Henry Badger, a surveyor, came to Fillmore County in 1868. While the county had been "defined" and surveyed, it had not yet organized. By 1870 there was a large migration into the area so rush was on. On April 17, 1871, an election was held in the dugout-residence of Nathaniel McCalla. Officers were elected, and the site of the county seat was determined as, "the farm that McCalla owned," which happened to be in the center of the county. When the commissioners met to accept the town plat, which was called "Henry," McCalla's daughter Emma suggested they choose instead the name of a city in New York state. They did. On June 22, 1872, an ad in the "Nebraska Bulletin" said:
Sale of Lots at the County Seat
The County Commissioners
Bid Off the Courthouse Square
Name Changed from Henry to Geneva.
In 1873 a load of lumber was dumped on the ground for the courthouse and jail by the contractor, Jesse Thompson. These "temporary structures" served for 20 years. In 1893 a new, much grander courthouse was completed. Remodeling throughout the years, which included the addition of an elevator, has kept it functional and accessible to citizens. A cherished feature is the tower clock, purchased in 1909 with money raised by popular subscription, which strikes on the hour and half-hour. The courthouse was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
The first post office was in David Lee's house, just south of Geneva. Rural mail delivery was established in 1901 and city mail delivery was instituted in 1937. The building that currently houses the post office was dedicated August 28, 1940. One railroad still serves Geneva, but the mail is brought from Lincoln by truck.
"The Nebraska Signal," a weekly newspaper of 12-18 pages, is well beyond its 100th year of publication. Several publishers had come and gone by 1894, when the Edgecombes purchased the "Geneva Republican" and the "Journal," and later purchased "The Signal," printed in Fairmont. Evidence that newspapers led the community is seen in an early editorial that reads: "It is our determination to uphold a good moral sentiment, do all in our power to advance the educational interests, politically to advance the anti-monopoly principles, advocate measures which will compel railroads and other corporations to pay taxes proportionate to value of the property, [and] to improve the appearance of the paper."
An important institution in a community is a library. Dr. H.L. Smith donated his personal library to the Masonic and Odd Fellows orders, on condition that "the books would belong to the City of Geneva with the approval of the lodges." The trustees received a gift of $8,000 from the Carnegie Foundation. This grant, together with locally-raised funds, provided for construction of a library building, dedicated on January 7, 1913.
G.R. Wolfe was elected county superintendent in 1871 when Geneva was just a small collection of wooden buildings. H.J.Dempster was the first and only graduate of Geneva High School in 1885. One hundred years later 3,731 had graduated. The first school, located downtown, was a two-story frame building, replaced by a three-story brick structure. Today elementary students attend school in the east part of town and high school students attend classes in a large complex at the north edge of town. Included in Geneva's school population is the Nebraska Youth Development Center for disturbed youngsters. They live and attend classes in the northwest part of Geneva. Their complex includes an indoor swimming pool, open to the public at scheduled times. Grace Lutheran Church still operates an elementary school, but the Catholic parochial school has closed.
The 2,300 current inhabitants of Geneva boast a well-staffed hospital, three medical clinics, and a nursing home. Many businesses supply their other needs. Recreational facilities include a golf course, theater, downtown gym and senior center, a large park with a swimming pool, and two mini-parks for young children.
Active churches include St. Joseph Catholic, Congregational, Methodist, Peace Lutheran, Grace Lutheran, Faith Mennonite, Evangelical Free, and Assembly of God.
By Evelyn Mersch, 1246 K Street, Geneva, NE 68361