HISTORY OF NEMAHA Co. NE TOWNS
Unless otherwise noted, the histories of these communities are from Beauty-Bounty,
Nemaha County, 1967, originally published for the Nebraska Centennial. Copies are
available from the Nemaha Valley Genealogy Society (NVGS) for $10 plus $2 shipping and
handling. Information on the NVGS can be found on the Nemaha County main page.
| Nemaha Co. NEGenWeb |
| Visit Andreas History of
Nebraska, Nemaha Co. chapter |
Precinct (political divisions)
Townships (land divisions) as of 1989
east of 6th Prime Meridian
(old London Pct)
(old Aspinwall Pct)
(old St. Deroin Pct)
MINOR CIVIL DIVISONS. 1870.1880.
Aspinwall Precinct 572 735
Bedford Precinct 195 580
Benton Precinct 456 951
Brownville Precinct, including Brownville Town g 2386 1601
Brownville Town 1305 1309
Douglas Precinct 393 880
Glen Rock Precinct 582 752
La Fayette Precinct 618 1072
London Precinct h 699
Island Precinct i 167
Nemaha City and Nemaha City Precinct
(co-extensive in 1880) 628 908
Peru Precinct, including Peru Town j 1164 1187
Peru Town 567
Saint Deroin Precinct 276 190
Washington Precinct 323 789
g In 1871, part to London. h In 1871, from part of Brownville. i
In 1872, from part of Peru. j In 1872, part to Island.
Aspinwall was located on the south bend of the Missouri River in the
southeastern part of the county.
Aspinwall's first settler was Louis NEAL in 1853. A ferry was established and and a
store started in 1856. A post office was added in 1860; and the town incorporated in 1870.
"In 1864, Aspinwall was a town of about 500. It claimed to be the best steamboat
landing on the river, as a sharp bend in the river cut a deep channel up to the shore. In
shipping, Aspinwall overshadowed Brownville and Nemaha. Much trade came from Pawnee
County. I have seen sacks of corn piled three high, the length of three blocks.
"One day when I was on the school board a young fellow applied for the school.
The other two members of the board thought he was too young, but I liked him and talked
them into hiring him. His name was John H. MOREHEAD who later became governor."
Auburn, our county seat, developed from two towns, Sheridan, surveyed
October 19, 1868, and Calvert, platted July 1, 1881.
In 1868 all the school land within the county was appraised and offered for sale at
auction. Appraised values ranged from seven to ten dollars per acre except for timber land
which was much higher. A.W. MORGAN and Anthony P. COGSWELL bought the southeast quarter of
Section 16 in Douglas precinct, and at once announced that the same was the center of the
county, hence should be the location for the county seat. They had surveyed and plotted
one "forty" as Sheridan; and held a public sale of city lots, at which nearly
one thousand dollars worth were sold. The following season Wesley DUNDAS opened a small
store, secured a post office, a commission as notary public and was elected justice of the
Sheridan received a great impetus of growth by the arrival of the Missouri Pacific
railroad, February 4, 1882. A large brick block was erected by Robert HAWKE and George W.
SHROAT, both of Nebraska City. No less than eleven blocks with frame buildings for
business purposes together with fourteen new residences were built.
Calvert was founded by the Lincoln Land Company, a subsidiary of the Burlington and
Missouri Railroad; and was named for a railroad official. The main street of the town was
near the depot. A lumber yard was established by J.W. KERNS in 1881, thus is the oldest
business in Auburn (as of 1967). A newspaper was started and a hotel opened about the same
time. By 1882 Calvert had a grocery store and many other businesses.
Church HOWE suggested a union of the towns as a means of acquiring the county seat
which was still at Brownville. The re-location of the county offices was finally approved
by popular vote in February, 1885. The courthouse site and building were presented to the
county by Church HOWE, Charles D. NIXON and Herbert WILSON. The present courthouse was
built in 1900.
Early maps show a town, Dayton, near where the Nebraska City-Blue River
trail crossed the Nemaha river. Andreas, in his 1882 History of Nebraska, reported that
Lawrence KENNISON was appointed postmaster at Dayton in 1856.
George SHROAF with a soldier's warrant acquired the northeast one-fourth of section 16
and built a log cabin a little above the Nemaha Crossing in 1855. This became known as
A little later Howard BRADLEY occupied this cabin. A bridge was built by a Nebraska
City merchant to attract trade from the south side of the river, especially the German
settlement on the Muddy. This was referred to as "Bradley's Bridge." He kept the
mail that arrived from Nebraska City once a week in a shoe box until called for. He also
kept a few supplies. The post office and the settlement took BRADLEY's first name, Howard.
