ASHLAND – Walk into most restaurants and bars in Nebraska small towns and you’re likely to find Husker posters and season schedules hanging on the walls. But how many dining establishments exhibit enlarged photos from a century ago?
While most customers flock to Parker’s Smokehouse on Highway 6 specifically for the barbeque, others are drawn to the casual atmosphere anchoring them to historic Ashland.
The seven murals that hang on the south, north and east walls depict historical Nebraska scenes from a century ago.
Restaurant owner Jeff Parker said customers often like to walk around the spacious dining establishment to look, point and talk about the murals. Even though the murals depict typical Nebraska scenes from the early 20th century, he said diners seem intrigued by the works. The scenes reflect everyday life including an outdoor community picnic, inside an old butcher shop, in the fields during a potato harvest and an ice cream company and delivery trucks on the streets in Omaha.
“Maybe the scenes remind people of another time or place,” Parker said. “Or causes them to remember something they hadn’t thought about for a while.”
Parker said he and his wife Emily were always attracted to the photos that filled the walls of the Pepperjax restaurant in Omaha.
Inspired by the idea of hanging history, Jeff and Emily Parker started with a visit to History Nebraska, formerly known as the Nebraska Historical Society, in Lincoln. They must have looked through hundreds of old photos searching for just the right scenes.
“We tried to pick great photos,” explained Parker. “Ones that resonated with this area.”
Once the right photos were selected they contacted the creative team at Mural Mural Graphics in Lincoln to turn the old photos into wall-sized murals scanned, colorized and stretched across canvas.
Parker said his personal favorite is the Linoma Beach lighthouse on the east wall. Called “Six inches above the knee,” the scene depicts a man – likely a member of the beach etiquette squad – measuring the length of two women’s swimming costumes, dating from 1922.
Another mural from the same year, “Groundbreaking at the State Capital,” shows the newly-constructed state government building in Lincoln.
Another Lincoln scene that hangs in three panels on the west wall, “Leaving Lincoln yard” depicts the scene from the northeast train yard in 1926.
Parker said the large-sized murals not only give the large room more ambiance, but the historic significance of the scenes connects the 12-year-old barbeque restaurant to its surroundings.
In fact, trains speeding down the tracks directly behind the restaurant often knock out light bulbs and tiles, and can be so loud that customers ask if they’re hearing thunder.
Parker said when he first leased the space from the owners of the garage next door, there was already a mural covering the back wall. The mural depicted Noah’s Ark and was filled with rainbows and animals, he said. A false wall was erected to preserve the original mural and allow the Parkers to decorate their restaurant from scratch.
Today’s diners can savor their rib tips, brisket, hot links and chicken strips while enjoying the iconic scenes from the past.