Four families from Iowa, Stephen Miller, Ben Valentine, Warren Fusselman, and Jake Woods, moved to Nebraska in 1872. Their timing was not ideal as there was a general drought, swarms of grasshoppers, and depressed prices -- corn, eight cents a bushel, and cattle, two cents a pound. They pooled their resources and helped one another, a unity manifested in Leigh through the years. Others arrived to take up claims. A log house, built by Henry Robert in 1873, still stands.
In 1874 mail, using the address "Millersburg," was brought to the Miller home twice a week. School District 39, established that year, was the center of social life. In addition to regular classes, there were debates, spelldowns, the singing school, and a literary society.
When A.M.Walling acquired the Miller homestead in 1875, an official post office was established. Choosing the name "Leigh" (Mrs.Walling's maiden name), a general store, with meeting rooms for the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic), was built. The building, now Leigh's House of Yesteryear, has been restored to preserve the town's historical artifacts.
By 1880 there was a blacksmith shop, ten dwellings, and a population of 54. Yankee Road, south of town, was the dividing line: homesteaders of English ancestry settled on the east, those of German descent to the west, and Czech and Irish immigrants filed claims to the north and east. The last homestead in the area was registered to John Klinsky in 1886. There were several large ranches, one consisting of 16 sections of land and a 22-room house.
It was an exciting day in 1886 when the first train arrived on the newly laid rails. The depot, however, was placed some distance west of the town. Businesses wanting to survive had no choice but to move to the new town site. The "Leigh World," published weekly since then, was established.
By 1900 Leigh had a population of 439, with 41 businesses and professions. A fire department was organized in 1907 after the installation of a water-works system. Gas lamps lighted the streets by 1908, and an electric plant was built in 1915.
A Lutheran Church was organized by Danish and Swedish immigrants west of Leigh in 1878. Methodists built a church in town in 1879. Congregations that remain active today include: St.Paul's Lutheran (rural Leigh), 1881; Congregational, 1887; Zion Lutheran, 1894; St.Mary's Catholic, 1900; and St.John's Lutheran, 1906. In recent years an annual community worship service has been held at the Colfax County Fair, located in Leigh since 1922.
Unusual and important happenings over the years include:
-- A top-heavy load of 13,440 dozen eggs traveled from Hobel Bros. store to Fremont. (No count made of number that arrived on the half-shell)
-- "Dazzler," the world's largest hog belonging to W.C.Deichmann, was the first porker to ride in an airplane.
-- Famy Mason, young wife of a gypsy horse-trader, was shot and killed while sitting in the barber chair. (No one asked why.)
-- Peter Claussen, life-long resident, represented the 18th District in the Bicameral (1935-36), and in the Unicameral Legislature (1957-66).
In the early years dances were held in homes, barns, and the bowery -- a platform set up in a nearby grove of trees. The opera house was built in 1898 to accommodate school, civic events, and dances. The Farmers' Hall, definitely a part of "the good old days," was built in 1910 after the German Band was organized. Adolph "Duffy" Belohrad was the leader of a widely-known dance band for over 50 years. Everyone looked forward to the Justus-Romain Shows held annually "under the canvas."
The Village of Leigh, with a population of 210, was incorporated March 7, 1887. A peak population was recorded at 688 in 1930. Leigh's Diamond Jubilee was observed in 1862, with W.S.Woodward serving as general chairman.
While the number of businesses has decreased, the population has remained at a constant level of about 500. The community spirit, evident through the years, reached its zenith in 1987, when Leigh observed its centennial.
By Esther Mohnsen, Box 341, Leigh, NE 68643
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: History of Leigh, 1887-1937; Diamond Jubilee, 75th Anniversary of Leigh, 1887-1962 ; and History of Leigh & Family Histories , the centennial publication, 1987.