Chimney Rock was designated a National Historic Site on August 9, 1956, and is maintained and operated by the Nebraska State Historical Society. Located in the valley of the North Platte River, this landmark has been remarked upon by people for centuries. Chimney Rock is known as the most famous landmark on the Oregon-California Trail, but it had made an impression on earlier residents of the area as well. According to early fur traders, Native Americans named the rock "Elk Penis" after the penis of the adult male elk. This made more sense to those who had lived for centuries on the plains than comparing the rock to a feature from a white man's building. Prim and proper usage among Anglo-Americans, though, overwhelmingly preferred the more delicate name "chimney."
Nearly half a million westbound emigrants and other travelers saw Chimney Rock. Many remain nameless; a few left words and pictures describing their trip west. All were part of a great movement of people and ideas that passed by Chimney Rock in the years 1812-1866. Many emigrants, surveyors, and members of military expeditions drew sketches of Chimney Rock as they passed in proximity. In later years photographs of Chimney Rock became popular. In the days prior to sophisticated scientific techniques disputes surrounding Chimney Rock were - how tall is it? and - will it last?
Through a digital exhibit of 187 images, viewers can see photographs, documents, artifacts, and artwork reflecting the Overland Trail experience. Most of the images were taken from the exhibit at the Chimney Rock National Historic Site, although several photographs were scanned from the Society's holdings in Lincoln. To view the images;
These postcard images and paintings of Chimney Rock were drawn from the Western Trails Project database. The database also contains images of artifacts related to the overland migration which are displayed at the visitor center. The digital presentation of this material as part of the Western Trails Project was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) through a grant provided to the Colorado Digitization Project. The grant funding enabled the Nebraska State Historical Society to digitize images and create a database of records for them.
The Ethel and Christopher J. Abbott Visitor Center is one of the premier interpretive centers on the Oregon-California Trail. The visitor center is open year round and group tours can be arranged in advance. Several special events take place throughout the year. If you have any questions about Chimney Rock or require more information, just ask the curator.
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