About 1880, the post office department requested that the name be changed because of
the similarity to Harvard. Several names were suggested, but when the petition reached
Washington, it contained the name Podunk. When the railroad arrived, the station was given
the name Brock in honor of a railroad official.
When D.C. SANDERS came in 1867 and built a crude dam and a gristmill powered by the
waterfall. A sawmill was added in 1870, but was closed down after the operator was fatally
injured when he came in contact with the running saw.
The mill, then on the north side, was purchased by Jonathan HIGGINS and enlarged. It
was later sold to William STARR and William HAWLEY. During these days the mill flourished
and was a very popular place of business among the settlers for miles around.
About this same time, John BROWN arrived and started a small store on the south side
of the river. When J.M. CAMPBELL came in 1871, he bought the store from Mr. BROWN, and was
In 1878, Mr. CAMPBELL purchased some land from J. HIGGINS south of the river and had
it laid off in town lots, and from this time the town began to flourish. A blacksmith shop
Mr. Alex WRIGHT, who arrived in 1880, bought a 35-acre plot of land south of the
bridge for $100, and laid it off in town lots. Most of these lots he sold for $10, bu tone
he sold for $100. WRIGHT's addition to the town was called Clinton. This name, however,
was never an official name of the post office. Clinton was the town that grew "on the
hill," and had, for some time, stores, a church, and several dwellings.
The coming of the Missouri Pacific Railroad in 1881 was a happy event, for until this
time all supplies had to be hauled from Nebraska City. From Andreas History, we learn that
soon after the arrival of the railroad, there were four general stores, a hardware, a drug
store, two doctors, a lumber yard, two blacksmith shops, a shoe store, a meat market, a
restaurant, two hotels, two livery stables and a harness shop.
Early citizens of Brock and vicinity had a peculiar way of reckoningt
time--"before or after the flood." The Nemaha River periodically overflowed and
flooded the valley from bluff to bluff. In the spring of 1883, the river overflowed at two
different times, going above all previously known high water marks. Many were convinced it
would be wise to move to the hill, and did so.
In spite of the straightening of the channel in 1912, there have been times when the
river could not carry the flow from extensive rainfall and cloudbursts on the upper Nemaha
watershed. Some of these floods were in 1924, 1928, 1941, and in 1951. Since the time of
the last flood, such danger has decreased appreciably due to soil conservation practices.
The first church in Brock was the Baptist Church, which was built in 1882 and
dedicated in the fall. The Methodist Church, built in 1883, was a frame structure which
was used for worship for forty years. To accomodate the growing congregation, this church
was remodeled and redidcated in 1913.
A United Brethern Church was built in the south part of Brock about 1891, and
flourished a few years. It was moved to north town, and later the building was sold. The
Christian Church was built in 1893, rebuilt and enlarged in 1913, and again remodeled in
All village children south of the Nemaha attended Rosewood school from 1868 until
1873, when Union schoolhouse was built a half mile west of town. In 1884, a two-story
frame building was built on the site of the present school. Then in 1905, a new brick
structure was built to replace the now inadequate previous buildings. In November 1925,
this schoolhouse burned, leaving the students to attend classes in make-shift facilities
until the new fireproof brick building could be erected. This was dedicated in 1927.
Clifton, located three miles south of Brock, became a neighborhood
center. The open prairie where Clifton stands was not filed on until all the land near
timber had been claimed. William HAWLEY, who built his home in 1864, was the first to
settle here. In 1867 Richard CORYELL filed for the last full quarter section of land
remaining in Nemaha County.
Early religious services were held in the homes of Julius GILBERT, R.A. HAWLEY, and
others until schoolhouses were built. After 1868, many religious and other community
meetings were held in Rosewood schoolhouse.
A post office, call Clifton, was in the home of Benton ALDRICH from 1868 until 1882.
The Clifton Library, also in the ALDRICH home, was said by Professor THOMPSON in 1882, to
be the only one of its kind in the state.
The people of the Clifton area were largely responsible for the organization of the
Farmers' Institute, the first held near Brock in 1882 and later in Johnson until 1917.
It is said that the Clifton Telephone Company installed th efirst rural telephone
system in the state. This was later extended into Brock.
