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Nebraska...Our Towns

David City

Butler County

David City became "a town" before a street was struck. Chosen by the people over Savannah, shop owners from that town quickly moved their buildings to the new location. Pictured is an early view of Otoupalik's store, David City. [BCHS]
Looking east towards the courthouse square after the removal of the tower, 1930s. [BCHS]
Train time at Burlington's depot, early 1900s, which was replaced with a larger building in 1915.

David City, at elevation 1,676 feet, is located on the flat tableland south of the Platte River Valley. The town owes its existence to a site dispute among the early white settlers for a centralized seat of government in Butler County.

The town of Savannah, on the Platte River, was about nine miles northwest of what is now David City. That town site was established about 1859, after earlier attempts at establishing a town near the present site of Linwood had failed. Its proximity to Shinn's Ferry, an early Platte River ferry service, allowed Savannah to thrive as a rest stop for pioneers on the move west.

Savannah was the natural choice for county seat at the first election held in 1868. However, as more settlers arrived and the population increased in the areas to the south, a call for a more-centralized county seat resulted in four different elections on the issue. The last one, in March 1873, finally decided that the county seat would be "relocated to a brand-new town site."

The town was apparently first called "David's City" in honor of William David, an immigrant to Ohio from Wales whose daughter, Phoebe David Miles of Iowa, donated the land for the courthouse square. A small, frame building was erected on the virgin prairie, and the county's records were moved there in August 1873. In a short time, the merchants and residents of Savannah moved their buildings to the new town and soon all trace of the old settlement disappeared. Today, historical markers along Highway 64 point out the location of Shinn's Ferry and Savannah.

David City was incorporated in June 1874. It achieved second class city status in 1886, at which time the city adopted its present mayor and city council form of government. The position of city administrator was added in 1978.

For farmers and merchants, early business opportunities in David City were greatly enhanced by the arrival of three railroad branch lines. The Union Pacific line from Valley arrived in 1877, followed by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy line from Lincoln in 1880, and the Chicago & North Western line from Fremont in 1887. Freight service is still provided by the UP and Burlington. The old Burlington depot now serves as the Butler County Historical Society museum.

David City has a current population of about 2,500. Agriculture provides the chief source of livelihood for area residents. Ag-related industries located here include the Henningsen Foods, an egg breaking plant, and the Al-Fa-Meal hay processing plant. Two other major industries that have located here since 1980 are Timpte, Inc, a semi-trailer manufacturer, and David City Manufacturing, producer of electrical wiring harnesses.

The community has its share of native-born residents who have distinguished themselves in talent or business. The three who are most widely-known are:

-- Ruth Etting, a "torch singer" who starred in the Ziegfield Follies of the 1920s, recorded more than 200 songs, and appeared in numerous motion pictures. The town recently initiated "Vaudeville Days," an annual celebration in her honor.

-- Dale Nichols, a world-renown artist, art editor for Encyclopedia Britannica, with paintings displayed at several major U.S. museums.

-- Joyce C. Hall, born in David City, who is the founder of Hallmark Cards, the world's largest greeting card company.

Other residents providing recognition to the town include Leo Bongers, who has personally compiled an extensive antique car and machinery collection, and David Wiebe, a violin maker whose hand-crafted instruments have been used by internationally-known musicians.

David City's original courthouse was replaced in 1890 with a majestic three-story brick edifice, which in turn was replaced in 1964 with a modern, single-story structure. Around it, continues the pulse of the city and county. The town currently has six church denominations, two school systems (David City public and St.Mary/Aquinas parochial), a hospital and health care center, a volunteer fire department, a Carnegie Library, youth and senior centers, a municipal airport, the "Banner-Press" newspaper, and elderly and low-income housing.

Right on Highway 15, David City celebrated its first century of life in 1973. The local Chamber of Commerce does boast that David City is "the only David City in the world."

By Jim Reisdorff, South Platte Publishing Company, Box 163, David City, NE 68632.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: David City Centennial History , David City Centennial Corp, 1973; Butler County Nebraska History , BCHS, 1982; and David City Community of Progress (tabloid), The Banner-Press, June 20, 1991.