History ofLancaster Co and Townships
Since our organization goes by the name Lincoln-Lancaster County Genealogical Society it was thought that a little history of our area of Nebraska should be of interest to all of our members. The city of Lincoln may be the largest and most important part of Lancaster County, but there are also twenty-four townships with many small towns with a history of their own.
The Territory of Nebraska became an organized incorporated territory in the United States on May 30th of 1854. Nebraska’s original eight counties were made of up the lands bordering the Missouri River on its eastern edge. The land of what was to become Lancaster County was then part of Cass and Pierce (latter Otoe) counties. On March 6th of 1855 Lancaster County was created by the Territorial Legislature, The area of county went as far north as the Platte River, but not much farther south then what would later become the city of Lincoln. In 1856 most of the northern half of the original county became Saunders County, but additional land was added bordering the new county of Clay to the south. Lancaster was then square like most of the other counties. The steps toward organizing Lancaster County were made in the fall of 1859 when a meeting was held under the Great Elm tree on the eastside of the Salt Creek. A nearby site was selected as the county seat and it would become known as the village of Lancaster. The whole county was then surveyed, but the population remained very low until the Homestead Act of 1862. In 1863 Clay County to the south was dissolved and Lancaster County received its northern half. Then Lancaster County had its current area and its rectangle dimensions with 24 townships. There was a movement to make the village of Yankee Hill the county seat, but it was defeated. In 1864 the village of Lancaster was finally platted. In 1867 the village of Lancaster chosen over Yankee Hill again, this time as the Nebraska State Capital. The village was renamed Lincoln after the late president. In addition to the state capital, the village of Lincoln received the state university, the state insane asylum, and the state penitentiary. A new plat was made to include wider streets and larger blocks. Lincoln was incorporated in 1869. The Burlington & Missouri River Railroad reached Lincoln in 1870, followed closely by the Midland Pacific and the Atchison & Nebraska. With the organization of Lancaster County it was divided into 24 equal sized townships (precincts), four across and six top to bottom. The first post offices in the county were: Gregory’s Basin (West Lincoln Township) and Shirley’s Station (Lancaster) in 1863, Lancaster (Lancaster) in 1864, Saltillo (Saltillo/Grant) in 1865, Camp Creek (Stevens Creek), Centerville (Centerville) and Olive Branch (Olive Branch) in 1866, and Rebecca (Stockton) and South Pass (South Pass) in 1868.
The following is a short history of Lancaster County’s individual townships and their towns. The story starts at the northeastern corner of the county, traveling west, and zigzagging in a southerly direction. The locations mentioned varied greatly in size. Some may have only been a house where people picked up their mail, others may have been only a location where trains would drop off deliveries, and some may have planned, but never realized.
At the northeast corner of the county is the MILL (1) township. The township and the Millville Creek got its name from of the two grist mills located in the area. This area had a post office from 1872 till 1876 under the name Sod Hill and then Millville. There was an early settlement in the township named after Governor Crounse’s wife. Margaretta.
The next township is ROCK CREEK (2). It was named for a nearby creek. There was a post office at a location named Rock Creek from 1872 to 1876. The only current community in the township is Davey. The village was named to honor Michael Davey, on whose land it sets on. After the Fremont, Elkhorn, & Missouri Valley Railroad laid tracks in 1886, Davey was platted by the Western Town & Lot Co. in 1886 and received a post office a year later. The railroad was a major boon to the village. Davey was incorporated in 1923 and had its peak population in 1970. From 1871 to 1876 there was a post office at Enterprise.
The following township is LITTLE SALT (3). The area is the source of the Little Salt Creek and once had a station on the Omaha & Republic Valley Railroad by the same name in the late 1870’s.
In the northwest corner of the county is the WEST OAK (4) township. The Omaha & Republican Valley Railroad entered the county in 1877, giving it a connection to the Union Pacific Railroad to the north. There was a post office from 1873 to 1901 located on the Oak Creek named Crounse in honor of a future governor. There was also a rail station name West Oak. The only village in the area is Agnew, which had its post office established in 1886 and was platted by the railroad in 1889. The village was named to honor, William James Agnew, a railroad contractor and conductor for the Union Pacific. At its peak population in 1910 the community contained two grain elevators, a creamery, retail stores, and a couple churches. Nebraska Hwy. 79 has had a great influence on the area. Branched Oak reservoir is located in this township.