Coryell Park, dedicated in 1934, offers an unusual variety of attractions free to the
public. These include well equipped picnic grounds, a beautiful small chapel for religious
purposes, an ample auditorium for public meetings and recreational uses, an art gallery,
and buildings reminiscent of pioneer days (find the link to an article about Coryell Park
on the Main Nemaha County page).
The first settlement in what is now Nemaha County that anyone has been
able to find was called "Dog Town." In the winter of 1852-53 seven families
built crude shacks on Longs Branch, three miles west of the present B and M depot in
Auburn. Their principal diet was wild grapes, prairie chicken, deer, elk and buffalo meat.
Early in the spring the men in the party had gone on an exploration tour. Reaching the
top of a hill, they saw a hundred Indians quietly sleeping on the side of the next hill.
When nothing happened after several hours, the men gained enough courage to investigate,
only to discover their "sleeping Indians" were only rocks.
With warmer weather there were plenty of Omaha Indians along the Nemaha River, and
when a band came up Longs Branch, the settlement was deserted. John DIRKS is the only
inhabitant of the town that there is any record of. He and his sons became bull whackers
and made many trips from Nebraska City to Denver and return, walking beside six yoke of
oxen. When the country became safe for settlers, John DIRKS returned to Nemaha County.
(Originally from "Nemaha County Who's Who in Nebraska", 1940 by Christy.
Reprinted in Beauty, Bounty, Nemaha County - 1967).
In 1857, Glen Rock consisted of a post office in the home of Salathial
GOOD (two and a half miles northeast of the later town), a school in his door yard, and
the survey for a town just to the south of the GOOD Farm.
Dundas says that as early as 1854 Henry and Johnathan HIGGINS were burning lime near
the mouth of Rock Creek, for which they found a ready sale in Nebraska City.
In 1857, a town was plotted on the east side of Rock Creek one-half mile wide and
extending a mile north from its junction with the Little Nemaha River. At one time two
mills were operating near the mouth of this creek, and a few houses were located there.
When the Missouri Pacific railroad was built, a station was located on the railroad
due west of the mills and was named Glen Rock. The former location and the schoolhouse
then became kown as Old Glen Rock. A town grew near the railway station to include two or
three stores, two elevators, a church, a hotel, school, a bank, a post office and a
resident doctor. Building stone was quarried just west of town.
Andreas says of the pioneer, S.J. FISHER, "The Missouri Pacific railroad crossed
his farm, and near his south line established Glen Rock Station. A noticeable feature of
this picturesque valley farm is the lake covering about fifteen acres with clear, cold
spring water to a depth of three feet. In an ice house 30 feet by 40 feet, on its banks,
are now packed 100 tons of ice awaiting shipment south."
The 1894 Atlas of Nemaha County says that the five-year average shipment from Glen
Rock included 229 cars of ice and 197 cars of stone per year.
Glen Rock was cut off from much of its trade area when the Little Nemaha became so
wide that no bridges across it were maintained between the ones on Nebraska 67 and U.S.
73-75. Today, only four families live where the town was. Fertile fields have been made by
draining the lake bed.
Many families from Illinois located in the northwest corner of this county. This
became known as the Illinois Settlement.
The post office, named Grant [Section 3, Range 12, Township 16], was at first in the
home of Jim ROBBINS, who lived in a dug-out. Later the post office was moved to the J.M.
PATRICK home. Mr. PATRICK built a store near the crossroads and the post office and the
post office was moved there.
A few other businesses sprang up nearby and a schoolhouse was built in 1866. A
homesteader plastered the building and was the first teacher. His salary was $1.50 for
each scholar for a term of six weeks. First known as Ford's school, its name later was
changed to Grant. Soon the name Grant was used to designate the entire community,
including the well-known Grant [Evergreen] cemetery.
Before the railroad came, settlers had to drive their livestock to Nebraska City or
Tecumseh to reach market. The round trip required a full day. When buying or selling among
the farmers, the buyers had to guess at the weights of the stock. Some became quite exact
in their guessing of weights. After the railroad was built and Talmage established in
1882, the store building and contents were moved there and the post office became Talmage.
Closely following the homesteaders came the circuit riders and evangelists of the
Christian and Methodist faiths. Services were held in the homes, later in the schoolhouse.
The congregation of Methodists moved from Grant school when the Methodist church was
built in Talmage in 1884.
Charter Oak church was built in 1884 by the people of the Christian denomination who
had organized in 1870. Soon the area was known as the Charter Oak neighborhood. This
church was a landmark in the community until it was destroyed by fire in 1949, and the
congregation moved into Talmage.
