Posts Tagged ‘Kearney’

Nebraska’s 1733 Ranch in 1915

November 1, 2016

A century ago, Lincoln Highway tourists crossing Nebraska often stopped five miles west of Kearney for a photo at the 1733 Ranch. Its sign “1733 miles to Frisco, 1733 miles to Boston” was iconic … except that both mileages were wrong and the Lincoln Highway never went to Boston.

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The 1915 LHA guidebook lists Kearney as 1752 miles from San Francisco and 1632 miles from New York City. So why 1733, and how did Kearney come to promote itself as the “Midway City”?

History professor John T. Bauer wrote in the Summer 2015 issue of Nebraska History that the 1733 mileage is derived from the railroad route between the two, which the city embraced as early as 1890.

When the LHA movie caravan crossed the country in 1915 to produce a promotion film, hundreds of photos were taken by Edward Holden, secretary to LHA vice president and field secretary Henry C. Ostermann. The above photo then leads to an interesting question; the  1733 Ranch name has long been said to stem from new owners in 1917, but this 1915 photo indicates otherwise.

The modern LHA now sells a CD with 300 of Holden’s photos at the Lincoln Highway Trading Post.

The ranch itself is long gone—only the 1733 Estates remind us of that long-ago era.

Hammer Motel, a Kearney landmark no more

January 3, 2008

The Hammer Motel on the Lincoln Highway in Kearney, Nebraska, was famous for its sign topped by a giant hammer and three supporting poles made to look like big nails. Named for the Hammer family, it served travelers for decades before being demolished in 1995 for parking.

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Postcards from Flickr friend Allen/Roadsidepictures.

Piecing together the story from various sources, John and Nina Hammer were married in 1935, then moved from Omaha to Kearney in 1938. John served in WWII and in 1947 they built the motel along Watson Blvd/24th St/US 30 West. A 1952 listing in the city’s Polk’s Directory also lists Fred and Belle Hammer as owners. Signs show it was a Best Western member, and matchbooks advertise that it was part of the Friendship Inn chain.

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The family sold the motel in 1962 and it closed in 1987. The adjacent University of Nebraska at Kearney then acquired it for student housing known as Hammer Hall or Hammer Apartments or just “The Hammer.” School literature described it as “a unique living opportunity for the approximately 50 upperclass residents of this remodeled hotel facility. Each convenience-style apartment has a private entrance, living room and bathroom. A variety of room sizes, laundry and kitchen facilities, front desk services, and ‘front-door’ parking are some of the significant advantages of the facility.” But in 1995, it was razed to create additional campus parking – see blue box below for what I believe is the site.

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A 2003 newsletter article explained that the Hammers were longtime supporters of the university, and that a $27,000 gift from son Fred E. Hammer to the University of Nebraska Foundation would landscape the lot. His donation also provided for “benches, tables and columns reminiscent of the columns that marked the entrance to the old Hammer Motel” to make the parking lot “a place for students to gather.” There was also to be a plaque mounted on one of the columns commemorating the motel as a historic Kearney site. “The parking lot will still be functional,” Hammer said, “but now it will be pretty as well.”

Nothing remains of the motel except the basic shape of the site, some postcards, and the parking area now known as Lot 27.

Kearney Covered Wagon photo update

November 24, 2007

Leigh and Chuck Henline of Fort Cody Trading Post in North Platte, Nebraska, stopped at the Covered Wagon west of Kearney on their Thanksgiving trip to snap a few photos of the Covered Wagon, previously reported on here. Note the office now has a second story. Here’s a closeup of the wagon, still awaiting restoration:

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Or click below for a 2-photo panorama of the site. Note the houses rising behind it on what was once the 1733 Ranch:

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Kearney Covered Wagon Follow-Up

November 10, 2007

A few days after my story ran on the Covered Wagon, an article perhaps inspired by this blog ran on the front page of the Kearney Hub. It even featured my 1950s postcard of the place (though initial editions like the one below erroneously credited the image). Writer Todd Gottula talked to the owner and contractor, who is adding a second floor to convert the building into offices with log siding.

Kearney Hub Front Page

Gottula pinned down some dates: the Covered Wagon was sold to Boyd McClara in 1939, then Nick and Rose Ponticello purchased it in 1963. Nick auctioned many of the souvenirs in 2001 before selling the property to Hayes.

Jamie Hayes, who purchased the property four years ago from Nick Ponticello, says he wants to return it as close as possible to its original look. Since work started around the end of September, motorists keep stopping to talk with contractor Ray White and sons. Hayes says the amount of interest is unbelievable, with most making sure the site is being preserved, not destroyed.

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A whimsical postcard view from a Covered Wagon attraction, courtesy Bernie Heisey.

Gottula reported in a sidebar story that the site inspired local musician Mike Nicolen to write a song about the Covered Wagon after meeting the Ponticellos in 1999. His thoughts, also on his website, mirror that of many old-time LH fans: “I think instead of building a $50 million archway across the interstate to commemorate westward expansion, they should have sent someone with a tape recorder and camera out to see Nick and Rose.” Nicolen’s site explains further, “Nick and Rose held on to the place and kept it open into their 80’s when health problems finally forced them into a nursing home…. Nick told me once that the Archway people wanted to buy him out and move his beloved Covered Wagon out to the Interstate. He said ‘Why don’t you pick up your Arch and move it out here? I’ve been here a lot longer than you’ve been out there!'”

Nicolen’s song likewise tells how I-80 and the Archway draws traffic from the 2-lane. Click Here to listen to Covered Wagon courtesy of the Kearney Hub or go to Mike’s site and scroll down to the last song, He tells the story from Nick’s point of view. with lines like:

Parked along the highway of our dreams
Facing westward, time moves onward here in the land of opportunity

Now they travel down I-80 doing 85 or more
They gas up at the interchange they’ll never see my store

Kearney’s Covered Wagon Being Restored

October 27, 2007

John & Lenore Weiss recently stopped at the Covered Wagon in central Nebraska and talked with a contractor who is bringing the building, wagon, and oxen back to life. The once-busy attraction four miles west of Kearney was near the famous (and long gone) 1733 Ranch, where signs indicated the halfway point between Boston and San Francisco, 1733 miles each way. They sent two pictures that show the work underway.
Weiss Cvd Wagon 1
“The contractor remembers all of it very well!” says Lenore. “The new owner does want a 2-story building, so he is doing a fine job and will be using log siding. The oxen and wagon will be completely restored, but the oxen will stay the same colors. Inside the wagon will be an office or two, and the top of the wagon will be new canvas as well.”
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This is excellent news for anyone who has watched the site decline over the past 15 years, knowing the all-too-familiar fate of vintage roadside attractions. The attraction was built in 1932 by a pair of missionaries and later was run by Mr. & Mrs Boyd McClare and later Nicholas and Rose Ponticello. Kearney Planning Commission minutes from 2002 appear to approve the project that has just gotten underway.

Below are two views from its heyday, when postcards advertised that tourists could relax “and obtain worthwhile souvenirs at reasonable prices.” One of the unforgettable draws was a taxidermied two-headed calf. The two gas pumps look pretty sharp too.
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John and Lenore Weiss are known to Route 66 and now LH fans for their research, tours, and publications, including one that will soon be reviewed here that covers both famed routes plus the Dixie Highway.