Western Nebraska's Chimney Rock: Maybe, the Eighth wonder of the World
by Hugh Houchin 11/08/2011 / Leadership
"The Great Platte River Road, through Nebraska and Wyoming, was the grand corridor of America's westward expansion. The Trapper's Trail, the Oregon Trail, the Council Bluffs Road, the California Road, the Pony Express route, and the military road from Port Leavenworth to Fort Laramie; all converged in the broad valley of the Platte, forming a kind of primitive superhighway. This was the transcontinental route of the covered wagon migration of 1841-1866, one of the epic adventures of American history."
In addition, to these emigrants, the sight of Chimney Rock towering in the sky added to the awe of their adventure. In diaries that surfaced over the years, notes stuck in various places, and letters written to hometowns; 96 percent of them mention Chimney Rock.
Chimney Rock was a psychological boost to the weary travelers; trekking their way through the vast plains that now comprise the state of Nebraska. The sight of Chimney Rock protruding in the air, in the middle of nowhere, signaled the end of a long, laborious, journey through those plains, and the sight of Chimney Rock spiked imaginations:
"by a slight stretch of the imagination may be said to resemble a chimney.-McCoy, 1849
tall column like the flue in an iron foundry.-Berrien, 1849
chimney of a glass-house furnace.-Delano, 1849"
In the mid-1800's, before erosion damaged the spire, estimates say Chimney Rock probably rose to a height of 150-200 feet in the air. At its greatest glory, the chimney-like structure was visible for 50 miles, from either the east or west. To thousands of hardy settlers, Chimney Rock was the eighth wonder of the world:
"well worth a visit across the Plains to seein the dizziness of distance, and towering to the heavens.-Gelwicks- 1849
the greatest thing that I have ever yet seen.-Gage- 1852
a great monument of nature.-Burgess, 1866"
Today, Chimney Rock is a silent, solitary, memory of a bygone era. Contemporary travelers now stop and ponder a freak of nature, which so enamored those who lumbered through in covered wagons. A nearby cemetery is where those, whose families chose to leave them in Chimney Rock's proverbial shadow, now rest. They bear a quiet testimony to the sacrosanct aura Chimney Rock cast upon emigrants, who gazed at its austerity.
Over the years, the history this monument carries in its solitude triggered a desire to insure that modern passers-by, who want to connect to another era can. Thus, in 1956, Chimney Rock became a National Historical Site. In addition, in 1966, an informational trailer opened for visitors, whereas, in 1993, a private grant enabled construction of a new Chimney Rock Visitor's Center. Dedication of the center was in 1994. The visitor center has printed information, artifacts from the pioneer era, and available for enjoyment is a video- narrative of the migration to the West.
Come and enjoy the experience of Chimney Rock.
Mattes, Merrill J. The Great Platte River Road Nebraska State Historical Society Publications, Volume XXV
Hugh Houchin is retired, but enjoys fulltime freelance writing. His publishing credits include articles and columns in western Nebraska newspapers and numerous websites.