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Nebraska...Our Towns

Weeping Water

Cass County

Old quarry near Weeping Water. ca. 1900. [Matteson]
Weeping Water's main street, looking east, 1987. [Ward]

Layers of "Nehawka Flint" and the world's largest natural limestone deposits formed this area nearly 2,000,000 years ago. The stream that cuts through the valley was called "Keet-so-tee-te-cut" by the Indians, and "L-eau qui pluere" by Du Pratz, the Frenchman who drew it on a map of the Louisiana Territory in 1757. Both can be translated as "water that cries" or the "weeping water."

An Indian legend tells of a battle, which began when one tribe stole the daughter of another tribe's chief, and ended three days later when all the braves lay dead. The tears cried by the families of the fallen warriors were said to have formed the "weeping waters."

The first white settlers arrived in March 1856. Elam Flower and Darrell Reed build a log house near the falls, which was used at various times as a church, a school, and a stable. In 1857 a post office named "Weeping Water" was established. It was ten years (1867) before a village was platted and a store opened. The town incorporated in 1870 at which time Oakwood Cemetery was platted. The railroad, which arrived in 1883, ensured its continued existence, and by 1888 Weeping Water achieved the status of a second class city.

The quarries provided limestone for many of the town's buildings. One such building, constructed about 1870, was a Congregational church. Becoming an academy for college-bound students in 1885, the building was converted into a library around 1915. The oldest extant Congregational parsonage (built in the 1860s) stands nearby. Purchased by Dr. Jesse Fate in 1893, it served for many years as his home and office. In 1971, another building of native limestone, built in the style of the two older buildings by third-generation builder Byron Baker, was completed. This building and the old parsonage now make up the Weeping Water Valley Historical Museum.

In times past Carl Ankersen's shop filled the air with the aroma of baking bread, and the Ambler brothers and Hans Johnson sold dry goods and groceries. Men bought overalls at Marshall's shoe store, Jake Meyer filled prescriptions, and eggs and cream went to Henry Snell or Sudduth creameries. Many things have changed. The steam whistle of an approaching passenger train no longer echoes across the valley, and the livery stable has been replaced by Keckler's filling station and Mogensen's garage. However, Michelsen's variety store, a grocery and hardware, and a bank still stand on main street. Rail cars still load grain from the elevator, and limestone from three quarries is still transported all around the globe.

Organizations continue to play an important role. The I.O.O.F., Danish Brotherhood, Eastern Star, Rainbow Girls, Rebekahs, the Royal Neighbors, and the American Legion have all had lodges in Weeping Water. School was held in a variety of places between 1858-88 before the first real schoolhouse was built. The first separate high school was built in 1917.

Entertainment has changed with the times. No longer do the people look forward to treats from Olive's Confectionery Store before the Thursday night band concerts. Instead of summer street dances, the young people are more likely to be found at Weeping Water's swimming pool. Gone with the fire and forge of the blacksmiths are the opera house and movie theatre, but baseball games still bring out a crowd, and the whole town shuts down when the basketball team makes the state finals. The Plattsmouth newspaper brings word of the community events that the Weeping Water High School band takes part in. Local residents works hard to put on annual events -- "Limestone Days" and the Cass County Fair. In 1967 the community celebrated its first century of progress.

Today as yesterday, the land and the limestone provide the community with its diverse economy. While Germans formed the largest immigrant group in the valley, Weeping Water once had its own "Swede Town," a testimony to the presence of Scandinavian immigrants. Mail boxes still proudly carry the names of those whose ancestors came to till the soil and work in the shops over a century ago. The highest population was 1,350 in 1890, with current figures of 1,140 residents.

The farming legacy was immortalized in Danish-born Sophus Keith Winther's trilogy that begins with the novel Take All to Nebraska, while the true origin of the region remains buried beneath the babbling waters of the creek.

By Jean Matteson, 2448 Vine St., Lincoln, NE 68503 and Edith Matteson, 7924 Jolain Dr., Connecticut, OH 45242.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Winther's trilogy consists of the books Take All to Nebraska, 1936; Mortgage Your Hearts, 1937; and This Passion Never Dies, 1938.