Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Homestead, 2005

I had a work assignment in Beatrice, Nebraska. It’s unlikely you’ll ever have reason to visit Beatrice unless you’re re-tracing the Homestead Trail or happen to be in the lawn mower business. (Beatrice is the center of what is left of the Made-in-America motorized lawn mower manufacturing industry.) But in case you do find yourself in Beatrice, let me give you some advice.

Most first-timers pronounce the name “BEE-atris” as they would the woman’s name. But Nebraskans pronounce it “Bee-AT-ris,” with the emphasis on the middle syllable. Knowing this won’t keep you from standing out or getting into trouble, if that’s your wont. But it will show you at least know how to identify where you are if you do get into trouble.

Beatrice is a pleasant community of roughly 13,000 people located about an hour south of Lincoln, Nebraska. A friend once described Lincoln to me as a place where, if you landed at the airport on a Saturday afternoon during college football season, you’d be tempted to believe a neutron bomb had taken out the entire population until you figured out they were all at Memorial Stadium watching the Nebraska Huskers beat the tar out of some visiting team.

But back to Beatrice, whose most famous exports, notwithstanding the aforementioned lawn mowers, were actors Harold Lloyd and Robert Taylor, and Daniel Freeman, the first man to file a claim under the Homestead Act of 1862. Beatrice is also home to a facility once known as the Nebraska Institution for Feeble-Minded Youth, but which today goes by the more clinically ambiguous title of Beatrice State Developmental Center.

It’s easy to be snarky about towns like Beatrice. And I’m not saying I’d want to live there. But the people were nice. I found a number of things I wanted to photograph.

On the outskirts of town is the Homestead National Monument of America, a celebration of a movement of such magnitude, opportunity and hope that one would be hard pressed to imagine it occurring in our time. I was driving out to visit the Monument when I came upon the house shown above. It was starting to drizzle. I could have just kept on driving. But I turned around in a nearby church driveway and looped back to took a picture. Just as I pushed the shutter release on my little Sony point-and-click camera, the camera died. I rushed to the local Wal-Mart, bought a second Sony point-and-click camera and got back in time to capture the scene again before the rainstorm moved in.

Since I first posted this photograph at Flickr, I have heard from a woman who drives past this house every day on her way to and from work, and from another who knows the people who live there.


  1. I would have done the same. And now I have Beatrice on my "to visit" list.

  2. I think it's just amazing that people have let you know they knew the place and the people who lived there. It's a stunning photo--and if I'd ever driven past that place, I'd definitely have noticed it. I don't know if I've ever actually been to Nebraska, come to think of it! One of the few states I've not visited.

  3. What a great picture, I used to drive past this place almost everyday during the winter to and from school when the gravel roads were bad. And I've never really took in the beauty of this place. The man that lives there is a very close friend of my family. So random that I came across your blog!!! Thank you for capturing the beauty of a small town I call home!