PHOTO SHOWCASE: Homestead Act anniversary celebration
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One hundred and fifty years ago Sunday, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act of 1862 and the landscape of America changed.
To commemorate the anniversary, descendents of homesteaders from 30 states carried the state flag of their homesteader ancestor in a ceremony Sunday at the Homestead National Monument Heritage Center near Beatrice.
Carrying the Louisiana flag for his ancestors is Harry Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.
Myron Long Soldier, pipe carrier and member of the Oglala Sioux from South Dakota, gave a prayer at the beginning of the ceremony.
More on the Homestead Act of 1862 exhibit
"The written word endures" at archives -- read more about the volunteer effort to digitize Nebraska's homestead records.
About the act
The Homestead Act of 1862, enacted during the Civil War, provided that any adult who had never borne arms against the U.S. government could claim 160 acres of undeveloped federal land west of the Mississippi River.
Claimants generally were required to “improve” the plot by building a dwelling and cultivating the land. After five years, the original filer was entitled to the property at no cost except a small registration fee.
After the Civil War, Union soldiers could deduct the time they had served from the residency requirements.
The act proved no panacea for poverty. Comparatively few laborers and farmers could afford to build a farm or acquire the necessary tools, seed and livestock.
Most of those who claimed land under the act came from areas close to their new homesteads (Iowans moved to Nebraska, Minnesotans to South Dakota).
The act was framed so ambiguously that it invited fraud. Most of the land went to speculators, cattlemen, miners, lumbermen and railroads.
Of about 500 million acres disbursed by the General Land Office between 1862 and 1904, only 80 million acres went to homesteaders. Small farmers acquired more land under the Homestead Act in the 20th century than in the 19th.
Source: National Archives and Records Administration
Regular Homestead Act viewing: 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends through May 28
Where: Homestead National Monument's Heritage Center, four miles west of Beatrice on Nebraska Highway 4
About the monument: Homestead National Monument is a unit of the National Park Service. It commemorates the nation's first homestead, claimed by Daniel Freeman on Jan. 1, 1863.
Coup for Nebraska
WASHINGTON — Nebraska's exhibit of the Homestead Act of 1862 marks the first time all four pages have traveled out of Washington.
Archives officials considered publicly displaying the four pages in the nation's capital before they were shipped to Homestead National Monument near Beatrice but rejected the idea to preserve the historic coup for Nebraska, said Miriam Kleiman, an archives spokeswoman.
Even on the rare occasion that the document is displayed in Washington, usually only the first and fourth pages are shown, she said.
The document will be displayed under strict temperature, humidity and lighting controls. The viewing area at Homestead National Monument's Heritage Center will be nearly as dark as the National Archives rotunda, where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are displayed.
Light falling on the three documents in the rotunda is limited to two foot-candles, a measurement of the intensity of light. One foot-candle is equivalent to the light produced by a standard candle burning one foot from a given surface.
The Homestead Act will be illuminated by three foot-candles of light.
“It's dark,” Kleiman said.
— David Hendee
Read more about the Homestead Act