Skip Navigation

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  • Virtual Nebraska Logo

Virtual Nebraska

Nebraska...Our Towns

Ainsworth

Brown County

A bird's eye view of Ainsworth in 1885. A Ramsay, Millett & Hudson Lithograph, drawn by August Koch, Kansas City, MO, responsible for many such drawings of our Nebraska towns.
Ainsworth High School and Learning Center 1989.
The old standpipe, windmill, and courthouse.
Newest water tower located in the east part of the city
Sellors' Memorial Cabin, donated to the city by Elizabeth Sellors Deer.

Ainsworth is named for Captain James E. Ainsworth, chief construction engineer of the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad, who arrived at the town site in June 1882. Pioneers were pushing west, setting up shops and businesses. Many also filed for homesteads on the free land, claiming 160 acres under provisions that certain improvements as specified by the government be made.

The Ed Cook and Dr.George Towar families had established a ranch near Bone Creek in 1873. In 1879 Nannie J.Osborne was employed by them as cook and housekeeper. (Mrs. Osborne and her daughter arrived on horseback by way of Fort Hartsuff.) She, as head of a household, also filed for a land patent and received title to 160 acres. Located along the railroad right-of-way, she platted it into lots in 1883 with building sites provided for the First Congregational Church, and the United Methodist Church.

Nannie Osborne was an astute business woman, seemingly far ahead of the times. She also filed a deed in Osborne's 2nd Addition, designating one full block as "Courthouse Block." When the county organized, and Ainsworth named as the seat of government, she was ready. A marker was dedicated in her honor by the Brown County Historical Society in 1981.

Ainsworth was the site of Brown County's special commissioners meeting in 1883. From the official "organization records," the leading business and professional "men" included; Morgan & Miller, publishers of "Ainsworth Journal" (noting it to be Republican in politics); H. Woodward, a native of Vermont, general merchandise; Leroy Hall, an implement dealer from Maine, also and owned the newspaper and a portion of the town site; and Nannie J.Osborne, Real Estate, advertised "...big inducements offered to parties wishing to build..." She was also listed as owner of "Osborne's Opera House."

The new town had all the ingredients to grow. And it did! By 1885 the town covered nearly 30 blocks, and Main Street was crowded with shops.

A two-story red-brick grade school, built in 1884, served three generations in many families before being torn down in 1955. A grey cement high school was built in 1910. These buildings have been replaced over the years by a new high school, the "Learning Center," an auditorium, and a gymnasium.

Churches formed even before the town was established, starting with the Methodists in 1881, Congregational-United Church of Christ in 1883, and Lutherans in 1893. Seven other denominations have been added; Assembly of God, Berean, Catholic, Church of the Nazarene, Baptist, New Apostolic, and Jehovah Witness.

The first courthouse was completed in 1888 and served the county until Easter morning in 1958 when it was destroyed by fire. Most of the records, locked in vaults, were saved. A new Brown County Courthouse was dedicated on June 12, 1960.

During World War II, Ainsworth was the site of a 2,496 acre air base that trained crews flying B-17s, P-38s, and P-47s. Over 7,000 persons attended the 1947 National Air Show held in Ainsworth. After the war, the airfield was turned over to the city.

Merritt Dam, 72 miles from Ainsworth, was dedicated in 1964. It provides irrigation to 34,500 acres of farmland north and east of town. To the south and west of town are the beautiful Sandhills, covered with many different grasses, wild flowers, and shrubs.

Ainsworth has a radio station, a park and swimming pool, baseball diamonds, track and football fields, tennis courts, and horse shoe pits. An active historical society maintains the Coleman Farmhouse, and helped gain recognition of the Lakeland schoolhouse -- used during the Depression years from 1934-41 and was the only known sod high school in the nation. A book, Pioneer Stories of Brown, Keya Paha, and Rock Counties, published in 1980, and edited by Shirley Marie Skinner, was also a project of the Brown County Historical Society. The city of Ainsworth maintains the Sellors Cabin, donated by Elizabeth Sellors Deer.

The town and the schools have kept pace with times. The old windmill and water towers have given way to the new; the original hospital is now apartments through the HUD plan, and a modern county hospital was built. A new senior center provides for many of the social and physical needs of the community's citizens.

Ainsworth is a great place to live.

By Marvel Bearg, Brown County Historical Society and NE Genealogical Society, and Mayor Leo Beckly, Box 165, Ainsworth, NE 69210.