In 1950 this congregation and the Methodist congregation at Talmage united as members
of the Charter Oak Christian church.
Hillsdale must have had its start in the early 1850's, although there is no definite
information as to the exact year. It was located on the Missouri River two and a half
miles from the southern boundary of the county.
It is known that there was a busy sawmill and a small packing plant. A Masonic lodge
was held in the upper story of the two-story school building. Christian SLAGLE operated a
grocery store and was postmaster a while. There was an Indian burial ground near the
SLAGLE home. The Hillsdale cemetery is located on the bluff near the old town site.
John H. SHOOK bought the sawmill at Hillsdale shortly after the Civil War and operated
it along with his large farm. He employed more men than any other man in southeastern
Nebraska for about twenty-five years.
The post offcie at Hillsdale was served by a Star Route which ran from Nemaha to Falls
City. The carrier went one way one day and back the next.
F.H.D. HUNT was a prominent farmer and stock raiser and also operated a wood yard in
Hillsdale for many years.
This town might well have been named Hughes as many of the pioneer residents were of
the Hughes family. Amos T. D. Hughes and his older brother, William, came to Nemaha County
from Indiana in May, 1856. They pre-empted land in the vicinity of the present town of
Howe. Amos' claim was on the banks of a wooded creek which was known for years as Hughes
Creek. While living with friends in London precinct the first year, Amos walked eight
miles to his claim while making improvements.
He kept the Bedford-Sherman post office from 1870 to 1877.
Amos donated land to the Pacific Railroad in Nebraska for a right-of-way, and the
railway station was located on this. A town was plotted and laid out on January 20, 1882,
and named Bedford.
Major Church Howe, a prominent politician and vice president of the Pacific Railroad,
was influential in having this road routed through Bedford precinct. Mr. Howe purchased a
farm on the east side of town and had built a large home there. The post office and depot
were renamed in his honor.
Bedford cemetery, also known as Howe cemetery, was located on William Hughes'land. The
first burials were Hughes' children.
George Hughes was reported in the 1860 and 1880 census as a wagon maker living with
one of his sons.
Howe was a thriving town in the early 1900's, with a bank, hotel, cafe, general store,
meat market, hardware, barber shop, doctor, drug store, two grain elevators and much-used
stockyards. Howe was located in a rich farming country so there was much shipping of grain
Although there is no longer a store at Howe, there are a post office, the office of
the Howe Gas Company, storage tanks, grain elevator, and a two-teacher school. The
Evangelical United Brethren church continues to have regular services.
The place labeled Knaw Wood on the 1858 map is the vicinity where the Brownville, Ft.
Kearney and Pacific grade started west, where the railroad built south from Nebraska City
joined that track, and where coal was mined in sufficient quantity to qualify for the
state bonus. The names Wood Siding, Eddy's Switch and Honey Creek were used at various
times. There was a shanty town here during the construction of the Brownville, Ft. Kearney
and Pacific Railroad.
Johnson, named after Julius A. Johnson, began in 1869 when Judd Wright built a small
store and post office on the hill east of the present site. Gordon's blacksmith shop came
next, and in 1872 a schoolhouse was built some distance south and east of the store.
When Mr. Wright resigned as postmaster in 1873, he sold his store to I. H. Clagett.
With the coming of a successful railroad in 1882, the original village was moved to
the present location. The new town consisted of a two-story frame building, a blacksmith
shop and several dwellings.
The town grew rapidly and soon included the Jones Brothers' hardware store and
undertaking establishment, a bank, which failed after several years, a restaurant, drug
store, general store, saloon, livery stable, Hill's grain elevator, a hotel, Chicago
Lumber Co., and Simpson Hall, with space for public gatherings on its upper floor.
Loren Fletcher purchased the undertaking and hardware business in 1884 and nine years
later sold it to Dan Casey, Sr. This undertaking service has remained in the Casey family.
In 1884 a new frame school was erected where the school now stands. Even then they had
a fine literary society and patrons were donating books toward the beginning of a school
The national pastime of baseball caught on early in Johnson with the organization of a
spirited team whose combined weight totalled 2200 pounds. These hefty fellows wore
homemade uniforms, and swung handmade walnut bats constructed to suit the fancy of each
individual batter. Their reputation soon spread afar, even to Shenandoah, Council Bluffs
and Omaha. Charley Bright was famed as the first amateur curve-ball pitcher in Nebraska.
He was said to have learned this trick from a Yale College man. Huge crowds came to see
him perform this feat which was said to be "utterly impossible".
