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Nebraska...Our Towns

West Point

Cuming County

An 1870s view of the east side of main street in West Point some of the businesses seen are Neligh, Bruner & Kepp General Merchandise, Lager Photo Gallery, and Oxford Drug store. Businesses are still being operated in some of the buildings today.
A birdseye view of West Point from atop the brewery, 1900. The frame building on the left is the M.E. Church. Just beyond, the impressive building is the city hall built in 1891.[Wesche]

Our town, West Point, began in March 1857 when some Omaha businessmen and a group of Easterners formed the "Nebraska Settlement Association." A committee was appointed to scout the Elkhorn Valley for a good town site. Uriah, John, and Andrew Bruner, and William Sexauer, chose a spot on the bend of the river, which they called "New Philadelphia."

That name didn't last long. Even before a post office was established at J.C. Crawford's log cabin on May 15, 1858, it was known as "West Point," since at that time it was the farthest outpost or "point" west along the valley. Mail was carried on an irregular basis to and from Fontanelle, with receipts for the first year totaling only $2.50.

An election, held on October 12, 1858, to determine the county seat of Cuming County, is said to have been "hotly contested." A total of 19 votes were cast. (Twelve for West Point and seven for DeWitt.) All that remains of the DeWitt settlement today is a small cemetery.

In the spring of 1859, Pawnee Indians, some 4,000 strong, came up the Elkhorn on a hunting excursion. Displeased to find settlers in the valley, the Indians desecrated and burned several homes, and killed the livestock. A skirmish near DeWitt, just five miles northeast of West Point, sent the settlers running to Fontanelle for protection. (The so-called "Pawnee War" ended near Battle Creek without a fight.)

Undaunted, John Neligh and J.C.Crawford purchased a sawmill from the Nebraska Settlement Association. The two were so delighted with their business endeavors that they encouraged relatives and friends to join them in making West Point their home. The town, however, grew slowly, with only about a dozen buildings in 1868. Two years later, in 1870, West Point reportedly had over 150 establishments and homes.

The reason for this burst of growth was the coming of a railroad. The first train arrived on November 25, 1870. Soon regular runs were scheduled between West Point and Missouri Valley, Iowa, on the Sioux City & Pacific Railway. (This line was also known as the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad, and later as the Chicago & North Western.)

John Neligh, the town's first mayor, was also the king-pin behind many improvements. Neligh often traveled back east to sell stocks and bonds to finance many ventures. Industry included a match company, a foundry, a feed mill, an implement factory, a soda company, a creamery, and a furniture manufacturing company. A paper mill also operated for two years, producing wrapping paper.

The population grew from 1,008 in 1880 to 2,225 in 1930. Cuming County's fertile soil helped people weather the depression and tough times in the 1930s. In 1933 West Point hosted the National Cornhusking Contest that drew an estimated 75,000 people to the area. The event was also celebrated with parades, speakers, exhibits, and bands.

In 1950 St.Joseph's Hospital was replaced by an ultra-modern $150,000,000 institution. The new facility, St.Francis Memorial, is a great asset to West Point and northeast Nebraska. The community also supports two medical clinics, three dentists, and three veterinarians.

West Point's railroad era ended abruptly in the 1980s when heavy rains washed out many areas of the track between Norfolk and Hooper. Economically infeasible to repair, the line was discontinued. The old depot, previously moved from its original location to Neligh Park, serves as a museum for the Cuming County Historical Society.

In addition to a fine public school complex, the community also has two parochial schools.

Known throughout the state for its outstanding livestock exhibition, the 68th annual Cuming County Fair was held in West Point in August 1990. Other regular activities include: community theater productions, musicals, baseball, horse shows, and an annual city-wide garage sale. West Point's big "Octoberfest" is a tribute to its predominantly German heritage.

West Point is a prosperous town with many hard-working and warm-hearted people. The current population of nearly 4,000 indicates that our town continues to grow.

By Gus and Karen Wesche, 230 South Maple, West Point, NE