The Durham Museum
Wed - Sat: 10am-5pm
Major Holidays: Closed
$ = Cheap, Under $10
Union Station’s original Soda Fountain, Old-fashioned Candy Shop, Group tours, Education programs, The Adah & Leon Millard Foundation Library
The Durham Museum, formerly the Western Heritage Museum, probably represents the millionth or so time a train station in America has been named Union Station. Don’t hold that against the museum, which also doubles as the historical site of Omaha’s largest train station, as the exhibits there present a surprisingly thorough account of not only the history of trains in Omaha, but the entire spirit of Manifest Destiny that created the American West.
Any account of The Durham Museum, located at 801 South 10th Street in the southeast corner of the Old Market, begins with the impressively named Suzanne & Walter Scott Great Hall. The Great Hall is, to be fair, pretty huge. Perhaps not breathtaking enough to cause emphysema sufferers to worry, but at one hundred sixty feet long and seventy-two feet wide, with a sixty-five foot ceiling, it’s quite a sight.
The Great Hall is fully restored in the Art Deco style, with shining gold and silver leaf, massive chandeliers of bronze, copper, and glass, and even a tempting soda shop, complete with ice cream sundaes, hot dogs, old fashioned candies, and a soda jerk. Soda jerk. Isn’t that fun to say?
Also on the Main Level is the Union Station Gallery, which houses a pictorial history of the site and a separate photography exhibit. While well done, the historical pictures are simply no match for the striking black and white photography, which depicts scenes of traditional Nebraskan farm life in a modern setting. The images are worth the price of admission alone, an arresting proof of some Nebraskans strident adherence to an old way of life, their perseverance, and their humanness.
If you’re visiting the Durham, make sure you block off plenty of time for the exhibits downstairs. A museum-goer could easily spend 2 – 3 hours reading the vast displays on the evolution of Omaha in the context of the emerging West. There is a wide range of information, from a wonderful model of the 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition to a mock house from the 1800s. Numismatists will especially like the Byron Reed Gallery of rare coins, while Lionel enthusiasts will appreciate the trains, which are present both as a full-size, viewable steam engine, Pullman Car, lounge car, and caboose, and a gigantic O-scale Union Pacific model train.
If that’s not enough, there’s also the Velde Hall of American History. It houses temporary exhibits on a rotating basis. When we stopped by, there was even a life-sized checker board as part of an exhibit to commemorate past Nebraska checker champions. King me!
The Durham also excels at par-for-the-course museum stuff, like their ridiculously well stocked gift shop, extensive classroom and lecture space, and fully tricked out conference center. Parking, sometimes a problem in the Old Market, is great there, with a spacious two level deck offering free parking to all visitors.
It’s true, we are big fans of Omaha here at Omaha.net, but the Durham Museum is worth all the praise. It’s well maintained, informative, and totally worth it’s $7 adultadmission price. All aboard!