Johnson's annual Harvest Home Picnic combined features of a county fair and community
festival for years. Tent shows, ball games, a balloon ascension, the tooting calliope of
the merry-go-round, and children's foot races provided "something for everyone",
and everyone attended.
The town's first cemetery was south of the railroad tracks in the southwest part of
town. This plot proved unsatisfactory and in 1888 the Johnson Cemetery Association was
formed and arrangements made to have those interred in the first plot moved to the present
The first brick building was the Farmer's Bank of Johnson (First State Bank), which
opened in 1892. Two good banks operating for nearly half a century indicate the activity
of a prosperous community. The First National Bank (1908), famous for its
"unusual" banking hours, is a landmark in Nemaha County today.
The Opera House hosted the popular McOwen shows, Lyceum courses and various school
activities. For many a basketball player, the dash down the long flight of stairs and
across the street to the barber shop after the game, was even more invigorating than the
shower he took there, especially on a bitter winter night.
A weekly newspaper, "The Johnson News", appeared in 1892 and continued for
many years. 1894 was an equally important year, the town was incorporated.
Early churches include the Baptist group which was organized in 1876 in the
schoolhouse east of town. It was 1892 before they had a church building. The families of
this large congregation gradually moved away and its closing became inevitable. The
building was later sold to the Johnson public school.
The Methodists first met in the Johnson country school in 1882 with a class of six.
These few organized the small Methodist Society. The original church, built in 1885, has
been well preserved and is still in use.
Zion's Evangelical congregation started in 1894 and held their first services in the
Washington schoolhouse. Their church edifice was completed in 1900, but six years later
they disbanded and the property was sold.
The Christian congregation began before 1896. This group discontinued in 1913 and
their church building was sold to E. I. Boston who remodeled it for a home.
Nine families from the Hickory Grove and Stone Church met at Blinde's hotel to
organize St. Matthews's Lutheran congregation. They purchased the old Evangelical church
and held services in it until their present church was build in 1926.
Johnson once claimed a photographer's shop, a lady barber, a millinery shop, stock
yards, harness shop, a jail, and even a hospital. The Commercial Hotel had been purchased
by Dr. Van Osdel, who remodeled it into a hospital, office and residence. A fire on
October 1, 1922 destroyed this old landmark. "The doctor lost a number of his
patented instruments for the removal of tonsils - quite a business in itself." (Taken
from the Tecumseh Chieftan.) Other doctors were Fritchel, Van Camp, Welford, O'Connel and
J. S. Wilson, who came in 1897 and remained here until his death. Dentists included Lynn,
Maloney and Dreyer, and opticians were Strode and A. L. Adams, who was the druggist for
The school kept growing. The old brick building (1896) was replaced in 1936 and in
1958 there was need for still more room due to the inclusion of ten rural districts. A
fleet of nine buses now provides transportation for a majority of the students.
The first water supply was hand-pumped into a wooden tower tank. This was updated by a
new standpipe in 1917.
Blinde's locker system, the first in Nemaha County, began with 50 lockers in 1936.
Johnson's main street was paved in 1942 and many of the side streets have been paved
since. The Johnson fishing lake was officially opened in May 1946; dial telephones were
put into service in 1947; direct dialing in 1959; vapor lights appeared in 1950; the sewer
system installed in 1956; and a rural fire district organized in 1959. Many of these
projects were achieved through the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce, an organization
unique in a town this size.
In 1963, and again in 1964, Johnson was a semi-finalist in its class of the statewide
Community Betterment Program.
Churches, schools, clubs and businesses strive for a sound relationship between
farmers and townspeople, recognizing their interdependence and their mutual interest in
the welfare of their town - the town of Johnson.
French traders and trappers were among the first white people to push into the areas
west of the Missouri River. They mingled freely with the Indians, sometimes even
intermarrying, and settled in small groups here and there along the rivers.
With the opening of Nebraska territory to settlement, another type of French settler
appeared, the thrifty, intelligent immigrant from France, who came to share in the
fortunes of the new country. About forty such families settled in Nemaha County in the
vicinity now known as Julian.
Mr. And Mrs. Laurent Bernard were the first settlers at Julian. Julien Bahaud came a
year or two after. It was for Julien Bahaud that the town was named.
In 1880 a post office was established in a farm home about a mile south of the present
town. In 1887 the Missouri Pacific railroad built its line nearby, and erected a station.
