To understand today, search yesterday

The Niobrara Historical Society honored Eleanor Aamodt at their annual meeting for her active involvement in the museum for almost 50 years. Board member, Wally Petrie, is pictured with Eleanor. Courtesy Photo

In 1969 the establishment of the Niobrara Historical Society began with humble beginnings, in the old grade school gym. Annabelle Hoblit was very interested in genealogy and ancestry, so it only made sense to hold an open meeting to see if anyone else was interested. Eleanor Leimser Aamodt was definitely intrigued. A love of history had been instilled into her soul from a young age.

Eleanor’s maternal grandfather was a wonderful historian, but he never had the opportunity to write everything down. “He would take me out into this three-stall garage that he had, and he would say that this came from this family, this came from South Dakota, this came from eastern Nebraska. We got this when we lived on the old homestead,” Eleanor shares.

Hoblit is credited with the founding of the Niobrara Historical Society. Under her direction the Stagecoach Museum was moved to its present location and began to flourish with the assistance of many dedicated volunteers throughout the years. She was also instrumental in the restoration of the Railroad Redwood Water Tank. Aamodt was named as the first secretary of new Historical Society, a position that she took to heart with genuine devotion.

Aamodt moved away from the area in 1972, but she always maintained her dues, membership and commitment to local history. She returned to Lusk in 1998 and hadn’t even been in town for two weeks before Ed Cook telephoned her. There was an opening on the museum board and Eleanor didn’t miss a step. It was like she had never left.

When you sit in Eleanor’s comfortable home, the antique mantle clock ticks a metronome cadence reminiscent of another time. Just as her grandfather led Eleanor through their family history, she led me.

She talked of her long-time family history in Niobrara County. The maternal side settling around 1913 and her paternal side in 1928, in the Buck Creek Hills. 

I settled in and listened as she recounted about their homestead cabin that just fell, this past fall. The wagon wheels that decorate her well-groomed yard were once on the wagon that brought the logs down to build the cabin. An old photo on her wall bears testament to this fact and honors the memory of the men of her family pictured.

The Silver Tea the Historical Society held at the Hoblit Ranch, dressed in pioneer period dresses. The skirt that Eleanor wore to the tea is still modeled on the teacher manikin in the schoolhouse at the Stagecoach Museum. 

She recounted the story of how the stagecoach was placed on the second floor of the Armory. It seems that the society was in search of a place to put the famous stagecoach. It was deteriorating and could not be secured. The National Guard Amory was still active but were not using the upstairs and even gave up some space in the hallway for their organization. They put their desk in the hallway and found five gentlemen that knew how to disassemble and reassemble the prized stagecoach, upstairs. That is how it was moved. Piece by piece. And that has been the stagecoach’s home ever since. Eleanor laughs,  “That is where it will stay, unless the roof falls in.”

Aamodt also gives credit where credit is due.  Eleanor and husband, Stanley were walking through the back lot of the museum one day. Eleanor saw a pile of old lumber and rusted metal that needed hauled off, in her opinion. Stanley, however, saw the treasure that it was. Stanley, being a North Dakota boy, had used sleds to feed and travel many times. He gathered up what was there, and rebuilt, probably from memory, the sled. He also restored the railroad car from the ground up.  Both can be viewed at the Stagecoach Museum. 

When asked the reason for her retirement from the board she replies that she decided that the stairs and her bad knee are at odds. And she didn’t want to wear out the stair lift for just her. Matter of factly, she also believes that just shy of 50 years is enough, “It is time to pass the torch”, so to speak. However, make no mistake, Eleanor will continue to be as involved as she can be.

Pearl S. Buck once said, “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” Eleanor will continue to hold a deep dedication to the history of Niobrara County and hopes that others will continue to value the importance and support our local treasure of the Stagecoach Musuem. “This a wonderful historical place”, says Aamodt.


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