The name “Grand Island” as applied to the present city was derived from the big island in the Platte River. The name “la Grande Ile” was noted on maps by French explorer in the late 1700s. The original town was located a couple miles south of the present city. With the advent of the railroad in 1866, a new site was selected so that railroad tracks could be placed on higher ground north of the river. Grand Island is now the crossroads of two major rail lines with about 160 trains passing through each day. We started out as a German settlement but have since welcomed immigrants from many countries and cultures with the present population being 30% immigrant or first born. The well-known immigrant trails (Oregon, California, and Mormon) all followed the Platte River through this part of the nation and some of the wagon ruts are still visible.
Grand Island has a population of roughly 50,000 and the surrounding area has a population of approximately 200,000. With two hospitals (St. Francis Medical Center and the Veterans Administration of Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System) employing 100 physicians and a wide variety of specialists Grand Is a leading center for health care services in central Nebraska. St. Francis Medical Center’s award winning Cancer Treatment Center offers medical and radiation treatment in one location.
Grand Island is an agricultural-industrial community because of its placement in the rich soil and water resources of the Platte River valley. Products include corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and livestock. There are several plants in Grand Island which manufacture steel buildings, grain handling facilities, combines, veterinary medicine, auxiliary items, bullets, frozen food, and boxed beef.
Fonner Park is the home of the Nebraska State Fair Grounds and boasts the largest indoor animal arena in the Midwest. Though the State Fair is held for two weeks every fall, the facilities are used throughout the year for a variety of purposes such as national junior livestock shows. Fonner Park also has facilities for providing thoroughbred racing and the Heartland Events Center which hosts well known entertainers.
The Platte River has been described as “a mile wide and an inch deep.” It is a geographical feature that not only attracted the early explorers and the German settlers but also 500,000 sandhill cranes as well and the endangered whooping cranes and a multitude of waterfowl on their spring migration. This is a world renowned natural spectacle that draws people from all parts of the nation and the world from late February to early April.
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer is a world class, nationally recognized educational and cultural living-history institution that tells the story of Nebraska’s early settlers. “Railroad Town” at Stuhr Museum details everyday life of the 1890’s.
The local council for international visitors has created a culture of warm hospitality and lives out their motto: “The heartland welcomes the world.”