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[Detail] Pinus scopulorum Reproduction, Jemez Springs, New Mexico

Rural America & Settlement of The Great West

An Old Russian House

An Old Russian House Sitka, Alaska, 1907.

Pope County, IL

An Old Cabin Near Bethel Hollow, Pope County, Illinois.

The Homestead Act, which provided 600,000 families with 160 acres of land each by 1900, encouraged people to move west. Several distinctive photographs in this collection supplement the study of rural life and the settling of the western United States in the late nineteenth century. Browse the Geographic Location Index for images of western states to get a sense of the region at that time. Or, search on homestead, wagon, cabin, dwelling, camp, and town for evidence of settlement in photographs of small towns and rural homes, such as "The Home of Homesteader C. M. Bourland Two Miles North of Blytheville, Arkansas."

  • What kinds of building materials, architectural styles, forms, and functions do you see in these structures?
  • What do these things indicate about the regions in which the dwellings were built? What do they indicate about the challenges of settlement and rural life?
  • What are the similarities and differences between these dwellings and their regions?
  • What do you think were the most important factors to consider in building a home at that time?

The plain construction and dirt road in Jardine, Montana is typical of many hastily built small towns in the sparsely settled West.

  • Why were these towns built hastily?
  • How do these images compare to those of cities of the same time period?
  • Do you think these small towns still exist, why or why not?

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