To the south is the ELK (5) township. Its only community is Malcolm. The town had its post office established in 1874. The Midland Pacific Railroad purchased the land of Malcolm Showers of the Nebraska Railway in 1876 and platted it in 1877. The town was incorporated in 1915. The area provided housing for the local Army Air Force Base during WWII. The town’s current population of over 400 is its peak population. The Nine-Mile Prairie is located in the township.
The following township is OAK (6). Settlers came to the bank of the Oak Creek in the early 1860’s to take advantage of its water power and wood supply. With the building of the Omaha & Republican Valley Railroad in 1877 the settlement of Orlando began and a year later it received a post office. In 1880 the village was platted and had its name changed to Raymond. The town was named to honor I.M. Raymond, an official of the railroad and Lincoln wholesale grocer. Its population peaked in 1920. There was another community on the southern edge of the township called Woodlawn. The area on the Oak Creek must have had a lot of timber. The village was located on the Midland Pacific Railroad. It had a post office from 1874 to 1891. Its peak population was in 1880. An earlier post office was at Tipton from 1869 to 1873. There was a post office at a McFarland from 1874 till 1878 when it was moved to Orlando.
Coming next is the NORTH BLUFF (7) township. On the Fremont, Elkhorn, & Missouri Valley Railroad from 1894 to 1900 there was a post office at Arbor. The owner of the land was the son of J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day. The town was intersected by the D-L-D Hwy. and Hwy. 77. At the southwest corner of the township were two post offices located on the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad. One was Dunn from 1884 to 1888 and the other Newton, which was moved to town of Havelock in 1890. The northeast edge of the city of Lincoln is quickly moving into this township.
To the east is the WAVERLY (8) township. There were settlers along the Salt Creek by 1857. An early post office was established at Camp Creek in 1866. The Burlington & Missouri River Railroad came to the county from the east in 1870. At this time a new town was platted and the post office was moved to Waverly. The town was incorporated in 1885. In was named for the Sir Walter Scott’s novel, “Waverley” and its streets from characters in the book. In 1911 the D-L-D Highway intersected the township. The area’s population is currently peaking at over 3,200 residents and it town is the second largest in the county.
Heading south is the STEVENS CREEK (9) township. It and its creek were named for settlers in the area. The Missouri Pacific Railroad and the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad entered the county from the east in 1886 and 1892. There was a post office named Steven’s Creek in the Lancaster Township to the west. At the northern edge of the township is Prairie Home. It had a post office from 1872 to 1968 and was platted by the Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific Railroad in 1891. The village was named by a man name Waite, the first depot agent for the railroad. At the southwest corner of the township is Walton. It was name after A. Walton, who homesteaded nearby and had a post office beginning in 1880. The town kept its name after the Missouri Pacific came to the village six years later. From 1881 to 1891 there was a post office named after the Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Ivanhoe”. Maps of the 1850’s show a location name Monteray in this area, but nothing is know of it.
