Even before rails for the great "Iron Horse" were making inroads into the interior of Nebraska, towns were popping up everywhere. By the mid 1800s pioneers began to cross the Missouri and settle near the primary rivers in the Nebraska Territory.
In 1856 Gustavus Smith came from Chicago to northeast Nebraska. He, his wife, and two children, Anne and Lewis, plus his mother-in-law, shared the large house that he built of logs. The three Hoese brothers, brothers-in-law of Smith, also pre-empted land in the vicinity. In 1863, when the Hoese brothers decided to take up homesteads near the mouth of Bow Creek, they sold their Dixon County land to Smith, giving him title to a very large tract.
Soon thereafter, Smith built a new, even-larger house. It was so large and imposing in appearance that people referred to it as the "NEW CASTLE," resulting, according to legend, in the naming of our town. When the new house was completed, the log house was used as a hotel to accommodate travelers between Omaha and Fort Randall, on the old Post Road. Many famous characters, such as Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane, Captain Jack Crawford, and General Crook, are said to have stopped at the Newcastle Inn from time to time.
From a modest beginning in the 1870s, Newcastle became a flourishing little town. Schools and churches were established. When neighboring Ionia, on the banks of the Missouri River, was washed away by flood waters, its people moved to Newcastle. Soon as many as 60 or 70 businesses lined the main street. People looking for a new home found Newcastle a pleasant place to live.
By the 1890s rails were being extended into the more isolated areas of the region to accommodate settlers in established communities. In 1892 Smith and several other influential businessmen met with the board of directors of the St.Paul & Omaha Railroad, hoping it would agree to put a line through Newcastle. The request was granted.
This action touched off a great economic expansion period for the community. Newcastle was incorporated by 1893. With families arriving daily, a new school was needed by 1897. It was fully accredited by the early 1900s. The town's population reached its peak of nearly 500 in 1911.
The grand 4th of July celebration that summer was the event, however, that brought near-disaster to Newcastle. Firecrackers, carelessly thrown, sparked a fire that roared through the streets, leaving only ashes behind. Many people, their reason for living here destroyed, pulled up stakes and moved on. Others salvaged what they could and rebuilt again.
With the strength and optimism that still exists in the community, a new town grew from the ashes -- somewhat smaller than before -- about the size it is today, with a population of about 350.
Currently, many people who live in Newcastle work in Sioux City or Yankton. They live here because they like to raise their families in a small-town environment.
Newcastle has four active churches. Our belief in God is part of the strength found here.
As rural schools closed and the Obert-Maskell district merged with Newcastle, our school grew in size. It is a great source of pride and the center of constant activity. Our children are our future!
Breisch's General Store is the only business remaining that survived the 1911 fire. We now have 23 other businesses that meet the needs of the town and farming community.
Newcastle has a Legion and auxiliary, P.T.A., and a new fire hall, a tremendous volunteer fire department, and an EMT unit. In addition to many new homes, a number of old buildings have been renovated. We also boast of "Annie's Site," an archaeological dig recorded in the National Register of Historic Places, and "Buckskin Hills," a man-made recreational lake built to control run-off water. A community youth center has recently become a reality.
Our town board and the community club cooperate and work to better the lives of the citizens of Newcastle. They fill the year with activities to keep our small community together and help it to be the best it can be.
By Sharon Boehmer, Box 212, Newcastle, NE 68757