Visit the Heritage Center See How the Homestead Act Shaped Gage County and the West
30 Jan 2019
Gage County has a long history of pioneering. Settlers flocked to our corner of Nebraska in search of opportunities for land and a better life. It all started here with hardworking, dedicated people who laid the foundation for our robust agriculture and manufacturing industries, diverse housing options, vibrant downtown and many shopping and dining opportunities. These early settlers saw Gage County as somewhere they could grow and today, business leaders from throughout the world are heading to Beatrice for these same opportunities. With an abundance of land for development, our area is growing. Historically, this should come as no surprise. After all, Gage County was the site of the very first property claimed under the Homestead Act – the act that enabled the westward expansion and settlement of the United States.
History of the Homestead Act in Gage County
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act (Act) in 1862 following the policies and ideals of previous presidents. Thomas Jefferson stated that “our democracy would be strong built on the backbone of citizens owning their own farms.” Believing this to be true, President Lincoln estimated that the best way to facilitate westward expansion was to give American citizens the opportunity to own their own land. The Act enabled citizens to gain ownership of land that they settled. All a citizen had to do was head west, find an available plot of land and improve it, such as through farming or building a house. They had to occupy the land for five years; afterwards, they could pay a small filing fee and receive 160-acres from the federal government. This policy allowed many families to own land for the very first time. It also helped to foster the entrepreneurial and independent spirit that has come to define America.
Gage County has the unique distinction of being the very first place in America where someone used the Homestead Act to gain ownership of their land. Gage County residents are proud of this pioneering heritage, continue to keep that independent spirit alive, and document their history through the creation of the Heritage Center.
Heritage Center and Monument
In 2007, the Heritage Center opened in Gage County to commemorate the area’s rich pioneering history. Open to the public at no cost, the Heritage Center is one of Gage County’s cultural treasures. Here, visitors can learn more about the Homestead Act and the impact it had on the area and the United States as a whole. Through demonstrations and interactive exhibits, children and adults can see what it was like to be a homesteader and to live in the iconic West. The Education Center will often host classes and workshops, have crafts and projects for children to complete, hands-on science experiments to try and historic demonstrations to witness. Through these activities and their exhibits, visitors learn about:
- Federal land policies
- Tallgrass prairie ecosystem
- Native American tribes
Visit the Heritage Center and Monument
Anyone who is interested in the Homestead Act and the impact it had on the United States, or the history of the iconic West, should visit the Heritage Center and Monument in Gage County. With regular events, hands-on exhibits and educational opportunities, it provides a dynamic snapshot of our area’s past along with a window into the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit in Beatrice to this day.