Museums and Community Survey

Museums have many important roles to play and services to provide. Museums are dedicated to the care and preservation of history in many forms. They provide entertaining and educational programming for people of all ages. They are trusted sources of knowledge. But what is most important is that museums fill every one of their roles in ways that best meet the needs of their community.
To better understand how Nebraska City's museums can meet the needs of this community, the Nebraska City Museum Association is conducting an online survey. The Museums and Community survey will be open from February 2nd until March 1st. The survey is anonymous and takes less than two minutes to complete.

Your feedback is important to us and helps ensure that we are providing the best possible experience we can. Thank you.

Click on the image to access the survey, or visit

Museum Community Survey

Community and the Role of Museums

I am not convinced that there has been or ever will be a simple answer to the question of what a museum’s role is in a community. Traditionally, the general response has been that museums are places that collect, preserve, and interpret artifacts; an answer that is far too broad to be of any real value. Even if defining the role of museums had been that simple at any point in the past, it certainly isn’t any longer. The truth is that museums exist to serve their communities. As the needs of those communities change, so too should the historical and cultural institutions that serve them. It is our obligation, our duty, to constantly reassess our methods for maintaining a positive relationship with our community. In Nebraska City, that positive relationship is especially important. This extraordinary city, with a population of just 7,300, contains 10 museums. That means…Nebraska City, NE can proudly boast having the most museums per capita of any city in the nation!

The best way to ensure we are actively meeting the needs of this community and living up to our impressive title is to have an open conversation about what those needs are and how we can address them. Nebraska City’s museums are bringing a lot to the table and filling a number of different roles. Museums are dedicated to the care and preservation of our rich heritage. Museums provide entertaining activities and events for children. Museums host interesting, engaging programs for adults. Museums are trusted sources of information and valuable repositories of knowledge. Museums are convenient sources of recreation for local residents and promote economic growth by attracting tourists. Museums have the power to unite communities through their shared history. Our aim is the rethink how we fill those roles for Nebraska City.

The lines of communication are open and we want to hear what you have to say. At the end of this article is a URL for a Museums and Community Survey. The survey will also be accessible through Facebook and Twitter. This survey is anonymous and takes less than two minutes to complete. Your feedback will help us to better serve you. Whether you are a frequent visitor to the museums, have never visited the museums, or didn’t know Nebraska City had museums, I urge you to take a couple minutes and let us know what you think. We will be conducting these surveys periodically throughout the year, but your questions, comments, and concerns are welcomed anytime by contacting the Nebraska City Museum Association at or at (402) 873-4262.

Click here to access the survey

The Importance of Preventative Maintenance: The Nebraska City Historical Society

While many people see museums primarily as entertainment, they are much more than that. What defines a museum under the guidelines of the American Alliance of Museums is an entity that that has an educational mission and a collection. That collection may be animals or trees in regards to zoos and arboretums, or physical objects such as historical, natural history or art museums. In the case of many of Nebraska City’s museums, the building in which the museum is housed is not only part of the collection but the reason for the museum’s existence. While museums take their roles in preservation seriously, preserving large objects like buildings is especially challenging.This holds true in the case of the Nebraska City Historical Society’s two buildings. The Old Freighters Museum is the Russell Majors and Waddell building built in 1858 which is linked to and interprets the overland trails and freighting of the mid-nineteenth century. Its original building constructed in 1855, the Taylor-Wessel-Nelson House, interprets Nebraska City’s social, economic and architectural growth over the years. Considering their age, the preservation and upkeep of these two buildings is a challenge and a necessity in saving the community’s history.

Created this summer, the Nebraska City Museum Association’s Maintenance Committee is assisting all of the museums of the community in their preservation endeavors. Focusing its initial efforts primarily on the two Historical Society’s buildings, both were assessed and repairs are being made based on building safety, time and funds available.

One of the priorities for the Nelson House was the status of the two Silver Maples growing in front of the house. Photographs from 1910 show the two trees less than ten feet tall. One hundred years later, these two specimens’ size and location were now considered a threat to the period home. While the Maintenance Committee worked on more manageable projects, the City of Nebraska City stepped in and assisted with the trees. Considered a threat to the nearby power lines as well as the home, these trees were removed without cost to the Historical Society.

