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Nebraska...Our Towns

Waterloo

Douglas County

Citizens of Waterloo stop to pose on the boardwalk in front of J.S.Nesbit Hardware Store. Date not available, but it was prior to 1902, when it was destroyed by fire. [Ralph Wilson]
A panarama of Waterloo in the early 1900s. Extreme left is Emerson Seed Company, with Coy Seed and Robinson Seed directly behind the Waterloo Elevator. Waldron Seed was built on the far right some time later. [Robinson photo]

The Village of Waterloo, on the Elkhorn and Platte Rivers, was founded by two men: John Logan, who came in 1863 right after his discharge from the Second Nebraska Volunteer Cavalry, and Elias Kelsey, who arrived in 1867. Logan established a post office in 1864, and a school in 1865. Designated a station on the Union Pacific Railroad in 1870, the town's future was assured. Named "Waterloo" [presumably for a battlefield in Belgium], an attempt to incorporate in 1871 failed, as did a second attempt. The third petition in 1883 was successful, by which time an addition had already been made.

History notes "a spectacular train wreck" near Waterloo in 1873, when a $30,000 cargo of fish bound for California fell into the Elkhorn River just east of the town.

For many years Waterloo was the world's largest producer of vine and seed corn. Coy & Sons, started in 1879, became Cornhusker Seed in the 1950s. Other companies were: Emerson Seed, Omaha Elevator, Hively Seed, Hopper Grain, Waldron Seed, Western Seed & Irrigation, Waterloo Elevator and Stimmel Seed. The J.C.Robinson Seed Company was established in 1888 and is still owned and managed by the family. It became the biggest, most prominent, and is the only one at this location today. The largest single vine seed sale occurred in the 1920s when eight railcar-loads of cucumber seeds were shipped.

Some well-known citizens include:

-- William Denton, territorial representative in 1866-67, who later opened one of the first stores in town.

-- Isaac Noyes, state senator from 1892-1900.

-- James Riggs, state senator in 1903.

-- Mabel Wilson (known throughout the state for her knowledge of Nebraska Indians and wild flowers) and her husband, Otto, who were awarded second place in the National Yard and Garden Contest in 1931.

-- Aunt Eckie Teal, a great Christian woman who had no children of her own, raised 15 orphans.

-- An inventor, P.H.Dubois, who patented a horse collar fastener in 1899.

-- John Douglas Pederson, with patents in 1905-06 dealt mostly with slide or pump action and repeating shotguns manufactured by Remington Armory.

-- Hiland Noyes and Richard Fies who invented a bank coin counter.

-- Eugene Jacobson who designed and patented the marsh buggy and muskeg tractor. He also spearheaded research and development of the technology for measuring gasoline and other liquid hydrocarbons for Gulf Oil.

-- Dan Shepherd who invented and patented a telescopic gun sight in 1981, sold as the Shepherd Scope.

Several shootings in the 1880s, and a promotional fight between a bulldog and bobcat in 1889, brought notoriety to the town. As a recreation area, Waterloo had a small excursion boat called "The Swastika," owned by H.A.Simmons. A humorous note in our history is a 1910 ordinance prohibiting barbers from eating onions.

In 1903 the Waterloo Women's Club started our library. Carrie Nation, the Kansas saloon smasher, visited Waterloo in 1908. In 1920 it was reported that 26 women voted.

Governor Franklin D.Roosevelt visited the Sumnick family farm south of Waterloo in 1932. They visited him in Washington when he became president.

A viaduct built over the Union Pacific mainline near Waterloo in 1936 was often called "Cochran Alps," because of the efforts by Governor Robert L.Cochran to have it constructed. It was replaced by a new one in 1986.

Because of its location on two very unpredictable rivers, Waterloo has been ravaged by many floods. A bond issue in 1965 resulted in a levee to help protect the town. Waterloo has a fine fire and rescue department. Chief John Love, after 36 years of service, retired in 1987.

The current population of Waterloo is about 450. While we have lost some businesses, we boast of having more celebrities visit our town than any other community this size in Nebraska. We are justly proud of our fine eating establishments. Stop by and check them out.

By Ralph C.Wilson, 501 Jefferson Street, Waterloo, NE 68069.