Putting It All Together
By studying the Thomas P. Kennard House: Building a Prairie Capital lesson, students have learned how and why Nebraska established its capital city at Lincoln when it gained statehood. This lesson introduced ideas about what types of buildings people want in their capitals and the challenges civil leaders face when they plan a new state or city. Use the following activities to broaden and test students' understanding of these subjects
Activity 1: Breaking news in the territory.
Like Nebraska, many of the United States' western states were once territories founded in the 19th century. Assign each student or a group of students a state (including Nebraska) with an official territorial history. Then, ask them to imagine they are newspaper reporters living in the territorial seat and writing for the territory's residents. Have them research their state's history and then write a descriptive newspaper article about the creation of the state as if it just happened. There are many resources online that describe how to write a news article, including one from Purdue University.
Information in the articles should reflect the students' understanding of the history of the United States' involvement in the region, the economic makeup of the territories just before statehood, the groups or individuals who pushed for the territory to become a state and why, major federal laws or acts that influenced the territory and the creation of the state, major national or international events that influenced the creation of the state. The newspaper article can include quotes with attribution and students should also submit one historic image related to statehood when they turn in their articles.
Organize the articles and images in a word processor or graphic design program to create mock newspaper pages that you can display in the classroom. Ask each student or student group to present a short oral report to the class summarizing how the state became a territory and eventually a state. Were there any obstacles that had to be overcome or any controversial local, regional, or national political issues? Then, hold a class discussion comparing and contrasting the various stories and issues.
Activity 2: City Planning: Design a state capital.
Visit your local library or historical society or search online for a 19th century or early 20th century map or plat of your state's own capital. Some cities had "bird's eye" views created, which show natural features, early buildings, and streets. These were drawn by artists as if from the air or as a bird flies.
Have students study the map and identify important structures. These might include businesses, government offices, schools, libraries, cemeteries, parks, houses, and transportation systems (roads and railroads). After they've had time to look at it, ask them the following questions:
- Why were these structures located where they were?
- Why were they important to this city?
Now divide the class up into small groups. Each group should pretend that they are commissioners designing a state capital. Have each group create a map of their city, and select natural and manmade features for it. Students should first start with where the town is to be located. Ask them to consider the following when designing their capital city:
- What topography (natural features, such as hills, streams, rivers) was selected as being the most favorable for the location of the new town? How did it influence the location?
- Were there existing railroads or highways that influenced the location? Canals or sea ports?
- What kind of economy does your city have (industry or agriculture)? How does this affect the ways people live and work in your city? How does this influence the way the city looks and the types of buildings it has?
- What other factors in your state's history, population, and culture influenced the town's location?
After these exercises, have each group present their town to the class and give a persuasive speech that explains why their town would make a good state capital.
Activity 3: Local history on the Web
Ask your students to research their town's early history and turn their discoveries into a collaborative online resource that can take shape as a blog or website (various online resources will allow you to do these for free). Internet research might not provide enough local history information for this assignment, so take the students on a field trip to or ask them to visit independently their local library, historical society, or county courthouse to research the history of their county and county seat. Locate an early plat map of the city.
Break the class up into small groups and divide the following questions among the groups:
- Who first settled in your county or town? What kinds of uses did they find for the land?
- Who founded your county or town? How many people settled there at the time it was founded? Did many of them come from the same place?
- How did the region's industry/agriculture/society/culture change around the time of the founding? If it didn't change then, what was it like at that time?
- What was the origin of the county's name? Why was that name chosen? What meaning did it have to the people who founded the county and the people who lived there?
- Who named your town and what was the origin of that name? What meaning did it have to the people who founded the town and the people who lived there?
- What historic events and movements were happening at state and national levels at the time your county or town was founded? How did they effect the founding of your county or town?
- When was the county seat selected? Did the town exist before it became the county seat? Who chose it and why did they choose it? Was there controversy over the selection of the county seat?
- What buildings were constructed at the time your town was founded? Do any still exist? Are they listed on the National Register of Historic Places? What kind of architecture or history do they represent?
Groups should also find digital images related to the questions they researched. With permission from the copyright holder, they can use historic artwork or photos that show the county or its people at the time of its founding. They can also look for government symbols like a seal or flag (these are in the public domain) for the web resource.
Each group should write a paragraph answering the questions they were assigned. You or the students should decide what kind of resource will best display their findings. A blog could showcase each group's findings in their own post. A website might organize the paragraphs by topic and have three or four pages. Contact the local historical society, library, or other groups with knowledge or expertise in local history Also, find out if they can link to your class's project from their own website.
Activity 4: Places where your state made history.
Have students investigate the historic buildings in your community and determine the oldest ones. Students can consult the National Register of Historic Places database and their state historic preservation office's website to find historic places. Also, your local historical society or library can assist you.
Divide the class into small groups and assign each group a different building to study.
- Visit your local historical society or library and research secondary and primary documents to learn about the building.
- When was the building constructed and for what purpose?
- Who built the building?
- Are there early photographs of the building?
- Are there old maps of the town that show the building?
- Visit the building.
- What style of architecture is it?
- What materials were used in its construction?
- Is it used for the same purpose today as it was when it was built?
- Take photographs of the exterior of the building to compare to early photographs.
- How has it changed over the years?
- Why do you think these changes were made?
Have students take their findings and create a poster series that the class can exhibit in your school. Consider offering the posters to their local library, historical society, or government to use as a temporary exhibit.
If any of the buildings your students selected are not on the state inventory or National Register of Historic Places, consider having your class select one of the buildings, contact the State Historic Preservation Officer, and initiate the process preparing and submitting a draft nomination for that building.