Located in York, NE, Wessels Living History Farm is a 145-acre living history museum area preserving the prairie farm home of David Wessels, along with a timber frame barn, one-room schoolhouse, and church typical of 1920s Great Plains culture. David Wessels was the third of six children born to Dick Wessels, the son of a German immigrant to York County, and Marie Amelia Blum.
As a young boy, Wessels developed a love for farm work on his family’s Nebraska prairie farm that would translate into a lifelong passion for preserving and promoting American farming culture. Following service in World War II as part of the North African Campaign and the retirement of his parents in 1946, Wessels and his brothers Dick and Edward continued to maintain their family farm until the 1990s, and Wessels developed a vision for one day preserving the farm as a “living story.” According to the terms of Wessels’ will, the farm’s land was to be used for the establishment of a living history farm following his death. In 1995, a committee was formed by the York Community Foundation for the development of an educational living history facility preserving prairie farming culture in the Great Plains. A location near Interstate 80 was chosen for the farm’s physical location, with an initiative undertaken to maintain a digital archive as a complement to the museum. Implementation of the museum required the filing of a lawsuit to create a legal definition for a “living history farm,” which resulted in approval of plans for construction. A home belonging to the Wessels family was moved to the site in 2002, when the farm was opened to the public. The following year, Wessels was posthumously inducted into the York Area Agriculture Hall of Fame, honoring his contributions to agricultural business and local philanthropy.
Permanent Exhibits and Attractions
Today, the Wessels Living History Farm is operated as a living history farm open for public tours, located one mile south of Interstate 80 and Highway 81 near York, Nebraska. The 145-acre property includes a home shared by Wessels and his brother, along with other structures arranged to evoke a typical 1920s farm setup, including a red timber frame barn donated by Shelby, Nebraska resident Bill Peters.
A granary donated by Ralph Stur is showcased, relocated from a site near Bradshaw, Nebraska, and a large windmill recovered from the Wessels farm is displayed. Other period-typical farm structures include a machine shed, chicken coop, and garage. The historic Zion Lutheran Church of Thayer, Nebraska, built in 1905 as the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, was relocated to the site in November 2013, and a late 1880s one-room schoolhouse was relocated from Sutton, Nebraska in May of 2015. A tank house, tractor building, cob house, and outhouses belonging to Wessels are also featured.
A Tractor Museum on site displays more than 20 restored tractor models, including a pull-behind combine and a number of stationary engines from Wessels’ personal collection. The 40,000-square-foot museum, funded by donations by the York Community Foundation and York Visitor’s Bureau, was opened in July of 2017 and also features an exhibit constructed by Reinke Manufacturing chronicling the history of irrigation technologies. A modern shop building, poultry house, and restroom building are also located within the museum complex. Around the museum buildings, modern farm operations grow crops year-round, including corn and soybeans.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Daily demonstrations of farming activities are offered at the farm, encouraging visitors to participate in typical daily practices such as gardening and farm chores. The farm site is open regular hours from May through September, with limited operations in October and December. Group tours are available by appointment, including field trip opportunities for elementary and secondary school students, which offer up-close experiences with farm animals and tours of the Tractor Museum. The farm facility may also be rented for private special events upon request, with a number of facilities available depending on event needs.
A variety of educational workshops are offered for students in grades K-8 throughout the spring, summer, and fall, focusing on topics related to farming, agriculture, and nature. Comparative historical workshops are offered for older students, examining changes in farm life throughout the 1920s, 1930s, and other decades. A Christmas on the Farm workshop is also offered on select December mornings, allowing participants to experience the culture of Christmas celebrations on 1920s prairie farms. Scavenger hunt materials and up-close experiences with farm animals are also available for young visitors upon request. Public special events include a Christmas on the Farm celebration in December, offering Sunday church services and 1920s-themed decorations and refreshments.
5520 South Lincoln Ave. York, NE 68467, Phone: 402-710-0682