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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nehawka

Cass County

The stone quarry, mined long before there was a town, provided the building materials for homes and businesses, and livelihood for those willing to work. [CCHS]
When the railroad arrived, Nehawka became a real town.
Nehawka's main street, 1992. [Shrader]

On June 18, 1855, Samuel Kirkpatrick came from Iowa to stake his claim in Cass County, where our town, Nehawka, is today. That fall he built the first saw mill in the area on the north banks of the Weeping Water Creek. The following year John Knabe, J.C. Hansen, Andrew Sturm, Larson Sheldon, Isaac Pollard, William Rose and their families moved to the area.

That same year a town named "Cassville" was laid out by Rev. W.D. Gage, just over two miles north of Kirkpatrick's land, and the following year, Rev. Gage, David Brannon, Martin Pritchard, Henry Atkinson, and Michael Brannon were listed as trustees for yet another town in this area called "Mt. Pleasant."

In 1857 Isaac Pollard, an experienced surveyor remembered as the man who planted many trees in Cass County, laid out a town called "Waterville." Later, when no sales were recorded, the plat -- actually part of Nehawka -- was abandoned. A settlement about three miles southeast called "Factoryville" was becoming quite a town about that time.

On a trip back east in 1874 Pollard stopped in Washington D.C. to obtain a post office for the settlers in this area that was "closer than either Mt.Pleasant or Factoryville." Because the name "Weeping Water" had already been chosen by a settlement upstream (and neither Pollard or his brother, Levi, could pronounce the Indian word for weeping water) they chose the name "Nehawka," meaning "rustling water." A postal address was approved for that name on January 8, 1875.

In the late 1880s, with rumors circulating about a railroad that would run from Weeping Water to Auburn via Nebraska City, when people began to see the possibility of a real town. They began selling and -- in some cases -- giving land to the railroad. As a result, they were successful in getting a station at this location.

Things really boomed after the line was completed in 1887. Kirkpatrick sold 80 acres to the Jones Townsite Company, which filed a plat in September containing 137 lots. Lawson Sheldon purchased half of them -- an investment of $2,250.

Sturm opened the first business, a lumber yard, in the spring of 1888. Kirkpatrick and Banning established an elevator, as did Perkins. Peter Opp built a meat market that faced west. Later, when Sheldon erected a building facing the north on the same block, Opp turned his building so that it also faced north! The Sheldon General Store opened that spring and continued in business until a fire in 1959.

The growth of the town continued with more than 30 businesses operating by the town's first birthday. They were primarily located on Elm Street, in view of the fact that those lots sold for $50 as compared to $300 on Main. By 1893 the population was 200. In addition to those mentioned above, there were two churches, several general stores, livery stables, hotels, another meat market, a hardware and furniture store, a drug store, a bank, a barber shop, a millinery shop, a billiard hall, and the weekly newspaper, "The Nehawka Register." There was also a three-story brick ice-house, with space for fruit storage, a stone quarry, and a two-story brick school.

The Commercial Club was organized in 1910 to improve the community. Street grading and dragging, sidewalks, fire prevention, and the construction of an auditorium in 1914 were a few of its projects.

The limestone quarries, Pollard's apple orchards, and Sheldon's concrete mixers were widely known and put Nehawka on the map. In 1937 Nehawka's six-man football team made national news in a November issue of Life magazine.

For its size Nehawka has contributed many fine citizens to our state and nation, and has had an unusually high number of political office holders. Lawson Sheldon and Kirkpatrick served in the territorial legislature, and Kirkpatrick was then elected to Nebraska's house of representatives as well as to the 1871 and 1875 constitutional conventions. Fred Nutzman and Micheal Kime served in the legislature. E.M. Pollard served in both the state legislature and U.S. Congress. Nehawka is the birthplace of Nebraska's first native-born governor, George L. Sheldon.

As Nehawka celebrated its 100th birthday, citizens paused to reflect on the proud heritage of their little town and the people who made it such a nice place to live.

 

By Susan Rice, 5712 Susan Dr., Nehawka, NE 68413

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: "Biography of Lawson Sheldon", and "Ghost Towns of Cass County", Cass County Historical Society Magazine; "A History of Nehawka, 1854,1916" by Robert McConnaha; and "A History of Nehawka", Nebraska History Magazine, 1943.