Gibbon, named for Gen. John Gibbon of Civil War fame, was established by a land agent, Col. John Thorp. He made a contract with the Union Pacific Railroad to establish a town "anywhere in Buffalo County, Nebraska." He chose the site at "Gibbon Switch" on the railroad.
Advertisements were placed in eastern newspapers telling of free land in Nebraska. Sixty-five families responded -- mostly Civil War veterans. These families, all strangers to one another prior to this, were given the opportunity to buy "excursion tickets." Before the offer expired, others also accepted the opportunity. The original 139 families arrived at their destination on Good Friday, April 7, 1871, to "start a town."
The first event in their new home was to hold an open-air church service on Easter Sunday morning. Next they had an "illegal meeting" to establish a school. (It was illegal because none had been in the state long enough to be citizens of Nebraska.) They agreed to tax themselves $1,000 for a building, books, and benches, and had six weeks of school before summer arrived. Gibbon has always had strong progressive schools. It was among the first to have educational TV in the classrooms and today has computer education in both elementary and secondary school.
At the end of six months (when the citizens became legal voters), an election was held to determine the seat of county government for Buffalo County, with Gibbon selected. Bonds were voted and the community entered into a contract for a three-story courthouse. The building, of classic design made from Gibbon's own bricks, was completed in 190 days.
The Baptist church was organized on January 16, 1872. Only 100 hours later, the Presbyterians organized, and using the rejected bricks from the courthouse project, they built the first church building in Gibbon. This was not only the first church built in Buffalo County, but also the first Nebraska church building west of Grand Island. Only one church in Colorado and another in Wyoming are older. There are now five churches in Gibbon.
Gibbon was the county seat for less than two years before another election was held and the records were moved to Kearney. The courthouse then became the home of the Gibbon Collegiate Institute, a Baptist seminary. Later the building was the home of a business college, and then was acquired by the local school system.
The first high school, now used as the I.O.O.F. Hall, was built in 1884. An opera house was built in 1892. The town continued to improve services as telephones were installed in 1902, city water in 1907, electricity in 1909, and sewer and paving in 1920. The library was built in 1912.
The "Soldier's Free Homestead Colony" (old settlers) established a commemorative observance in 1891. It still meets each year. A monument in Pioneer Park lists the names of the original families. The town has another 23-acre park over 100 years old, and just three miles south of town, Windmill Park, established on I-80, has the largest windmill in the state of Nebraska.
One of the first businesses in the new town of Gibbon in 1872 was a grist mill, using water power from Wood River. Later it was one of the first roller mills in the area. Today two large modern elevators provide markets for the farmers' grain.
Gibbon is the site of the first commercial feeding of sheep in Nebraska. Sheep were herded from Montana and Wyoming to Gibbon to be fed out. Several large homes have been built on the profits of this "sheep money."
Another local phenomenon was the race for Nebraska state legislature in 1872 between a Gibbon man, D.P.Ashburn, and Buffalo Bill Cody of show-business fame. Ashburn, the butter-maker, undertaker, postmaster, and later attorney, won the election.
Among Gibbon's native sons we note: nationally-known TV star Dick Cavett, and S.C.Bassett, writer of the History of Buffalo County, and who was a farmer, dairyman, and editor.
Today Gibbon has 50 businesses and a busy local trade. Two packing plants provide both market and employment for the town, still served by the railroad. The Norbest turkey plant, processing as high as 15,000 turkeys per day, is currently being enlarged to accommodate boned turkey products. The cattle processing plant, Gibbon Pack, can process 1,600 head per day and is also being enlarged.
Gibbon, with a present population of 1,500, has had a steady and constant growth.
By Leroy Walker, Gibbon Heritage Center, Box 116, Gibbon, NE 68840
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: History of Buffalo County, by Bassett; Trail Dust to Star Dust, by Mabel Vohland (Centennial book 1871-1971.