Nebraska, a state primarily known for its expansive prairies and agricultural heritage, is also home to a wealth of abandoned places. These sites, scattered across the state, offer intriguing snapshots of Nebraska’s past and the evolution of American life over the centuries. From ghost towns that once bustled with the hopes of settlers, to historic military forts and abandoned industrial sites, the abandoned places in Nebraska provide unique opportunities for urban explorers, history enthusiasts, and photographers to immerse themselves in the state’s rich history.
Note: Many of these locations are in an extremely delicate state. Specifics on locations, such as coordinates or maps, are not given. This is done so purposefully as a barrier to entry to those who may mean harm to these spots. I want to ensure that these abandoned places in Nebraska are known about, but stay as vandalism and destruction free as possible. Remember: Take only photos, leave only footprints.
Breakdown: The Top 10 and More
If you have a specific location from the list below that you would like to immediately get more information about, click the links in the list to snap straight to that abandoned places in Nebraska location.
- Factoryville, Nebraska (Custer County)
- Fort Sidney (Sidney)
- Antioch Potash Plant Ruins (Antioch)
- Ski-Hi Drive-In Theater (Scottsbluff)
- Arrow Hotel (Broken Bow)
- Norfolk Regional Center (Norfolk)
- Robber’s Cave (Lincoln)
- Warbonnet Creek Battlefield (Sioux County)
- Frank House (Kearney)
- DeWitty Settlement (near Brownlee)
Broaden Your Horizons Beyond Nebraska
Are you interested in venturing outside the state of Nebraska? Maybe you live close to the state line, or maybe you’re just looking for adventures outside your home state. Whatever the case may be, here are some guides to bordering states that may be helpful in effective urban exploration:
Don’t Forget About Trespassing Laws
It is important when considering abandoned places in Nebraska to know the basics of Nebraska trespassing laws. Luckily, we have developed a massive guide to trespassing laws in all 50 states. For laws that specifically relate to Nebraska, please click here.
Without any further ado, let’s hop into the list of abandoned places!
The Best Abandoned Places in Nebraska
Factoryville, Nebraska (Custer County)
Factoryville, located in Custer County, Nebraska, is a ghost town that serves as a poignant reminder of the communities that once flourished during the early years of Nebraska’s settlement but have since vanished into the folds of history.
The town was founded in the late 1800s during a period of westward expansion and growth. The unique name, Factoryville, stems from the establishment of a broom factory in the town, which was a significant source of employment and economic activity at that time.
The town also had a blacksmith shop, a general store, a school, and several houses, serving a small but thriving community.
The prosperity of Factoryville, like many other small towns of that era, was closely tied to the railroad industry. When the railroad bypassed the town, it marked the beginning of Factoryville’s decline.
The broom factory closed down, and without the lifeblood of rail traffic, businesses struggled, and residents began to leave in search of better opportunities. By the mid-20th century, the town was largely abandoned.
How Things Look Today
Today, little remains of Factoryville. The structures that once housed the bustling activities of a thriving community are long gone. The town site is now largely reclaimed by nature and farmland. However, the site still holds historical significance and serves as a testament to the dynamic shifts in population and industry that have shaped Nebraska’s landscape over the years.
Those who visit Factoryville today will find it a quiet place, a far cry from the bustling community it once was. Yet the open fields that stretch towards the horizon carry an echo of the past—a sense of the people, the dreams, and the daily life that once filled this place.
While Factoryville may be considered abandoned in the conventional sense, it continues to hold a place in the collective memory of Nebraska. The story of Factoryville is not just about the rise and fall of a small town, but a piece of the broader narrative of the American West, its growth, transformation, and the enduring spirit of its people.
Fort Sidney (Sidney)
Fort Sidney, also known as Sidney Barracks, is a historic site located in Sidney, Nebraska. The fort, now largely abandoned, is a vivid reminder of Nebraska’s past and the role it played in the western expansion of the United States.
The fort was established in 1867 as part of a network of military outposts designed to protect the growing number of settlers moving westward following the Civil War. These forts also safeguarded the critical transportation and communication routes, such as the transcontinental railroad and the telegraph lines.
Fort Sidney was strategically located near the south side of the transcontinental railroad. Its main task was to protect the Union Pacific workers and travelers from potential attacks by Native American tribes, who were understandably resistant to the encroachment on their lands.
At its peak, the fort was a bustling community that included barracks, officer quarters, a hospital, and various other buildings necessary to support the soldiers stationed there. Troops from Fort Sidney were deployed to subdue conflicts with Native American tribes, protect railroad workers, and maintain law and order in the growing town of Sidney.
As the frontier became more settled and the threat of conflict diminished, the necessity for these forts decreased. Fort Sidney was decommissioned in 1894, after serving for over two decades. Post decommissioning, the buildings were repurposed for other uses or left to decay.
