The forecast looked grim, with cloud coverage and light rain expected for most of the morning and afternoon. For those who traveled thousands of miles to get one of the best views of the Great American Eclipse, it wasn’t the news they were hoping for. Their persistence was rewarded, however, as many were gifted an unforgettable experience over the Nebraskan prairie.
About 10,000 people flocked to the solar eclipse viewing party in Beatrice, Nebraska, at the Homestead National Monument of America on Monday, Aug. 21. Events were sponsored by the National Park Service, with special guests from NASA and The Planetary Society’s CEO and former children’s television host Bill Nye the Science Guy.
A press conference with Homestead National Monument superintendent Mark Engler, NASA scientists, junior rangers and Nye kicked off the festivities for the day at the Homestead Park outside of Beatrice.
“Space brings out the best in us,” Nye said to reporters Monday morning.
Nye, along with members of NASA and The Planetary Society, said they chose Beatrice and the Homestead National Monument for the location due to its perfect viewing angle and historical significance, commemorating the Homestead Act of 1862 when Daniel Freeman took the first plot of land in Nebraska under the new act. Nye also praised two young junior rangers for their passion for science, stating the future is in good hands.
After the press conference ended at 10 a.m., Engler said attendance figures were in line with their expectations of many thousands of visitors.
“Any number would be purely speculation, but we are seeing a very good turnout,” Engler said.
License plates from all over the country, including states such as Georgia, California and Maine, filled the nearly endless line of parked cars along the dirt roads leading to the park. Telescopes of all sizes dotted the lawn of the Heritage Center as both professional and amateur astronomers patiently waited for a clear view through the clouds.
With cloudy skies in the forecast for much of the day, viewers were cautiously optimistic when thick clouds and light rain began breaking as totality approached in the early afternoon.
The totality occurred shortly after 1 p.m. over Beatrice and the surrounding areas. The fairgrounds, city parks, country roads and grassy fields were all occupied as the black moon fully covered the sun, creating a white halo over the Nebraska countryside. Reactions of awe could be seen and heard throughout the small and large crowds gathered across and around the town.
Back at the Homestead National Monument, totality brought both joyous cheering and waves of silence. The 2 minutes and 35 seconds of darkness provided ample time for people to take photographs or soak in the moment.
Light began to creep back across the park grounds, but many were still left speechless.
As the moon continued onward and the sun slowly returned, crowds quickly began to disperse, and vast lines of cars filled the dirt roads and town streets surrounding the Heritage Center and Beatrice.
The Great American Eclipse was over in the blink of an eye, having fulfilled its promise of showcasing a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most who traveled to Beatrice and the Homestead National Monument.
June 19, 2017
For more information:
Contact: Diane Vicars
Friends of Homestead
Last Homesteader’s Tractor In Alaska Wilderness
To Be Rescued by Friends of Homestead
The Friends of Homestead National Monument of America is bringing home the Allis Chalmers tractor used by America’s last homesteader.
Dr. C.T. Frerichs, a retired Beatrice family physician, is providing the Friends of Homestead a financial donation to rescue this national treasure from the Alaska Wilderness.
The tractor, an Allis Chalmers 1945 Model C, has been sitting on the banks of the Stony River on the site that was homesteaded by Ken Deardorff. Dr. Frerichs’ donation will cover the costs of bringing the tractor from Alaska to Homestead National Monument of America, as well as the costs associated with conservation treatment work on the tractor to ready it for permanent display at the Monument.
Dr. Frerichs is making this financial contribution in memory of his wife Julia F. (Meadows) Frerichs.
Mrs. Frerichs, a native of Georgia, had spent very little time on a tractor. However, during her first trip to Nebraska she sat in the seat of an Allis, and from that moment on her affection grew for the citizens of Nebraska and for Homestead National Monument of America.
“This tractor is a part of our nation’s homesteading history; it is a national treasure,” Dr. Frerichs said. “We are glad to be working with the Friends of Homestead to bring this Allis Chalmers tractor to the Monument.”
Ken Deardorff filed for his 80-acre homestead claim under the Homestead Act in 1974. Five years later in 1979, Deardorff submitted the final proof fulfilling the requirements called for by the Homestead Act. Nine years later in 1988, Deardorff received the patent to his homestead claim. It was the last patent to be issued under the Homestead Act of 1862.
Deardorff’s place in history represents the end of an era in American history, the end of the Homestead Act of 1862.
“When we think of the Homestead Act we often think of the 1800s,” said Diane Vicars, president of the Friends of Homestead. “This tractor represents the contemporary part of this epic American story. This tractor will be a great contrast to the single bottom plows pulled by a team of oxen or horses that can now be found at the Monument. We are grateful to Dr. Frerichs and his family for his donation that will bring the Deardorff tractor to the Homestead.”