By this time Julien Bahaud had prospered, owning several farms, and was widely known as
"Old Man Julian". The railroad company, wishing to name the new station after
this most prominent settler, called it Julian, rather than tackle the more difficult
"Old Man Julian" was a colorful character. The Julianite for 1938 records,
"Julian Bahaud . . . was careful but friendly, and always met people at the door of
his shanty. He had one horse. He kept it in the barn for five years without leading it
out. He kept this horse just to have something to do for a chore. His house was an old log
shanty boarded up on all sides. The windows were barred and boarded up so no one could see
in. No one but his very best friends ever went in his house."
Mr. Bahaud was murdered in 1899. The crime remained unsolved until 1913, when the
guilty man confessed and was brought to justice.
The people of this French settlement were quick to pick up American ways and speech.
At first they traded in neighboring towns, but eventually had their own places of
business. The railroad was completed in June 24, 1898.
At one time Julian had the following stores and businesses: a hatchery, drug store,
bank, creamery, harness shop, three grocery stores, three drygoods stores, hotel, two
boarding houses, hardware, post office, telephone office, two doctors, livery barn, lumber
yard, three churches, barber shop, meat market, saloon, jail, and Modern Woodman of the
World hall. The brick yard was built in 1913.
Each summer an animal show came to Julian and camped on the school grounds. Much
excitement was created by the many cages of bears, monkeys and elephants. There was even a
trapeze act, recalls Alice Bernard. Entertainment in Julian also included free picture
shows in summer, band concerts on the street, and sometimes carnivals.
The M.E. church was built in 1889, with the first pastor being Rev. G. W. Ruebush. The
U.B. church was built in 1893, when Rev. Greson was pastor. The St. Bernard Catholic
church which also serves the community was built in 1881, under the supervision of Father
James Fitzgerald. It has been replaced by a new church which was dedicated in 1951.
"In 1918 the French people of Nemaha County held a picnic and celebration,
calling together all those who had remained in the original colony as well as those who
had gone elsewhere in later years. A large number gathered for this celebration, which
consisted of a picnic and a meeting in a grove in Julian, where stories were told and
songs sung. The address of welcome was by Mr. C. L. Mesnet, speaking in both English and
New days, new ways, and changes have come to Julian. Many of the old businesses have
disappeared. The old schoolhouse burned in 1917, but was replaced by an improved edifice,
which houses a fine elementary school.
She is an active trading center for local people; having an elevator and a fine meat
processing and locker plant which draws patrons from many nearby communities.
The town of London in Section 9 of London precinct never attained much size. A school
building and a Methodist Protestant log church were constructed in 1857. A larger church
was built by the same denomination in 1865. The membership of this church declined rapidly
after the Bethel church was built in 1891.
A post office was established an da Christian church built in 1867. Material from this
church was used in constructing Brownville Christian church in 1903.
An apple orchard planted at an early date by Bird VOWEL was purchased by Mrs. Jane
LOVELESS in 1860. This orchard was well-known throughout its bearing life. This former
town site is now farm land.
Much of the lumber used by early home builders in Nemaha County came from the
cottonwood trees on "the island." John DUNDAS, in the Pioneer Record in
1918, telling of his first home, said that logs were pulled from the river and sawed in
Brownville. After hauling them home, the lumber was spread on the ground to dry and turned
every half hour to keep it from warping.
Island Precinct, containing approximately 3,800 acres, was detached from the rest of
Nemaha County virtually overnight. The Missouri River almost surrounded this area when the
survey of Nebraska Territory was made in 1856. In the winter of 1880, a massive ice jam
plugged the river so the stream went out of its banks and cut a new channel between the
Island and the rest of the county.
A Methodist church was built in 1895 and is shown on the 1913 Atlas, though not in
use. The Nemaha County Teacher, March 1907, reported at that time there were 30 families
with 56 children, 36 of which were enrolled in school. In 1966 there were seven families
living there, and a contract with the Hamburg, Iowa, schools provided for the education of
the eleven pupils living on the island then. Hamburg is about five miles north of the
center of the island. The deserted school house served as a polling place at election
The soil, though sandy in spots, is mostly fine loam, and produced excellent crops.
The Nemaha town site was selected in 1854. Allen L. COAT was the surveyor and the
first person to erect his cabin. The 1855-56 legislature granted a charter for a ferry
boat crossing the Nemaha River and a mill dam. This was the crossing point for the trail
leading to Falls City, Rulo, St. Joseph, and other points south. Later, Mr. ELLIOTT built
a bridge which the county pruchased in 1867. A bridge was also built at BENNETT's saw mill
west of town. A grist mill was also added. The first post office was established July 1,
1856, with Jerome HOOVER as postmaster.