The next two townships to the west contain the majority of the city of Lincoln. Since this is to be a story about Lancaster County and its townships information about Lincoln will be limited. The township of LANCASTER (10) is the home of most of the small communities which are now part of the much larger city of Lincoln. To the northwest of the township was Belmont. The area sitting high on a ridge got its name from the French belle montage, “Beautiful Mountain”. A federal land grant was issued in 1868 for a Baptist community there that never took form. The Worthington Military Academy was opened by the Episcopal Church in 1892, but an explosion destroyed it in 1898. At one time the area was planned as a location for nicer homes, but never took off. In the 1890’s most of the houses were moved to the more prosperous Havelock areas. This area didn’t develop until later when the WWII Army Air Base was opened. To the northeast of the Lincoln was the village of University Place with its Nebraska Wesleyan University, which was started by the Methodist Church in 1887. It was platted and incorporated a year later. When it received a post office in 1889 it was first called Athens, but it was changed to University Place within the same year. The area was annexed by Lincoln in 1926. Another community farther northeast was Havelock. The suburb of Lincoln was name after the famous English General, Sir Henry Havelock. The community got its start next to the Burlington Railroad yard. A post office was established in 1890 and the area was re-platted in 1891. It was incorporated in 1893. The area was annexed by Lincoln in 1930. Other major businesses in the area were truck and airplane manufacturing, which were later replaced by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Havelock is still the most distinct community in Lincoln. With the coming of the Missouri Pacific Railroad in 1886 there were two stations east of Lincoln. Nearest was an orchard that was platted as Peck’s Grove. In addition to the orchard there was Hyland Lumber Yard close by. A little over thirty blocks to the east was the community of Bethany. The area was platted and incorporated in 1886 as Bethany Heights. It was named after the biblical “Bethany”. It formed when the Nebraska Christian College was established by the “Disciples of Christ” in 1888. The college, later called Cotner College, closed during the Depression in 1933. The Bethany area actually had two business districts, “Bethany” north of the college and “Bethany Heights” to the south. The northern section received a post office in 1890, but later the southern half stole the post office and it became the more important section. To the far south of the township was the small community of Normal. The area formed around the Lincoln Normal School in 1891. A post office established in 1892. The school closed in 1898 after the main building was completely burned. After the fire most of the property was bought by Dr. Benjamin F. Bailey for his Bailey’s Hospital and Green Gables Sanitarium. The area was annexed in 1919. There was also the Bryan Hospital, which was started at William Jennings Bryan’s former home, Fairview. At the northeast corner of the township once was Shirley’s Station, which had a post office from 1863 to 1865. It was named after its first postmaster, William Shirley. There also was a post office on the Stevens Creek by the same name from 1868 to 1870.
The LINCOLN (11) township includes the original village of Lancaster and the business center of the later City of Lincoln. The Lincoln Township is where seven of Lancaster County’s creeks meet. The community of Lancaster received a post office in 1854 and was platted in 1864. Another early post office was Gregory’s Basin, from 1863 to 1871, which was the location of early salt gathers in the salt basin which covered much of the area. Around the same area was location named Salt Spring. Years later this was the location of Burlington and Capital Beaches after the Oak Creek was damned. The township took the name WEST LINCOLN when it was split into two precincts, West Lincoln the north half and Garfield the south half. West Lincoln was on the Union Pacific Railroad and at one time was thought to become the next big livestock yard in the state. Many of the streets in the area were named after different types of cattle. It had its own post office from 1880 to 1901. In the township is the current Lincoln Municipal Airport which was used as an Army Air Base during WWII (1942-1945) and an Air Force Base (1952-1966) next to it during the Cold War. The area known as Air Park is now call Arnold Heights in honor of the commander at the air force base. Many of the old air base building are still in use in the area. The housing area at the base was called Huskerville and had its own post office. After WWII the barracks were used for returning soldiers and their families, but it was closed after an outbreak of polio there in 1952. There once was a post office at a Burlington train station at a point call Cushman in the Garfield Precinct. On the southern edge of the township was the location of the community of Hawthorne. The Western Normal College opened there in 1891 and later became the Nebraska Military Academy in 1908. In 1921 the state bought the buildings for use as a men’s reformatory. The area was platted in the 1890’s, but was never developed. A total of seven railroads once intersected in this township.
The township west of Lincoln is MIDDLE CREEK (12). Middle Creek was named after the creek of the same name that flowed through the middle of the county. From 1868 to 1869 there was a post office on the creek by the same name. Around 1880 the Lincoln & Northwest Railroad laid tracks west out of Lincoln. The village of Emerald had a post office from 1884 till 1945. Later it became a stop on the D-L-D Highway. Its name was chosen by the locals who thought the area was “the most beautiful green spot in the country”. The peak population of the village was in 1890. The Pawnee Lake reservoir is located in this township.
To south the DENTON (13) township located. The village of Denton is located in the center of the township on Haines Branch Creek. The village was first settled in 1865 and platted in 1871 by the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad. A post office was established in 1877 and the town was incorporated in 1913. The village was named in honor of Daniel Denton, a homesteader whose land it sits on. Denton had a major fire in 1930, but was able to recover. Its current population of over 2000 is its all-time high. There was also a Burlington Railroad station named Cobb just to the north of Denton. It was also named after a local land owner.
