I’ve never hidden my pride of being a Nebraskan. People can attest to that when I quickly say so-and-so is from Nebraska, etc. So, the chance to visit the hometown of a great Nebraska legend like Henry Fonda? Yes, please. Thus, began a weekend visit to Grand Island.
Grand Island is the fourth largest city in Nebraska (fifth on a Nebraska home football game Saturday, as we all know Memorial Stadium becomes the third largest with almost 90,000 people attending).
Grand Island is proud to call itself the home of Henry Fonda. The Academy Award-winning actor grew up here. They named a section of a road the “Henry Fonda Memorial Highway.”
Fonda’s childhood home is located on the grounds of the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer on the southern edge of town. Fonda was proud to call Grand Island his home. He actually paid to have the house moved on to the grounds of the Stuhr’s living history museum.
Speaking of the Stuhr, we made this our first stop during our two-day stay. The main building on the grounds is undergoing renovation and will reopen in July. However, that didn’t deter us from checking out the grounds. The living history area – Railroad Town – reopens for interior viewing and re-enactors next month. Visitors can check out the buildings’ exteriors. That was OK with us, as it gives us another reason to come back.
Railroad Town takes visitors back to 1894. You can see a Victorian-style house, next to Fonda’s childhood home.
A farmstead stands on the southern edge of the town.
The town front was interesting – a drinking establishment, barber shop, newspaper office and hotel are among the business visitors can check out.
What town named “Railroad Town” would be complete without a train depot and rail cars?
A little farther south of town are a church, schoolhouse and another farm.
The Stuhr’s visitors center gives visitors a view into one of the city’s early leaders. Gus Fonner’s collection of Native American artifacts, as well as items from his home are on display.
Fonner Park is home to horse racing and the Nebraska State Fair. Live horse racing runs every weekend February-April. Simulcast racing is available daily.
Each year in late winter/early spring, thousands of people visit the area to take in the annual Sandhill crane migration. Grand Island is on the eastern end of the migration region. The Crane Trust Nature and Visitors Center is about 12 miles southwest of the city.
We checked out a morning viewing blind tour. Excellente!
Grand Island offers a diverse food scene. Home to a large contingent of Cuban and other Hispanic immigrants, the opportunity to try new food options are many. Check out La Milagrosa for authentic Cuban food. It helps to know a little Spanish, as the menu is in Spanish. It really adds to the experience. And the food is delicioso!
Not to be outdone, GI’s Italian choices are amazing. Napoli’s near the Conestoga Mall is home to authentic Italian dishes. Trust me on this – one basket of bread is more than enough (but we ordered another anyway)!
In the mood for a movie, but don’t care for the cineplexes? Grand Island has a 1937 art deco theater that is volunteer-operated. The Grand Theater shows one movie every weekend evening. They are current movies – like “American Sniper” – for less than what it costs to see a movie elsewhere. The non-profit running the theater survives on concession stand sales, so be supportive of the effort.
If you are in the mood for a nice dessert and/or drink, check out our favorite spot in Grand Island – the Chocolate Bar. We found it last summer on a trip out west. We have vowed to stop here any time we are in the area. The vanilla bean latte is perhaps the best coffee either Lisa or I have ever had. The desserts are amazing.
Grand Island’s downtown gives you a chance to take a step back in time. The area’s buildings have the aged look that we like. Plus, lots of antique stores call the main street home, so you can check out a lot of old stuff. I loved checking out some antique cameras. I’ve dreamed of having an office at home decorated in travel trinkets, with old cameras lining the room on shelves (hint, hint, Lisa).
The Hall County Courthouse gave us a view of some older architecture, Lisa’s favorite art style.
City hall, however, has a contemporary look, but honors the state’s Native Americans with a statue out front recognizing an act of bravery – an eagle hunt.
Grand Island was the second city along the famed Lincoln Highway to build its “seedling mile.” Cities along US Highway 30 – the nation’s first transcontinental highway – were asked to build their first paved mile along the route. The highway would be laid out in their direction then.
Burma Shave would advertise its shaving cream along the roadside with quirky signs that were jokes, such as “There is no possibility of running out of gas with a backseat driver.”
The city is home to one of the last full-service gas stations on Highway 30 – Kensingers.
Highway 30 is not the lone spot of quirkiness in the area. On the east end of town is Fred’s Flying Circus. It’s actually an auto repair shop, but the owner years ago started building cartoon cars with cartoon characters, including Shrek, Snoopy and Woodstock. It’s quite the tourist attraction.
We enjoyed a wonderful stay at the Fairfield Inn by Marriott. Grand Island has a nice selection of quality hotels. The Fairfield has comfortable beds and a free breakfast. The hotel offers free WiFi, though guests can pay for an upgraded service.
We had a great time in Grand Island. If you’re looking for a nice getaway city for a weekend or holiday, the city is only a two-hour drive from Omaha. It’s worth the visit.
Disclaimer: Thank you to the Grand Island Visitors Bureau for the complimentary stay at Fairfield Inn, complimentary tickets to Stuhr Museum and Grand Theater, as well as the viewing blind tour at Crane Trust. However, all opinions and views are ours.