On July 1, 1857, Nemaha City covered 300 acres, on a beautiful plateau covered with
waving grass and wild flowers. Its buildings consisted of two or three log cabins, and a
few cottonwood shaties. In one of those temporary buildings, Dr. Jerome HOOVER had
installed a grocery store, where the doctor made his headquarters, and his son, Birl,
carried on the thriving grocery business which was patronized by the immigrants who were
constantly passing, some to Kansas, and others to points in Nebraska, for a suitable
location to settle.
In 1857, all of the land south of the Nemaha River was vacant except for a few places
on the Otoe Reservation, which was occupied by half-breeds and Indians. The land bounding
Nemaha on the north was school land.
On July 4, 1857, a celebration in the public square was promoted by a few pioneers. An
ox had been barbecued. Long tables and benches were improvised out of cottonwood lumber
borrowed from the Silas TIDWELL sawmill, which was the first sawmill in Nemaha County. The
river bottom at that time contained many acres of cottonwood timber which was sawed into
lumber for building purposes.
The winters of 1857 and 58 were fine open winters. Carpenters could be seen working in
their shirt sleeves. Everybody was preseed into the building service who could wield a
hammer. Another sawmill west of town, on the Nemaha River, had been put into operation,
which converted walnut logs into lumber.
New houses and businesses appeared like magic, and immigrants poured in at a rapid
rate, by every kind of conveyance imaginable. The Missouri river was navigable. The
packets, which were comfortable, averaged three per day. They were laden with produce and
merchanidse as well as passengers.
Within one year there were two commodious hotels, and numerous shops and stores were
built on short notice. A Mr. BARNES made fine brick and potteryware along the bluff
northeast of town. Several brick buildings were erected out of this brick.
The first schoolhouse was built about the year 1859. It was a small cottonwood
building. It served also for church, Sunday school and all public meetings. At this time
there was a select school started and conducted by J.C. CRANDALL and his wife where older
The Episcopal denomination built the first church. It was a very prestty Gothic
structure made of walnut lumber secured from the David LOCKWOOD woodlot on the Nemaha
River bottom, and sawed by the BENNETT sawmill nearby.
Peru began at the river's edge.
It was the river that powered the sawmills and the grist mill; it was the river that
facilitated the movement of supplies and products. In fact, Peru's first enterprise was a
ferry boat which made its initial trips across the Missouri in early 1855.
Claim cabins had been erected as early as 1853 in the area that later became Peru,
soon to be followed by others. A. M. Medley wrote, "My father, A. Medley and family
settled on Honey Creek in what is now Peru precinct in April, 1855. He was a blacksmith by
trade and soon opened a shop for accommodation of other settlers. A store and post office
were started, and schoolhouse built in 1855."
Mt. Vernon townsite was platted and a post office secured. Two years later, in 1857, a
survey was made laying out Peru, and though there was spasmodic talk of uniting the two
towns, Peru forged ahead and Mt. Vernon eventually disappeared.
D. C. Cole wrote, "The winter of 1856-57, known as the winter of the deep snow,
saw a great deal of suffering. Times were hard, food scarce, settlers few and far between,
no mills from which to get flour or stores to buy the other necessities of life, and but
little money with which to buy; what marketing was done, was done in Missouri. All were
poor, but endured the hardships that their children might be benefited thereby."
However, among those arriving to settle the new region, was Samuel Dailey who in 1857
brought machinery for a sawmill. He and Major Baker, Indian Agent at the Otoe Reservation,
and Thomas Green, a daring pioneer businessman, built a sawmill by the river. A flour mill
was added, but the machinery was barely saved when the river swallowed the mill structure,
lumber and log yard. Tom Green then installed the saw machinery on the other side of the
river, and went on in 1862 to erect a flour mill at Peru with lumber hauled across the
ice. This mill, Green's flour mill, became a center of industry for the entire area, and
contributed immeasurably to the development of the town.
The hills along the river were covered with thick stands of trees, and soon the
sawmills were turning out the lumber so imperatively demanded by the new contry, to build
houses and barns, schools, churches and stores. Steamboats plying up and down the river
needed constant supplies of wood for fuel. These boats brought grain to Peru's grist mill
from other towns along the river, and farmers from miles around drove in with wagons
loaded with wheat, all to be ground into flour at Green's mill.
Another early industry, important to Peru's history, was the brick-making business.
