for agriculture buffs, engineers and future farmers. The museum is inside the first tractor test laboratory in the world, and tells the story of tractor testing in Nebraska, which continues to this day. The museum’s holdings include examples of tractors tested between 1919 and 1980, an original test car, a dynamometer and a children’s area that includes a large tractor cab for climbing. Tractor testing is unique to Nebraska. For more information visit tractormuseum.unl.edu.
American Historical Society of Germans from Russia Museum
The American Historical Society of Germans from Russia Museum celebrates the 19th century immigration of Germans from Russia. Originally recruited from Germany with the promise of greater freedom, changes in politics and other hardships led the population to emigrate from Russia, settling in agricultural areas. Once here, they became an integral part of Lincoln’s community. As international headquarters for the Society of Germans from Russia, the museum at 631 D Street south of downtown includes a library, genealogical archives and special displays. Visit ahsgr.org for more information