Nebraska Moments

By Donald R. Hickey; Susan A. Wunder et al. | Go to book overview

39. The Kearney Arch

Nebraska greeted the twenty-first century with the construction of a unique structure. It turned out to be a kind of “back to the future” phoenix for all the world to see. Straddling Interstate 80 on the eastern outskirts of Kearney, the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument arose as the truly first “museum” of its kind. It cost approximately sixty million dollars to build, and it officially opened in the summer of 2000. At its grand opening on July 16, former Nebraska Governor Frank Morrison, a vigorous ninety-five years, enthusiastically welcomed a crowd of over six hundred, including both of Nebraska’s senators and its current governor. In spearheading the effort to construct the archway, Morrison later reflected, “My thinking was when people drove on I-8O they failed to realize they were going through one of the most historical places on Earth.” That could now be corrected if they stopped at the Kearney Arch.

The Kearney Arch stands eight stories tall, weighs fifteen hundred tons, and spreads more than three hundred feet over the interstate highway. Building it necessitated extensive infrastructure investment. The arch required a sewer, at a cost of four million dollars alone, plus water, gas, drains, roads, police, fire, and electricity, for a total price of seven million dollars. To some it looks architecturally more like a stockade from seventeenth-century Massachusetts than a miniature Great Plains fort, the original design intent. It also has the feel of a famous Madison County, Iowa, covered bridge.

Inside the monument is a modern museum of the history of transportation, from the earliest peoples of the Plains to the present. Multimedia exhibits feature the history of Indian horse travois, ox-driven wagon trains, riverboats, locomotives, modern automobiles and trucks, and

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