Clay from a nearby hill proved suitable for brick making, and soon a brickyard with
horse-powered mill, and a brick kiln were turning out high grade building material. This
industry flourished for about forty years, and its products may still be seen in buildings
in the area.
The coming of the railroad to Peru in 1875 marked the end of the era of steamboating.
The bulk of freight was moved by the railroads, and boats came more and more infrequently.
Eventually the river left the town, and was no longer a part of Peru's daily life. But the
town shifted its emphasis to the college that had been established on her southern edge.
This college, born in 1865 through individual donations, held its first classes in an
abandoned building in 1866 with thirty-six students. It first was a Normal school, later
becoming a Teachers' College, and now is known as Peru State College. In 1966-67 the
college with twenty fine buildings on its beautiful campus, the "Campus of a Thousand
Oaks", celebrates its centennial year. Other publications in this connection recount
details of its history. We quote briefly from one.
"The image of an institution sometimes is measured by its physical facilities and
the fortunes of its athletic teams. Important as these may be, Peru State is primarily
concerned with the quality of her product - the young people who will take their places in
society in a myriad of capacities."
Undeniably the existence of this fine college has had tremendous impact in many ways,
not only on the town of Peru, but on the entire county.
The town now has four churches, a grocery store, post office, bank (established in
1891), two restaurants, coin laundry and dry cleaning establishment, Kiwanis Club, Masonic
Lodge, and O.E.S.
The steamboat whistle no longer echoes from the hills. The mills and warehouses, the
brickyard, the landing docks are gone. But Peru has adapted to change, and faces the
future with optimism.
St. Deroin was located on the Missouri River near the southeast corner of the county.
The first town site, the first stock of goods and the first home built in Nemaha
County were at St. Deroin. A half-breed Indian named DeRoin laid out the town in 1853.
Robert Hawke, a wealthy and prosperous merchant from Nebraska City, erected houses and
opened a stock of goods there the same season.
In the days of river transportation, St. Deroin was one of the important shipping and
receiving stations in Nebraska. Soon after the town was located, Mrs. Ritter started a
wood yard and supplied the river steamboats with fuel.
A subscription school was started in 1858; post office, 1861; a flour mill and a brick
schoolhouse were built in 1868. There were also a hotel and two blacksmith shops.
Railroads caused discontinuation of river shipping. In 1883 a house sold for $500
which had cost $1500 nine years before.
After thirty years of ferrying service at St. Deroin, a change in the course of the
Missouri made ferrying there impossible, so the proprietors of the service moved to
Brownville in 1915.
In 1912 when the river was rapidly swallowing the town site, the school building was
dismantled and reassembled on higher ground.
When the Nebraska Territory was opened for settlement, a number of families settled
along the streams, especially The Muddy, between the years 1854 and 1860.
Herman Utech had little trouble in convincing some of his friends that a town would
prosper twenty miles west of the river. He named his city St. Frederick.
Pawnee City was an Indian mission before the territory was opened for settlement. They
received most of their supplies from Nebraska City. Their road followed the line of least
resistance direct from Pawnee to the City.
The road crossed The Muddy on what later became the Kleihauer farm, then followed the
ridge passing through the Julius Gilbert's yard, continuing northeast to Bradley's Ford
(Brock) to cross the Nemaha. The road from Brownville west crossed the Pawnee City road
one-half mile south of The Muddy bridge on the Otto Blinde farm. Mr. Utech believed that a
railroad would cross the river at Brownville and would come west to his city.
It was not long until they boasted of a store, post office, blacksmith shop, hotel and
livery barn. A Star Route was secured and when a first attempt was made to remove the
county seat from Brownville, St. Frederick put in a bid.
When the Homestead Act went into effect there was a rush of settlers from all over the
country and the town became quite prosperous, but there was trouble ahead. The state
capitol had been located in Lincoln, so the politicians no longer traveled the Pawnee City
- Nebraska City road.
The Brownville-Tecumseh road had been located on the section line one-half mile south
of St. Frederick. The Brownville - Fort Kearney railroad was to be built on the north side
of The Muddy. The troubles were climaxed when, one afternoon in July, 1869, a tornado
scattered most of the town over the neighboring fields. The town was never rebuilt.
The post office was transferred to the Thompson blacksmith shop, two miles west and a
half mile south. Thompson's eyesight soon failed and William Fink was appointed postmaster
and continued until the railroad was built to Johnson and the St. Frederick's post office
The name still lives in the St. Frederick cemetery.
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