The recovery of the tractor includes a series of steps that began with airlifting the tractor by helicopter from the site where Deardorff parked the Allis more than 30 years ago.
The tractor is now in the process of being transported to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s (UNL) Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test Museum, where the tractor will be cleaned up and readied for display by the UNL Tractor Restoration Club under the direction of museum conservators specializing in tractors and motorized vehicles. The Friends of the Tractor Test Museum will also be participating in this project.
A dedication at the Monument is tentatively scheduled for this fall.
As part of compliance with the 10 year CRP-SAFE prairie chicken program it is required to burn the prairie two times and also graze it one time.
Friends of Homestead are carrying out these practices because this is what would have occurred 300 years ago. Prairie fires were started by lightning and sometimes by Native Americans. These fires were good for prairies as it eliminated invasive plants and also allowed small prairie forbs to flourish. The grazing requirement is to mimic the trampling of the prairie by bison.
View the slideshow of the April 2012 Prairie Burn.
PURCHASE OF FIRST 40 ACRES:
Prior to 2004, there had been discussions about how the Friends might acquire some land along the south border of the Monument. This land was owned by the Charles Ensz family. The Homestead wanted to establish a border to protect the osage orange trees on the property line and the primitive bur oak trees in the creek area. At the time, with limited funds in the bank account the Friends could not buy land. On 10-13-04 the Friends received $ 101,000 from the Opal Shum estate. The final amount Opal willed to the Friends eventually came to approx. $ 124,000. In her will Opal asked that these funds be used by the Friends of the Homestead for the benefit and support of the Homestead National Monument.
Serious discussion then began about buying 40 acres of land that abutted the south boundary of the Homestead. In January, 2005 the Friends' board of directors gave us authorization to contact the Charles Ensz family to try to secure the first option to buy the land adjacent to the Homestead. In April, 2005 a purchase agreement to buy 40 acres of land for $ 100,000 was signed by the Ensz family. Included in the agreement was the right to purchase additional land within a two year period. I believe, if my records are correct, that we closed on the property in July, 2005. Looking to the future, in Feb., 2005 the Friends board of directors had already agreed that if the Ensz family would sell us the first 40 acres and also agree to sell more then we would start the process of securing a $ 250,000 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust to buy another 100 acres.
PURCHASE OF ADDITIONAL 100 ACRES:
In February, 2006 a $ 250,000 grant from Nebraska Environmental Trust was applied for. In April, 2006 it was still tentative but we felt that we had a very good chance to get the grant. In early October, 2006 we received notice that we had received the grant and that the money was coming in a few weeks! On 10-27-06 the grant for $ 250,000 was deposited into our bank account. In August, 2006 a purchase agreement to buy 100 acres for $ 250,000 had already been signed by the Ensz family contingent upon us receiving the $ 250,000 grant so we were good-to-go. I think we closed on the land purchase either the end of October or in November of 2006.
The Ensz family had been renting the land to a local farmer and the Friends continued the same arrangement in 2007 and 2008. The Friends eventually wanted to give the property to the National Park Service (Homestead National Monument of America) so we began discussions about how we could restore the land to its original prairie condition before transfer to the NPS.
We started researching USDA farm programs to see if anything was available that would provide us with an annual payment and also help us with the prairie restoration. In April, 2008 we discovered the CRP-SAFE Prairie Chicken Program. In May, 2008 our board approved researching the program. In September, 2008 the board approved signing the application to enroll the Friends' land into the program. In October, 2008 the application was signed and in December the FSA approved the application and on December 24, 2008 a 10 year contract was signed.
The 10 year program was "tweaked a little bit" so that the NRCS, Prairie Plains Resources Institute and the Nebraska Game and Parks would be able to provide the seed and seeding at no charge (a savings to the Friends of approx. $ 45,000). The overall goal is to restore the land to its original prairie condition and at the same time provide excellent habitat for the prairie chicken.
The deal provides an advantage to the Friends because we will be able to eventually turn the property over to the NPS in its original prairie condition, establish prairie chicken habitat and receive a nice annual income for our efforts.
In May, 2009 the seed was planted. Over 160 native prairie grasses and forbs along with some bushes for prairie chicken habitat were planted. All seed and seeding was done at no cost to us. Not all of the 140 acres was seeded to original prairie. Only 114.1 acres qualified because under this program only land that had been farmed for the last five years was approved. This took out the pasture in the southwest corner, the buffalograss buffer strip along the south edge of the Homestead and a few small miscellaneous areas. During the 10 year contract the land must be burned twice and grazed once. On March 25, 2012 the first burn of the prairie was successfully carried out.