A lifelong passion for farming and pioneer history led Leo Stuhr to push for a museum to honor both. The son of pioneer farmers gave up a career as a chemist to run his family farm while also serving a term in the Nebraska legislature, an organizer and head of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, and presidential-appointee to the Federal Farm Board.
Stuhr also helped organized the Hall County Historical Society in 1923. Before his death at age 83 in 1961, he offered land and money to create a museum dedicated to the prairie pioneer. Spearheading a ballot proposal before county voters in 1960, the new museum was approved on a 2-to-1 margin. The board decided to name the new museum for its chief benefactor and proponent.
Modernist architect Edward Durell Stone – probably the best-known architect in America – was tabbed to create the new Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. Working for the first time with his son, a landscape architect, Stone in 1967 created a white concrete structure rising from the surrounding open prairie. Although the horizontal emphasis of the museum echoes the flat land, there is a strong resemblance between it, the Kennedy Center and another Stone project, the U.S. Embassy in India. Stone did have some criticism for being “formulaic” at this point in his career.
BVH Architecture completed a master plan and comprehensive renovation and restoration of the iconic building in 2014-15, at which time the museum was added to the National Register of Historic Places.