Located along Interstate Highway 80 near Kearney, NE, the Great Platte River Road Archway, also referred to as the Kearney Arch, is a monument and museum honoring Nebraska’s role in the westward expansion of the United States of America. Following purchase expansions to United States territory in the mid 19th century, Nebraska’s Platte Valley became a major transportation thoroughfare for westward migrants.
Pioneer settlers, gold rush seekers, and religious missionaries traveled the area’s overland trails by the thousands between 1840 and 1860, with the Fort Kearny Army outpost established in 1848 to oversee protection of travelers. The fort became the eastern junction of the Great Platte River Road, which traversed 800 miles throughout Nebraska and Wyoming and became known as the “grand corridor of America’s westward expansion.” Though the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 resulted in a decline of traditional travel along the route, the Great Platte River Road is credited as the basis for the modern day Lincoln Highway and Interstate Highway 80.
The Great Platte River Road Archway was the vision of Nebraska Governor Frank B. Morrison, who wished to create a monument to honor the route’s historic role in America’s westward expansion. $60 million in funding was issued in the form of bonds in 1997, and after three years of construction, the Archway was opened to the public in July of 2000. More than 223,000 people visited the monument within its first year of opening, including President Bill Clinton. As a result of declining visitorship throughout the 2010s, the monument filed for bankruptcy protection in 2013, which transferred management of the Archway to the City of Kearney. Later that year, a second interchange entrance to the monument was opened along Interstate 80, as the lack of easy access from the interstate’s eastbound lanes had been attributed as a major cause of its low visitorship. In 2014, following major renovations and additions to the facility, the Archway reopened to the public.
Permanent Exhibits and Attractions
Today, the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument stretches 308 feet across Interstate 80 near the city of Kearney, Nebraska, weighing more than 1,500 tons. Designed at a cost of $59.7 million, the monument was constructed in full at a nearby site and raised incrementally over the highway in its completed form using hydraulic jacks and a horizontal jacking beam, a process that took over eight days. The 79,000-square-foot monument is suspended 30 feet over Interstate 80, reaching a height of 116 feet at its highest end points. It is designed to evoke a covered bridge, with its exterior mimicking the yellow, orange, and red hues of a Nebraska sunset.
An entry escalator into the Archway’s public museum facility is the second-longest escalator in the state of Nebraska, framed by a 25x31’ golden picture frame entrance. The facility’s north tower wings weigh seven tons apiece, constructed over the course of more than 3,350 hours. Sandstone slate flooring throughout the facility was imported from Colorado, with spruce logs used in the building’s design sourced from Montana and Canada. More than 15,600 pieces of Southern yellow pine were also imported for use in the facility’s food court floor. The Chuckwagon Concessions food court offers American fare, and the Platte River Traders gift shop features handmade products by Nebraska artisans.
Inside the Archway museum, a self-guided audio tour takes visitors through 170 years of American history, focusing on 19th and 20th century travel throughout the Nebraska and Great Plains areas. Exhibits begin by chronicling the passenger trails of the 1840s, including the Great Platte River Road, the Oregon Trail, and the Mormon Trail. Murals and mannequins depict the riders of the Pony Express, the railroading competition between the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines, the use of the telegraph in relaying military and civic information throughout the Old American West, and the development of modern transcontinental transportation systems, from the Lincoln Highway through the construction of Interstate 80. A 1950s-style drive-in movie theater also plays a short orientation film, and a Roadside Cafe mimics mid-20th century diners.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Docent-led group tours are offered for small groups and organizations, including curriculum-incorporated field trips for elementary and secondary school students. A homeschool membership program also offers educational experiences for homeschool students throughout the year. Public special events include a Pro Talks Lunch Box lecture and meeting series, a Soda Fountain Sundae music performance series, a Tri-City Food Fight contest, and an annual Christmas tree lighting event, featuring carolers, an hors d’oeuvres buffet, and a silent auction.
3060 E 1st St, Kearney, NE 68847, Phone: 308-237-1000