With work still underway on the Old Freighters Museum, with the help of the community and City, the Historical Society is now able to ensure the continued life of both of these historically important sites. With just a month remaining of the Museum Residents Program, local residents can still visit both of these museums for free and see the improvements made.

If it isn’t Broke, Don’t Fix it: Wildwood Historic Center

Many museums hold the same event annually, however over time it is far too easy to bring back the same presenters and activities. While this makes it easier to set up the event, eventually the museum begins to lose its repeat visitors as a “it is the same event as last year” mentality sets in making it easier to find excuses not to attend. An exception to this is the Wildwood’s annual Star Party; the reason being is that while many of the amateur astronomers who will be setting up their telescopes are the same from previous years, the night sky always changes.

This year the event will be held Saturday, September 23, beginning at 8:00 p.m. While traditionally the event is held earlier in the month, holding it later will offer a variety of constellations not viewed by visitors in the past. Inspired by Mrs. Jasper (Ella) Ware’s love of astronomy, in addition to the modern telescopes that will be set up, her Antique Yeats & Sons 1850's telescope made in Ireland will be on display and visitors may look through it at the moon. The Wildwood House was originally owned by the Jasper A. Ware family, he being a banker in the community. Ella became interested in astronomy on her trip to Utah when her Father's horse drawn conveyance followed ox teams for safety; one of the drivers pointed out the stars to her. Mentioned in her memoirs from that journey, Arcturus may be viewable during the event.

Held on the Wildwood Golf Course just south of the Wildwood Historic Center parking lot, the staff is asking visitors to please turn off their car lights before entering parking lot as the lights blind the people near the telescopes and makes viewing difficult. Set up is at 8:00 to allow for some daylight. This is a free event, open to the public, and will last until all guests are gone. Presenting itself as a great family event, even in its fifth year, it will not be just the same old event. This means if you attended last year, your experience this year will be completely different this time around.

To Clean or Not to Clean: Nebraska City Museum of Firefighting

From the title of this column, people who know me will think that I am referring to my house; the answer is no on both accounts. What I am referring to is the mentality of some volunteers about how objects should look like when displayed in a museum. Often times objects coming in will have some dust on them and cleaning off the dust to further the life of the artifact is fine. However, some think that anything on display should be a show piece and restored to look brand new. That is fine for an antique furniture store but not for a museum. The dings, scrapes and even hand-writing on an object show how it was used; it bears its own history.

One great example of this is an artifact collected from the Benefiel Fire this past January. The propane tank from a fork lift, the tank’s safety features failed when exposed to the extreme heat and it exploded. Does it belong in a museum? After all, it isn’t old. Torn completely open, it provides a great example of the dangers of modern firefighting. Covered with suit and charred, some of the museum’s volunteers thought that it should be scrubbed down to be more presentable. However, doing so would erase the visible affect of the explosion and damper the tank’s significance both historically and in telling the story of the risks that firefighters take when entering a burning building. Currently, the volunteers are working to create an exhibit talking about the modern dangers of firefighting. With luck it will be completed by AppleJack weekend.

A great time to see the display and support the Nebraska City Museum of Firefighting is by attending the Fire House Grill. An annual fund-raiser, the Grill is held from 11:00 – 2:00 on the Saturday of the AppleJack Festival, September 16. Held at the Nebraska City Volunteer Fire Department Fire Station, all proceeds from the lunch assists the museum with its operating expenses and creating new displays.

Nebraska City Museum of Firefighting
1320 Central Avenue
Nebraska City, NE 68410
Hours; Wednesday- Saturday 11am-5pm, Sunday 12pm-4pm
Arbor Day Weekend thru October
Admission; Adults $3.00, Children (4-12) $1.00
Nebraska City residents receive free admission with proof of residency.

Commemorating Special Days: The MRB Lewis & Clark Center

It is up to every museum to look at its mission and determine the dates and events that are important in interpreting for the public. This may be the anniversary of the founding of the museum itself or dates in history that are a part of the organization’s story. Once these occasions are determined, then how they will be commemorated becomes the next question. Special events, exhibits, or fitting the commemorations into tours offer several options.

The Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Center is no exception. Initially holding their annual two-day event commemorating the first time that the expedition passed through the Nebraska City area presented the same challenges that the expedition itself faced; excessive heat. Moving the event from the third weekend of July to the second weekend in September commemorating the return trip allowed for more suitable conditions for an outdoor event. This year the Center’s “Reunion” event will be held September 9 and 10. Featuring living history demonstrations and speakers, the commemoration is the Center’s annual big event.

Likewise, the Center decided to commemorate the birthdays of expedition’s two Captains with a birthday party, of sorts. Fortunately both men were born in August; William Clark was born August 1, 1770 and Merriwether Lewis on August 18, 1774. Held as a Business-After-Hours in conjunction with Nebraska City Tourism & Commerce, the event will be held from 5:30 – 7:00, on Thursday, August 17. While featuring the traditional refreshments and birthday cake, at 6:00 Eugene Lanning will present a talk on what to expect for the upcoming full lunar eclipse on August 21.

Both of these events are great opportunities for the family to learn more about the expedition’s men and the impact the journey had on our country. Whether it is during the events or just visiting the Center on your own time, if you are a Nebraska City resident the family can enjoy the Center for free.

The Importance of Membership: The Nebraska City Historical Society

As I have said in my previous columns numerous times, roughly only 15 percent of a museum’s operational budget comes from admissions. While gift shop sales and visitor donations add another small percentage, making up the difference to meet the operational bills is always a challenge. Let’s face it; most donors are attracted to new construction, exhibits or educational programming focusing on children. There is nothing sexy about paying a museum’s utility bill, even though it is vital to keeping the museum open and accessible to the public. If the museum is lucky it has an endowment which provides some income as well, but obviously if the economy is weak, the endowment can only provide so much.

A primary source of operational dollars comes from membership programs. It is a vehicle which allows individuals, families or businesses to become a part a museum’s ‘family’ while also providing much needed funds for the museum’s operations. Unlike larger institutions where membership is a way for an individual or family to reduce their admission costs with repeated visits, such as a zoo, members of smaller organizations are not looking for what they get back financially. Most museum members have a personal stake in the organization; perhaps their interest in the museum’s topic area or past family ties to the museum or some of its donated collections.

Others become members for social reasons. Particular museums offer ‘member only’ experiences, socials or ‘sneak peeks’ for new exhibits. It is not uncommon for a membership group to be a of a museum’s volunteer organization as well. No matter how they are structured or what they offer, museum membership programs are a vital part of an organization’s operations, both financially and as a volunteer base.

A great time to meet the members and board of the Nebraska City Historical Society is at their ice cream / dessert potluck social at the Nelson House, 711 Third Corso. The event is planned for Saturday, August 12, from 1:00 to 3:00, and is open to the public.

Participants are asked to provide a dessert, home-made is optional. The ice cream, table service and water will be provided. This will be a great opportunity to see the Nelson House and find out if you would like to become a member in the Society.

Doubling Up: The Mayhew Cabin and Old Freighters Museum

In our region of the United States, June and September are the optimal months for outdoor events. It seems that there are at least ten events going on any given weekend throughout the area, Nebraska City is no exception. While we try to space the events out during the month sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. So instead of competing against each other for visitors the museums collaborate to attract more visitors to their event and encourage participants to visit all of the sites. Saturday, June 17 will be a busy day. With both events beginning at 10:00, the Mayhew Cabin with John Brown’s Cave will be holding their annual Juneteenth Commemorative Event. The oldest known holiday that commemorates the end of American slavery, the event will include living history demonstrations throughout the day. A music program will take place at 11:30 a.m., followed by John Harris of Lincoln doing a first person presentation as Frederick Douglass at 1:00 p.m. Running at the same time the Old Freighters Museum will be holding its annual “Trails West Day”, from 10:00 – 4:00. The event focuses on those who traveled on the overland trails and features living history demonstrations, hands-on children activities, a petting zoo and horse-drawn wagon rides. The event is made possible through a grant from the local Wal-Mart. These are both ‘family friendly’ events providing a great opportunity to learn and enjoy some family time. While donations are always accepted, they are both wallet friendly offering free admission. This is a great opportunity to learn about more about Nebraska City’s history and how it impacted the America as well, all within one day. IF YOU GO Saturday, June 17, “Trails West Day”, 10:00 – 4:00 Old Freighters Museum 407 N. 14th Street, Nebraska City Mayhew Cabin with John Brown’s Cave 2012 4th Corso, Nebraska City 10:00 – 5:00 402-873-3115

