Pioneer Crossing

Harlan Historical Society

Long before the Historical Society was established, a group of family members were collecting and saving artifacts at a place called Pioneer Crossing, Nebraska. These items are now on display in Orleans. The beginnings were a long time dream of Phillip Ferdinand. In 1958 Phil Married Grace Powell Rawson Ferdinand. They had a common goal of preserving history. In 1964 Grace inspired Phil to write the book “Life Around Pioneer Crossing” and start to put together the Pioneer Crossing Museum, one of his visions and dreams.

First, they remodeled a round top farm shop to display the artifacts. After Philip’s passing in 1967 Grace married Clarence Sheffield and continued to host the museum.

In 1973 To fulfill a retired preacher’s dream built the roadside Chapel to compliment the Harlan County Museum Historical Society Museum.

Pioneer Crossing was centrally located in Harlan County on a path from Kearney to Norton, KS and from Red Cloud to Lexington.

From 1879-1884, settlers homesteaded around Turkey Creek and the original Pioneer Crossing site. Some of the first settlers were Andrew Wilson, Adolph (Pete) Wilson, Andrew Magnuson, and Pete Linstrum. Andrew Wilson received his final patent on his land in 1884.

In the 1960’s, a state historical marker was placed at the site. At an unknown date, a grading was cut in the steep banks of Turkey Creek, so that wagons could cross from one side to the other with relative ease.

Logs were bound together with wire and laid on the bottom of the creek bed and tied to large trees on each side. This site became known as Wilson’s Crossing and was located on the Andrew Wilson Homestead and later was named Pioneer Crossing and then Pioneer Camp.

A large barn was built near the site of the historical marker that would hold 100 head of oxen, horses or mules. The immigrants slept in their covered wagons or tents and camped at the site to rest or wait for the water to recede during flood stages.

In 1934, Highway 4 was constructed and built, Phil was a board member of the highway 4 association. The governor at the time wanted the highway to be the straightest in Nebraska and had made plans to  build the road straight on through south of Ragan, but the association fought the plan and helped to get it to turn north and pass near the south edge of the village.

In 1934, a filling station was located on the site. Then in 1935, Phil started a tank wagon service and had routes every day but Sunday. He drove 100 miles per week and continued the route for 7 years and helped the community with rationing through the start of WWII.

The Harlan County Museum site in Orleans includes several other buildings in addition to the Opera House.  There is a 1950’s apartment that is furnished for the period where the people who ran the theater lived.

Museum Hours

1:00–4:00 p.m., Thursday thru Saturday afternoons from April thru September

Museum Location

424 Harlan Avenue Orleans, Nebraska

The Harlan County Museum welcomes you to their online experience. Please visit us when you can to enjoy the history of our county,