- Written by Todd Moning
Want to see how America grew?
Direct your motorhome toward Harold Warp Pioneer Village in Minden, in south-central Nebraska.
Pioneer Village, which opened in 1953, consists of 26 display buildings containing more than 50,000 historical items.
"We preserve memories," said Marshall Nelson, general manager of operations. "It's a place for grandma and grandpa and their grandchildren. Grandparents can show their grandkids what their lives used to be like at work, in the home and at play, and pass that heritage on to them."
Pioneer Village has two parking lots with free motorhome parking. For those staying overnight, the Pioneer Village Campground is right next door. It offers more than 50 full- or partial-hookup sites.
From 1830 …
All of the historical items unfold chronologically in order of their development, from around 1830 to the present.
Several of the village's larger buildings contain plenty of "firsts," such as the 1902 Cadillac that Henry Ford designed, the United States' first jet-powered aircraft (a Bell P-59 built in 1942) and the first "Kelvinator" refrigerator from 1925.
One building houses auto and aviation exhibits and presents an overview of transportation history. An 1822 ox cart, a stagecoach, a steam train, a prairie schooner wagon, an electric trolley car and various carts, buggies and carriages are among the exhibited items. Also, find a full-size replica of the Wright brothers' 1903 flyer.
Pioneer Village's historic car collection showcases 350 automobiles, including the world's oldest Buick. Fords and Chevrolets dominate one building, and another contains Buicks, Pontiacs and Cadillacs.
Motorhome owners will be interested in a house car built in the 1940s. It has cedar siding and was built on a white truck frame. "It has a chimney, a stove and even a porch," Nelson said. "It's like they built a 12-foot wide home and set it on a white truck frame. The owner drove it a couple of hundred thousand miles …."
On the farm and in the kitchen
The village updates its existing displays often, adding 60 to 65 item groups per year, Nelson said. "We have some very old pieces but also have some very new pieces. We're always adding new items that show America's progress, and that makes us fun and educational."
Two buildings house farm implements and machinery displays. Follow the evolution of plows, planters and other farm equipment. Tractors and trucks fill another building.
Household items represented in the home appliance building include old-time stoves, washing machines, refrigerators and bathtubs. "We have seven generations of kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms dating from 1830 up to 1980," Nelson said. "These are wonderful because you can actually see how everything changes. Kitchens of the '50s amuse visitors who remember having kitchen equipment from that era."
While touring the village, look for expert craft persons weaving, making brooms and spinning wool into yarn. "One thing that makes us unique among museums is that you can see a lot of things happening here."
The Village Green
Twelve historic buildings lie around the circular Village Green. Most are original buildings relocated here and restored.
In the main building, find western landscapes painted by William H. Jackson; John Rogers statues created from 1859 to 1893; and collectibles adapted from Norman Rockwell's work.
At a replica of a general merchandise store, examine the goods offered during the pioneer days.
Tour a one-room country schoolhouse. Used until 1938, it contains original desks, a stove, schoolbooks and a water pail. Attendance records and grades of every child are preserved in an old bank safe inside the school.
Stroll through a land office where immigrants filed their claims for new land following the 1862 Homestead Act.
Marvel at Elm Creek Stockade, relocated here from Webster County. Built in 1869, it was a sanctuary for five families during the early years on the prairie.
Enter the pioneer sod house, which has 3-foot-thick walls made of sod.
See Buffalo Bill's saddle in the Pony Express station.
In Hobby House, let dolls, trivets, and assorted pins, buttons and salt-and-pepper shakers spark memories of childhood collections.
On Sundays in summer, attend non-denominational services in the 1884 church.
Also in summer, "kids" of all ages can ride the steam-operated carousel for a nickel. Most older carousels were built in an amusement park, as a permanent part of park, Nelson said. This carousel, created in 1879-1880, was designed to be dismantled in a few hours, loaded in a wagon and moved to the next town.
With its giant display of Americana and on-site RV Park, motorhomers should find Pioneer Village an ideal — and nostalgic — stopping spot.
"In fall and winter months it's real fun because visitors can take their time, spend a few hours going through the buildings in the morning, and then come back in mid-afternoon," Nelson said. "There really is something for everyone's interest, whether it's art, glass, fine china or cars, planes and trains."
Pioneer Village is located 12 miles south of Interstate 80, off exit 279. You can see the entire village in a half-day and by walking less than a mile, Nelson said.
More information: www.pioneervillage.org