How Things Look Today
Today, while the fort is largely abandoned, there are still remnants of its past. The officers’ quarters have been restored and turned into the Fort Sidney Museum, offering visitors a glimpse into the fort’s history. A few other original buildings also remain, including the powder house and the Cheyenne Outbreak Barracks.
A visit to Fort Sidney today offers a journey into a pivotal era in American history. Though quiet and largely abandoned, the fort continues to echo the stories of the soldiers who served there, the conflicts that marked the era, and the transformation of the American West. It stands as a monument to the often tumultuous process of westward expansion and the price of progress.
Antioch Potash Plant Ruins (Antioch)
The Antioch Potash Plants ruins are an evocative industrial archeological site in Antioch, Nebraska. These remnants tell a tale of a brief but impactful period in Nebraska’s history, when the state was at the center of a crucial industry during World War I.
Potash, a group of salts containing potassium, was used primarily for manufacturing fertilizer and glass, and also had several other industrial uses. Before World War I, the United States had relied heavily on imports of potash from Germany. However, the war disrupted these imports, leading to an acute shortage and skyrocketing prices. This scenario led to a brief but intense potash boom in Nebraska from 1911 to 1921, with Antioch at the epicenter.
The Antioch area had significant amounts of potash in the alkaline lakes nearby. Six plants, including the one whose ruins still exist today, were rapidly built to extract potash by pumping brine from the lakes into large evaporation ponds. The dried material was then processed in these plants to produce potash.
At its peak, this industry made Nebraska the largest domestic producer of potash in the United States. The town of Antioch grew rapidly, supported by the influx of workers and the prosperity brought by the potash industry. However, this boom was not to last.
After World War I, German potash re-entered the global market, leading to a drop in prices that the Nebraska industry could not compete with. The Antioch plants, including the one which now lies in ruins, were abandoned by 1921, just a decade after they were built.
How Things Look Today
The ruins of the Antioch Potash Plant are stark reminders of this boom-and-bust period. The concrete structures that remain are part of the processing plant, and you can also find shards of potash left behind. It’s a poignant site that encapsulates a pivotal moment in Nebraska’s history, when it briefly became an essential player in an international industry.
The Antioch Potash Plants ruins are now a part of the “Nebraska Historical Marker” series, helping visitors and residents understand the state’s history. Walking amongst the ruins, one can’t help but imagine the hustle and bustle of a once-thriving industry that is now just a memory.
Ski-Hi Drive-In Theater (Scottsbluff)
The Ski-Hi Drive-In Theater in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, is an emblem of an era in American entertainment history that saw the rise and fall of drive-in movie theaters.
Drive-in theaters, or “ozoners” as they were colloquially known, became wildly popular in the mid-20th century, providing a unique combination of entertainment and social activity.
Families and groups of friends could enjoy a movie from the comfort of their own car, and the venues often included amenities such as snack bars and play areas for children.
The Ski-Hi Drive-In Theater was a local institution in Scottsbluff, a beacon of light on summer evenings that drew in patrons from the surrounding area for an evening of film and fun. It provided a communal viewing experience that was both intimate and collective, allowing viewers to be within their private space while sharing in the reactions and experiences of the audience around them.
However, like many drive-ins across America, the Ski-Hi Drive-In Theater struggled to sustain its business model with the advent of new forms of entertainment, changing social habits, and rising land values.
Many drive-ins found it increasingly hard to compete with the convenience and variety offered by home video rentals and, later, digital streaming services. Similarly, urban and suburban expansion often led to the land they occupied being repurposed for more lucrative commercial or residential use.
How Things Look Today
The Ski-Hi Drive-In Theater was eventually closed and abandoned, leaving behind an atmospheric relic of a bygone era. Its giant screen, concession stand, and remaining structures stand as silent witnesses to countless shared moments of joy, suspense, and emotion that once resonated through the open air of the Nebraska night.
While the Ski-Hi Drive-In Theater no longer operates, its memory is carried forward by those who experienced its heyday and by the enduring appeal of drive-in theaters in popular culture. The physical site stands as a stark, evocative monument to an era that has faded but continues to captivate the imagination.
Arrow Hotel (Broken Bow)
The Arrow Hotel in Broken Bow, Nebraska, is a historic landmark that once served as a bustling hub of activity for travelers and locals alike. Its story reflects the rise, fall, and potential for rebirth of many small-town institutions across the American heartland.
Constructed in the early 20th century, the Arrow Hotel was built to cater to the demand for accommodations and dining generated by the railway traffic passing through Broken Bow. It also served as a community gathering place, hosting local events, parties, and meetings.
