Early in the 1870s a grocery store, blacksmith, and post office in the town of "Hayes" were doing a brisk business. In the mid-1880s, when the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad purchased land to build its line between Omaha and Fremont, a new town was established two miles south and one mile east, and Hayes vanished.
Settlers along the right-of-way, mostly from Germany, included the Peter Bunz, John Labs, Claus Oft, and Dick Monell families, who had homesteaded in the area to be close to relatives and friends. Initially called "Bunz Town," some thought a more historic name should be given to the community, such as "Bennington," for a famous Revolutionary War battle. Streets were then given the names of generals; Vermont, Allen, Stark, and Molley.
The town immediately started to take shape. A hardware store was started by Simonsen and Schmidt in 1887 and completed in 1888. By then Henry Schroeder had established a harness shop, Claus Oft had built a brush dam on the Papio Creek to impound enough water to turn the turbine for a grist mill, and Felix Ebner had hastily put up a rude structure with boards and tar paper. The next year he built a more permanent structure, which is now the Silver Dollar Pool Hall. Eggert Oft built a livery stable and a hotel, both of which burned in the fire of 1913.
On April 15, 1892, Bennington was incorporated by swelling the census to the required 100 residents by counting all the railroad workers camped nearby. For the next 30 years the town showed continued growth in the number of homes and businesses. Six passenger trains a day shuttled people and goods to and from town. As automobile ownership increased, the needs of the community changed, and some businesses faltered and closed.
However, people still found Bennington to be a great place to live and raise a family. In addition to its location, near -- but not in -- Nebraska's largest city, Bennington, with its good accredited school, a strong church, congenial neighbors, and little or no crime, was just what they were looking for. To assure a pure water supply for its citizens, a central disposal plant replaced the outhouses and septic systems. Soon whole blocks of new homes were built and annexed to the city.
Bennington was the site of Northwestern Bell's pilot program to upgrade phones from operators to an automatic dialing system. Modern mercury street lights have replaced the early kerosene-burning lanterns, lit and extinguished by hand. There are many well-kept parks, which are enjoyed by residents which attract outside groups, who also make good use of the picnic areas.
St.John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, for many years the only congregation, will celebrate its centennial in 1998. Its beautiful edifice, high on the hill, is the center for many town activities. Many members have been baptized, confirmed, married, and have seen their children and grandchildren follow in their footsteps. A new Baptist Church recently opened in the downtown area.
Bennington's pride knew no bounds when the football team placed first in C1 in 1989. The wrestling team took the Class B 1987 title and first over-all in the 1990 state meet. Basketball and baseball are also well supported, with a Class B Championship in 1959 by our Legion Midget team.
Due to the tireless efforts of the Woman's Club, Tree Board, and many conscientious citizens, Bennington was designated by the Arbor Day Foundation as "Tree City U.S.A." in 1989. This spring more trees, purchased by OPPD, were set out in the parkway along Highway 156 and on Stark Street. The Woman's Club was also instrumental in establishing the public library, exceptionally well-suited to the needs of the community.
The proximity of city industries, businesses, and offices aid and abet life for the citizens of our small town of just over 800. Early each morning a caravan of cars heads down the highway as many residents leave for jobs in Omaha. At night the traffic pattern is reversed, as workers return, eager to reach "home" and the good life in our town, Bennington.
By Gretchen Mangold, Bennington, NE 68007, from "A Brief Early History of Bennington," (the 50th year pageant) written in 1937 and revised in 1990.