Homer was once the home of the Omaha Indians. Their village, "Tonwantonga," located in this valley between two rows of hills, was one of the largest in the territory with about 300 earthen lodges. After a smallpox epidemic in 1800, the few survivors burned the village and moved south. The ruins were noted by the Lewis and Clark Expedition on August 18, 1804.
Jesse Wigle is believed to be the first white settler in the area, staking a claim in 1856. In 1871 Squire Martin Mansfield crossed Omaha Creek with a load of lumber and tools. He built a house for himself, another where John and Joseph Smith both lived and ran a general store, and helped his brother-in-law Josiah Davis build a flour mill.
Although Mansfield is credited with naming the town for the Greek poet, Homer, the Smiths surveyed the town site and are generally regarded as the founders of the town. The streets were named for their children. The town of Homer actually came to the forefront after a neighboring village, Omadi, was washed away by flood waters. Records show that their post office was moved to Homer on January 23, 1874.
The town was incorporated on February 1, 1875, but for reasons unknown, the incorporation status was dropped. Through the efforts of Mansfield, it was renewed 12 years later by the county commissioners.
In 1893 there were 42 businesses and services listed in Homer. There was also a cornet band and an orchestra that provided entertainment for the town of 400.
The Burlington Railroad built through Homer in 1906, adding more status and stability to the community. Tim O'Connor, livestock dealer, shipped the first carload of stock on the new rail line.
The area has been plagued by many disasters. Fires destroyed business after business in 1903, 1907, 1908, 1912, and 1913. The old bucket brigade was no match for the flames that would sweep from one frame business to another, burning whole blocks and many residences. Many buildings were replaced by brick structures. With community support, a new fire and town hall was built in 1968, and additional stalls added later. The senior citizens rent space from the village, and have built a kitchen and a storage area just to the south of the hall.
Flood waters along the Omaha Creek have plagued the community. Heavy rains in 1920 damaged or destroyed nearly 75 residences and businesses, and a flood in 1940 inundated most of the town and took four lives. Since then a flood plain ordinance was passed. Plans for turning the old park into a housing development in 1980 were wisely scrapped.
A school was established very early in Homer's history. At one point, the old hotel was purchased and used for a school. The district was reorganized in the 1960s at which time it consolidated with 11 rural districts. A new building costing half a million dollars was constructed on the south edge of town. The school serves the K-12 students from the area, and has a hard surfaced track and football field.
Homer has Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic churches.
Located on highway 77, the town has a good balance of shops and businesses. A state bank was chartered in 1954, and a firm that builds steel communication towers is headquartered in Homer. This is also the location of a cartography company that prints and distributes maps of Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado.
The logistics of Homer places it within the scope of Siouxland development, so it is among Nebraska's growing communities. The village, with a population of 564, is governed by a village board that includes Bill Krause, Leo Pigg, Bud Vassar, Richard Fox, and Don Esch, chairman. Darlene Vavra is Village Clerk and the maintenance man is David Donnelly.
By Darlene Vavra, Village Clerk, Homer, NE 68030.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Dakota County Historical Society book.