Adding to the Hype: Nebraska City Historical Society

As the Chautauqua to be held in the Nebraska City draws closer, the county’s museums are joining in to promote the event through events and exhibits. Being held June 21 – 24, this year’s Chautauqua’s national theme is “World War I: Legacies of a Forgotten War” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into the Great War. Expecting to draw thousands of out-of-area visitors to Nebraska City, the museums’ role is to engage our local residents so that they will have a better understanding of southeast Nebraska’s role in the war and be more than likely to attend the events. Starting the commemoration, the Otoe County Museum of Memories in Syracuse opened for the season on Sunday, May 7, with a special exhibit on the uniforms worn by Otoe County men who served overseas. Next up is the Nebraska City Historical Society with their Spring Meeting featuring a presentation by Nebraska Author Karen Gettert Shoemaker. Planned for Monday, May 22, beginning at 7:00, in the Arbor Bank’s Friendship room, the event is made possible by Humanities Nebraska, the Nebraska Cultural Endowment and the Nebraska City Historical Society. Gettert Shoemaker’s historical fiction novel takes place in 1918 Nebraska. Focusing on a young woman of German descent, the novel exposes the prejudices towards German-Americans at that time as well as the impact of tragic events such as the influenza pandemic of 1918 brought on by the war. The author’s presentation will cover how Nebraska responded to the declaration of war against Germany and how it affected not only German immigrants but their children as well. Providing a great opportunity to learn more about a war held over 100 years ago; while staged overseas, the war still greatly impacted Nebraska City and Nebraska in general. The Nebraska City Historical Society’s program is just another great addition building up to the Chautauqua in June. IF YOU GO Nebraska City Historical Society Meeting Karen Gettert Shoemaker, “Behind the Meaning of Names” 7:00 pm., Coffee, Cookies & Conversation; 7:30 pm, Monday, May 22 Arbor Bank Friendship Room No admission and open to all who are interested

Making the Most of the Winter Months: The Civil War Veterans Museum

As I have often point out, while most small museums are not open during the winter months does not mean that they are not busy. In the Midwest, traditionally November through March are when year-round museums record their lowest visitation. Without full-time paid staff, it is just not feasible for small museums to have open hours. Instead they use this time to make major repairs, physical improvements or enhance exhibits. This has definitely been the case for the Civil War Veterans Museum. Since closing at the end of last October, work has been done to the museum’s entrance thus improving the quality of the experience for the visitor. In the past the entry way acted as an extension of the gift shop with an array of used books and consigned items for sale. The visitor had to navigate this hodge-podge of items just to turn the corner to get to the reception desk. Over the winter this has been completely re-done so that now as the soon as the visitor enters the main doors, they are greeted by a representative of the museum. With many of the consigned goods removed, now an improved gift shop with a much cleaner look is the last room they go through before returning to the main doors to exit. Adding to the initial impression of the museum, the upper walls surrounding the entry room feature Civil War inspired murals painted by Kent Schwartz. Known for the outdoor murals in downtown Nebraska City, Kent’s work sets the tone for what the visitor will experience, especially if it is their first time to see the museum. The murals were possible through a grant from the Nelson Family Foundation. Changes in the main exhibit gallery are also evident once the visitor passes through the weapons room. Disproving the old adage, “Once you’ve been a museum you don’t have to go back because they never change,” the work done this winter will give even a returning visitor an improved and meaningful experience. Opening for the season with Arbor Day Weekend, the museum will be open Friday through Sunday, noon to 4:00 p.m. until the end of October. Then the volunteers will have an opportunity to make more enhancements. The Nebraska City Museums Resident Program had begun for the year. Residents living in the 68410 zip code are able to visit all of Nebraska City’s museums, with the exception of Arbor Lodge, on weekends for free. Proof of residency must be shown and children must be accompanied by an adult. The program runs until the end of October. This is a great opportunity to visit the community’s museums and see the changes that they have also made this winter. IF YOU GO Civil War Veterans Museum 910 First Corso Nebraska City, NE Hours are; 12:00 – 4:00; Friday - Sunday $3 for adults, $1 for children