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Nebraska...Our Towns

Plattsmouth

Cass County

The "Rosebud," one of many paddlewheelers that brought people and goods up the Missouri to the docks near the mouth of the Platte. [NSHS discard, courtesy of J. Blomenberg]
High School Hill at noon in Plattsmouth." N.D. [CCHS]
A view of downtown Plattsmouth ca. 1950s. [CCHS]

Located at the confluence of the Platte and Missouri rivers, our town played an important role during Nebraska's formative years.

Samuel Martin obtained a license to operate a ferry across the Missouri at "Coonville" (now Glenwood), Iowa. In 1852, even before Nebraska was a territory opened for settlement, Martin received a permit from the Secretary of War to establish a trading post at what was to become "Plattsmouth." He built a two-story house, and another building in which he met to trade with the Otoe and Pawnee Indians who lived nearby.

When this location was passed over for territorial capital, a town-company was formed October 26, 1854. The following March it was incorporated by the legislature and named the seat of government in Cass County, which stretched "...to the west boundary of ceded lands." However, the first mayor, Wheatley Mickelwait, was not elected until 1857.

During the golden age of river traffic, 1854-60, ferries shuttled across the Missouri, and paddlewheelers docked at the foot of the main street, where a warehouse and loading platform had been constructed. Thirteen companies advertised river service. Overland freighting was Plattsmouth's primary enterprise. The route from Plattsmouth, along the south side of the Platte to Ft.Kearny, was preferred by many because it was shorter, with fewer large tributaries to cross, and travelers were less apt to be attacked by Indians. The Army Quartermaster Corps depot in Plattsmouth moved great quantities of corn and supplies to western army posts. Huge amounts of civilian goods, bound for the mines in Montana, and Colorado, also funneled through town before railroads were completed.

Plattsmouth's pride, a volunteer army company headed by Dr. Robert Livingston, joined the First Nebraska Regiment from 1861-64, and served on the plains against Indians in 1864-66.

Livingston returned to Plattsmouth after the war, and was named chief surgeon for the Burlington Railroad. He persuaded its officials to establish the Nebraska headquarters and shops at Plattsmouth. Construction of the line from Plattsmouth to the new state capital at Lincoln, then west to Kearney Junction began in 1869.

With the railroad completed to Iowa's west shore, citizens of Plattsmouth agreed that a river crossing was vital to the city's future. A series of three bond issues to promote a bridge was approved. During construction, a locomotive was ferried across to Plattsmouth, followed by freight as fast as rail service would allow.

The population of Plattsmouth was 2,447 in 1870. On September 12, 1880, when the Missouri River bridge was opened to rail traffic, it had reached 5,873. Steamboat traffic slowed to three or four boats a week, but trains more than made up the difference.

Plattsmouth's first school opened in 1862, and a four-story brick building was dedicated in 1873. St.John's parochial school opened in 1884. In 1887 cobblestone streets were constructed and a horse-drawn street railway began a brief existence. By 1891 the Missouri Pacific provided north-south service through town from Omaha to Kansas City. Manufacturing included several cigar factories, a result of the large number of Bohemian residents.

In 1911 a bridge across the Platte, financed by area investors, replaced ferry boats north of the city. In May 1930 a $700,000 vehicle bridge was completed across the Missouri, with funding headed by Henry Schneider of the Plattsmouth State Bank.

Activity at the Burlington shop lessened and by 1931 only refrigerator cars were constructed and repaired, It closed in 1968 when the remaining work was transferred to Havelock.

Despite a devastating fire on June 22, 1961, which destroyed the hotel, theatre, and five other businesses, Plattsmouth retains its Victorian appearance, established when large homes were built on hills overlooking the Missouri River during the 1880s. Businesses carrying out this same architectural theme, with 45 or more located between 3rd and 7th streets on Main, are on the National Register of Historic Places. Included on the list is the unique Romanesque-style Cass County Courthouse, completed in 1892, after several attempts to move the county seat to a more central location had failed. The five-story Cassco Arms, providing 60 affordable housing units, was built in 1968 with federal money.

The annual Kass Kounty King Korn Karnival was first held in 1931 to lift the spirits of Depression-weary residents, has continued to be a big annual event. This rural-urban cooperation continues to play a vital role in Plattsmouth's modern-day development.

 

By George Miller, Cass County Historical Society, 646 Main Street, Plattsmouth, NE 68048.

 

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: History of Cass County, Nebraska, 1989.