The hotel boasted beautiful architecture and a welcoming atmosphere, making it a symbol of pride for Broken Bow residents. Its rooms hosted weary travelers, entrepreneurs, and even celebrities making their way across Nebraska. The restaurant and bar at the Arrow Hotel were social centers, where locals could grab a drink, share a meal, and catch up on the town’s latest news.
However, with the decline in railway traffic and the rise of interstate highway travel, the Arrow Hotel, like many rural businesses, faced economic challenges. The decrease in guests passing through town and changing customer preferences led to decreased business and eventually the hotel’s closure.
How Things Look Today
Despite its closure, the Arrow Hotel remains an iconic part of Broken Bow’s built environment. Its once-bustling halls now lie silent, but its historic architecture remains, a testament to the town’s past. The hotel’s story is a poignant reminder of the cycles of growth, decline, and change that mark the passage of time in communities across the country.
The Arrow Hotel holds a particular resonance because it encapsulates a broader narrative about the evolution of travel and community life in America. Its current state of abandonment contrasts starkly with its past as a lively, integral part of the town’s social fabric, sparking interest and nostalgia in those who remember its heyday.
There is potential for the Arrow Hotel to find a new lease on life, as has been the case with other historic buildings around the country. Adaptive reuse could transform it into a vibrant part of the community once more, preserving its rich history while giving it a new purpose.
Norfolk Regional Center (Norfolk)
The Norfolk Regional Center in Norfolk, Nebraska, was a state mental hospital with a rich and complex history that spans over a century. Established in the late 19th century, the center was initially called the Norfolk Asylum for the Incurably Insane.
The campus was designed with multiple buildings in the Kirkbride style, characterized by sprawling, ornate buildings often set in large, landscaped grounds.
Over the years, the center grew, treating hundreds of patients with a variety of mental health issues. The facility was a major employer in the region and an integral part of the Norfolk community.
However, the history of the Norfolk Regional Center is also marked by controversy. Like many mental health institutions of its era, it faced allegations of overcrowding and inhumane treatment. This, combined with changing attitudes towards mental health and deinstitutionalization in the second half of the 20th century, led to a decrease in patient population and changes in the center’s operations.
How Things Look Today
By the early 21st century, the state had decided to close the facility. The last patients were transferred out and the Norfolk Regional Center was officially closed. Since then, it has remained largely abandoned, with many of its historic buildings falling into disrepair. Some of the buildings have been repurposed for other uses, but much of the campus is still unused and dilapidated.
The Norfolk Regional Center is a poignant reminder of the evolution of mental health care in the United States. The abandoned, decaying buildings evoke a sense of the past and the people who lived and worked there. They also highlight the ongoing challenges of managing and reusing large institutional properties once their original use is no longer needed.
The future of the Norfolk Regional Center remains uncertain. Its historical significance makes it a potential site for preservation and redevelopment, but the costs and complexities involved make this a daunting task. Yet, the site continues to captivate those interested in its history, architecture, and the complex social issues it represents.
Robber’s Cave (Lincoln)
Robber’s Cave, located in Lincoln, Nebraska, is a site with a storied and interesting past. Originally a naturally-formed cavern, the cave holds significant historical and geological interest.
The cave, which is made from the soft rock known as “Dakota Formation” sandstone, was originally utilized by Pawnee Native Americans and later by early pioneers.
Over time, the cave was expanded and used for various purposes. It earned its name from its supposed use as a hideout by Jesse James and other outlaws, although this has not been confirmed.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the cave was used as a beer storage facility due to its naturally cool temperatures. It belonged to the property of William Mueller, who owned a local brewery. The cave’s purpose shifted again in the 20th century when it became a popular tourist attraction, offering tours of its labyrinthine network of tunnels.
By the late 20th century, the cave was closed to the public due to concerns about safety and vandalism. It remained abandoned for several years, with entrances sealed and its tunnels left to the bats and the dark.
How Things Look Today
However, in more recent years, interest in Robber’s Cave has seen a resurgence. In 2017, it was reopened for tours, allowing visitors to once again explore the historic tunnels and learn about the cave’s rich history. The cave’s future now appears to be on a much more positive trajectory, with the site being used for educational purposes and as a unique attraction for locals and tourists alike.
So, while it has experienced periods of abandonment, the Robber’s Cave in Lincoln, Nebraska has largely been repurposed and reopened, continuing to be a testament to the area’s local history and geology.
Warbonnet Creek Battlefield (Sioux County)
The Warbonnet Creek Battlefield is located in Sioux County, Nebraska. It’s the site of a historical battle that occurred during the American Indian Wars.
On July 17, 1876, a clash occurred here between a group of Cheyenne warriors led by Young Two Moon and the U.S. Army led by Colonel Wesley Merritt. This battle was part of the wider Great Sioux War of 1876-1877, which came as a response to the Battle of Little Bighorn where General Custer and his men were defeated.