The township of YANKEE HILL (14) contains the area which is now the southwest corner of the city of Lincoln. Maps from the late 1850’s showed a village named Chester in this township. It was thought to be the designated county seat for Lancaster. Another unknown location is Albion. In the early 1860’s Saline City was planned as a stop on the Steam Wagon Road at a crossing of the Salt Creek in the northeast corner of the township. In 1864 John Cadman opened a trading post near his house in what would become the village of Yankee Hill. In the winter of 1865 the first schooling in Lancaster County took place in Cadman’s house. With Cadman’s help the village of Yankee Hill vied for both county seat and the state capital against the village of Lancaster. Even though the area lost out on both, it did receive the state insane asylum and penitentiary. The asylum opened in 1870 and had its own post office from 1889 to 1910. The penitentiary was completed in 1876. The penitentiary had its own post office from 1879 to 1889 under the names of Nobleville and Hyperville. An area farther south along the Salt Creek was the location of Wilderness Park, which at one time was the home of the Epworth and Electric Parks. Close by the Haines Branch Creek and Yankee Hill Brick Yard is Pioneers Park, which opened in 1930. Five different railroads ran through the township. At the south end of the township is Rokeby. The community on the Rock Island had a post office from 1894 to 1919. The village was named after the Sir Walter Scott’s poem. Its peak population was 100 in 1900. There was also an Omaha & Republican Valley Railroad station at the southeast corner of the township call Jamaica. It was platted in 1885 and probably names after the town in New York State. Other rail stations in the township were Welch on the Atchison & Nebraska Railroad, and Burnham on the Burlington from 1899 to 1910. Yankee Hill is one of the two townships south of Lincoln receiving much of its current growth.
The other township receiving much of the city of Lincoln’s growth is GRANT (15). The village of College View was started by the Seventh Day Adventist Church in 1889. The name came from the fact its elevation gives a view of the surrounding area. Two years later Union College was established. A post office was established in 1891 and a year later the village was incorporated. In the 1890’s a sanitarium was built close to the college. The village became part of Lincoln in 1929. Outside of Lincoln is the village of Cheney in the southeast of the township. The Midland Pacific Railroad came through the area in 1871 and village was platted in 1874. It had a post office from 1876 to 1943. The village was named after the first settler in the township. In the southwest corner of the township once was the village of Saltillo on the Salt Creek. In the early 1860’s this was the location of John Cadman’s Saltillo station house on the Nebraska City-Fort Kearny Cut-Off. A post office was established in 1865, but the town was not founded until the Atchison & Nebraska Railroad came through the area in 1872. A portion of the village at times overlapped into the township of Saltillo to its south. There was a city in Mexico by the same name, but probably it is just related to the fact that there was much salt in the area. Being in the middle of the Salt Creek’s flood plain ended this village and the post office was closed by 1906. Other creeks in the township are the Beal Slough and the Antelope.
On the eastern edge of the county is the STOCKTON (16) township. There was a post office located at Rebecca from 1868 until 1871. The Steven’s Creek begins in this area.
To the south is the NEMAHA (17) township. One of the first settlers of this area was Dr. Stephen Mecham who had a station house on the Nebraska City-Fort Kearney Cut-Off near the Otoe county line in the early 1860’s. When the Midland Pacific Railroad was built through the area in 1871 the post office at Rebecca was moved south and renamed Bennett’s Station. The land for the railroad was obtained from William Roggencamp who had settled there in 1860. The village was platted in 1871. In 1880 it became Bennett and a year later it was incorporated. The village was named after John Bennett, a local resident and a railroad official. Soon after the last “t” was dropped. Its current population of over 700 is its historic high.
