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Monday, 25 April 2011

Kearney, Nebraska: Sandhill cranes, but no B&B - Page 2

Written by Phoebe Bright
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If I digress it’s only that I want you to grasp that this place rises like a silo of stewardship, like a beacon of civic purpose that lights up singular regard for “place”.

In one museum of heritage buildings, among the old rail depots and barns, there’s a “Mormon handcart.” That’s a rough-formed two-wheeled wagon that stowed a lot of family belongings and got towed by guys themselves in harness across the trails that merged here from the east and continued destiny-bound west till they diverged ultimately to Oregon, California, and Salt Lake. Sometimes when the guys could go no farther, their widows hitched up. Nobody hereabouts doubts that this was a very big story about American exceptionalism, and about the lore of American can-do. If America was born in Florida in 1513 when Spain showed up, and if re-born a second time at Plymouth Rock, then Fort Kearny in the mid-1800s reburnished America’s heritage zeal in a way that few of us from elsewhere anymore know much about.

09.08.15 Bcv F0019At the Archway across I-80, that saga of Manifest Destiny gets dramatized with lifelike displays that combine surging music, iconic voices, flickering campfires, the whoosh and crackle of calamitous storm and the hugger-mugger that only artist-designers steeped in the story could shape.

The museums, the restored opera house, the endless hopper cars that speed coal through downtown and surrounding Buffalo County all combine in a mix of America’s past and America’s present that will dizzy you with thoughts about what else is going on between American coasts that we might also know little about.

You will, by the way, hear more about Kearney in 2013. That year marks the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway, US 30, America’s first transcontinental road that for the first time linked towns east to west across the country. Kearney will be the center of celebrations for the event, located 1,733 miles from both Boston and San Francisco. The Lincoln Highway, different from today’s interstates, connected downtowns and helped them prosper.

Kearney will make sure that transcontinental celebrants also find their way downtown. That would be to The Bricks, a prosperous retail center ever since the highway came through. It’s got shoe stores and clothing stores, a hardware store, jewelry, a dog grooming center, pottery, antiques, flowers, a music store, quilts, lighting, western wear, a thriving six-day-a-week afternoon paper and – as if everyone’s waiting for one of those gullywashers -- a scuba shop. Notably, none of these are chain stores. Kearneyites love to shop here and hang out (though they’ve also got a mall north of town).

Best for me was the range of restaurants from Tex’s Café decked out in linoleum where the waitresses call the ranchers “Hon” and “Dear” to Alley Rose, with chandelier lighting, a baby grand piano, a Wine Spectator reputation, and plush booths where ranchers get to wear their Stetsons while slicing up cow. I loved Tru Café, a post-hippie mostly organic hangout for food, beer and wine and weekend music, The Garage, and Thunderhead Brewery, with a greed-arousing red ale on draft.

So, what’s missing?

That bed-and breakfast and a second or third.

Jane Goodall comes as often as not for the cranes. This year it was Audubon President David Yarnold. The museums do their special thing, ditto UNK, ditto The Bricks. But you need somebody someplace to give it all voice, redolence.

As a visitor, you need to be able to immerse yourself in it all. You need somebody informed about this town and its rare stewardship to talk to you, to tell you what’s really worth visiting, to hitch you to the heritage and declare personal witness with morning coffee.  You need to compose your own music, if not necessarily for piano performance, then for playback in the MP3 that’s your own imagination.

TO MAKE PLANS  Contact the Kearney Visitors Bureau, 1007 N. 2nd Avenue,
Kearney, NE 68847, 308/237-3178,

©Phoebe Bright (the nom de plume of a globetrotting Floridian)

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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