The Warbonnet Creek Battle is notable for several reasons. Firstly, it was the first battle following the Battle of Little Bighorn, occurring just a few weeks later. Secondly, the famous Buffalo Bill Cody participated in the Warbonnet Creek Battle as a civilian scout.
According to some accounts, Buffalo Bill killed a Cheyenne warrior in a duel, scalping him and calling it “the first scalp for Custer.” The accuracy of this account is disputed, but it became a key part of Buffalo Bill’s later Wild West shows.
How Things Look Today
Today, the Warbonnet Creek Battlefield site is largely abandoned and relatively unknown. The area is part of a private ranch and is not easily accessible to the general public. There’s no official monument or marker on the site, making it difficult to identify.
Its remote location and lack of accessibility have helped to preserve the site, preventing disturbance that might be caused by an influx of visitors. However, this also means that an important piece of history remains largely unmarked and overlooked. For those who are aware of its historical significance, the Warbonnet Creek Battlefield represents an important, although tragic, part of America’s westward expansion history.
Frank House (Kearney)
The Frank House, also known as George Frank House, is located in Kearney, Nebraska. It’s a historic site and a magnificent example of the late 19th-century Victorian-era architecture.
The house was built in 1889 for George Washington Frank, a businessman and investor who played a significant role in the economic development of Kearney. The building was designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style by architect John C. Cochrane, who also contributed to the design of the Nebraska State Capitol.
The house’s architectural grandeur extends to the inside, with its sophisticated design, intricate woodwork, and elegant furnishings. Among its many notable features are a grand staircase, hand-painted ceiling murals, beautiful stained glass windows, and innovative (for its time) amenities such as indoor plumbing and central heating.
The Frank House has changed hands several times over its history. It was donated to the Nebraska State Normal School at Kearney, which later became the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK), in 1925. UNK has owned and maintained the property ever since.
How Things Look Today
While it may have been referred to as “abandoned” in the past, the Frank House is currently used for educational purposes and is open for public tours. It also serves as a venue for various cultural and academic events. As such, while it might seem quiet at times, the Frank House is far from being forgotten or neglected.
Visiting the Frank House provides a fascinating look into the past, offering a glimpse of the opulence of the Victorian era and the history of Kearney. Its preserved and maintained condition, thanks to the University of Nebraska at Kearney, continues to serve as a historical and cultural resource for the community.
Please note that the status and accessibility of this historical site can change, and it is advisable to check the current status with the University of Nebraska at Kearney or the local tourism board before planning a visit.
DeWitty Settlement (near Brownlee)
The DeWitty Settlement, also known as Audacious, was the longest-lasting and most significant African American rural settlement in Nebraska. Located near Brownlee in the Sandhills region of the state, DeWitty was established in the early 20th century by African American settlers who took advantage of the Kinkaid Act of 1904.
This act permitted settlers to claim up to 640 acres of land, a much larger tract than what was allowed under the Homestead Act.
The settlement was named after Charles DeWitty, the settlement’s first postmaster, and grew to become a vibrant community of black farmers and ranchers. At its peak, DeWitty had a population of around 60 families, many of them African Canadians who had moved from Oklahoma to take advantage of the opportunity for land ownership.
The settlers of DeWitty proved successful despite the challenges posed by the region’s dry, sandy soil. They raised cattle and other livestock and cultivated crops suitable to the land. They also built homes, schools, and churches, and social life in DeWitty was rich and communal, with events such as baseball games, rodeos, and social gatherings taking place regularly.
The DeWitty Settlement began to decline in the 1930s. The harsh economic conditions of the Great Depression, coupled with the droughts of the Dust Bowl era, made it difficult for the settlers to sustain their farms. By the late 1930s, most of the settlers had sold their land and moved away in search of better opportunities.
How Things Look Today
Today, there are no structures remaining from the original DeWitty Settlement. However, the legacy of the settlement and its inhabitants is commemorated by a historical marker erected near the site in 2016. This marker, located on Highway 83, serves as a testament to the resilience and fortitude of the African American pioneers who established and sustained the DeWitty Settlement.
Please note that as of my knowledge cut-off in September 2021, there are no buildings or structures remaining at the DeWitty Settlement. However, you can visit the historical marker near Brownlee to learn more about this significant chapter in Nebraska’s history. It’s always best to check with local resources or historical societies for the most current information.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in Nebraska
Those who are into urban exploration in the Nebraska area should get comfortable with Nebraska trespassing laws. Luckily, we have developed a massive guide to trespassing laws in all 50 states. For laws that specifically relate to Nebraska, please click here.
For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission. Finally, if you are wanting to find more abandoned places in Nebraska, check out my resource How To Find Abandoned Places With Google Maps.
- John Bourscheid, Killer Urbex