The next township is SALTILLO (18). In 1857 the Prey family settled near the proposed town of Olathe. It was hoped that the county seat of Clay County would be located there. A few years later in 1861 the Mills family settled to the south. The community of Roca began around the limestone quarry and the grist mill along the Salt Creek. The village was a candidate for the state capital’s location in 1867. In 1872 the Atchison & Nebraska Railroad was built through the area. Roca’s post office was established in 1876. That same year the village was platted and incorporated. The name was “stone or rock” in Spanish for the village’s main business. Its peak population is the current 200. Just to the west of the village was the railroad station Hanlon on the Omaha & Republican Valley. Close to the southern edge of the township is the village of Hickman. When the Atchison & Nebraska Railroad came through in 1872 the post office in South Pass was moved north and had it name changed to Heckman. The village was then platted, but the name was incorrectly spelled. Even though the village was named after the early settler Reverend C.H. Heckman, the wrong spelling remained. In 1885 the village was incorporated and the next year the Missouri Pacific Railroad came to town. The village’s current population of over 1,600 is its historic high. In 1983 the Aldo Junction station was established where the Missouri Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroads intersected. The village of Saltillo was at times located in the northwest corner of the township. Clayton is another location shown on maps of the old Clay County in the township.
The follow township is CENTERVILLE (19). Located at the center of the township was the village of Centerville. It had a post office established in 1865, but it was moved south when the Missouri Pacific Railroad was lad through the county. It was platted in 1888 under the new name, Sprague. The community was incorporated in 1913. Its peak population was in 1980 at 168. Just to the northwest is the village of Martell. The village had it post office established in 1894, two year after the Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific Railroad came to the area. The town was named by three business men from Lincoln who bought the land and platted the town site. The name may have come from Charles Martell, “the Hammer”, King of Franks. Its peak population was 104 in 1950. There was a Missouri Pacific Railroad station at Carlos near the center of the township.
To the far west is the HIGHLAND (20) township. The village of Highland was renamed Berks by the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad. It had a post office from 1898 to 1912. The name is probably from the county in Pennsylvania. Another small community was Loyal Hill, which had a post office from 1874 to 1885. In the northwest corner of the township was Cheese Creek Ranch, a station house on the Nebraska City-Fort Kearny Cut-Off in the early 1860’s.
Located in the southwest corner of the county in the OLIVE BRANCH (21) township. A post office by the name of Olive Branch was at the northeast corner of the township from 1866 to 1889. The community of Kramer was platted in 1888 along the Missouri Pacific Railroad. A post office was established in 1889, but discontinued in 1955. The village was named after the man who donated the land it sits on.
The next township goes by the odd name BUDA (22). There was a post office by the name Buda from 1870 to 1872. The name may have been from the Hungarian capital of Budapest. In the southwest corner of the township is located the village of Hallam. The village was platted in 1892 by the Kansas Town and Land Co. when the Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific Railroad was built through the area. A year later the post office was established and in 1901 the village was incorporated. The area has the distinction of being the highest point between Chicago and Denver on the Rock Island line. A local resident suggested naming the village after his native town of Hallau, Switzerland, but soon it took its current spelling. It population of over 600 in 2000 is its historic high. Another village in the township is Princeton. The area was platted and received a post office in 1886. The village was located along the Omaha & Republican Valley Railroad. The town is probably named after the town and university in New Jersey. It was made a rural post office station for Lincoln in 1958.
The following township is SOUTH PASS (23). There was once a post office located in the southern part of the township by the same name form 1868 to 1872. When the train came it lost its post office. At the northeast corner of the township is the village of Holland. The area was settled by Dutch immigrants around 1867. A post office was established in 1873. The name, of course, is the resident’s native land. Holland is one of the few communities to develop without the railroad. The furthest south community in the county is Firth. The village is located on the Middle Branch of the Big Nemaha River. Prior to 1860 a town platted with a “courthouse square” near this location. With the coming of the Atchison & Nebraska Railroad in 1872 the village received a post office and was re-platted the next year. It was named in honor of a railroad superintendent that died while laying track through the area. The village was incorporated in 1879. It current population of over 700 is its record high. There was also a post office name Summit located on the rail line north of Firth.
Lancaster County located in the southwest corner is PANAMA (24). A post office was established in the area in 1869. It wasn’t till 1888 when the Missouri Pacific Railroad was built through the area that a village was platted. The village of Panama was incorporated in 1903. It was probably named after the Panama Canal, which was being dug around the same time. It currently has its record population of over 250. In the far southeastern corner of the township and county was Pella. Founded by Dutch settlers it had a post office from 1883 to 1903. It was named after a town in Iowa. From 1869 to 1870 there was a post office with the Indian tribe name, Opequon.