According to a story written by Mrs. Lee Parsons, the history of Grafton actually began in 1874. Except for the name, the present Grafton has little connection with a town by that name that figured prominently in Clay County's early history. This Grafton is actually an extension or relocation of the county's first town, "Fillmore City."
When the Burlington changed its plans in 1871 and built its line through Fillmore County instead of southern York County, it missed the little town of Fillmore City, near the northern boarder, by five miles.
Even so, C.M. Northrup decided to build his mill on the West Blue River at that location in 1872, and "made plans for a bigger and better Fillmore City." The flour from the mill, run through four burrs, was of very high quality and "in great demand." However, it had to be haul to Fairmont for shipment, a 22-mile round trip.
With the help of a friend, Northrup got the railroad to build a siding at a point four miles straight south of the mill, where he built a small warehouse. Farmers coming to the siding found this a convenient place to do business, more so than "Prairo," a post office established in 1871 a few miles from there. In 1873 the post office was moved to the nearby home of John Schaff, with his wife serving as postmaster. Then, when the railroad gave up on its town of Grafton in Clay County in March, 1874, in favor of the growing settlement at Sutton, and that designation was declared "vacated" by its officials, the railroad gave the name, Grafton, to Northrup's siding. A town site was then registered in Fillmore County using that name.
Nothing much happened until a depot was completed in 1875. By the fall of 1876 there were still only about 50 residents in the town, but it was an active grain market.
A wave of new settlers moved into the county in 1879, and with them a number of craftsmen, business, and professional people. In 1880 George Warren built a steam-powered elevator with a capacity for 20,000 bushels of grain, making Grafton one of the best grain markets on the Burlington. A bank was organized in the spring of 1881 by "an accomplished man," J.O.Chase. It did a large banking business, representing Eastern shareholders. This man later founded the well-known Chase National Bank in New York City.
"The Grafton Gazette" was established in 1881 by Hensel & Luebben, and by 1882 the town met all incorporation requirements. A "Hand-Book of Fillmore County," published in 1884, calls Grafton "one of the garden spots of the county, a growing town of 500 people." Officially, the population peaked in 1910 with just over 350 residents.
Grafton had four major fires: the first burned the Warren elevator some time before 1900, a second fire in 1912 involved five businesses on the west side of the main street, and a third one in 1929 destroyed the bank, a restaurant, and the meat market. The fourth fire on July 4, 1991, the opera house and hardware store burned.
Churches have been a high priority entity in Grafton. When the early pioneers arrived in the vicinity, 60 miles west of Lincoln, they found that churches, pastors, and priests were a luxury -- few and far between. The Irish families held services in the railroad section-house, home of George Schroer, twice a month. The first Catholic Church was built in 1880, but a resident priest was not available until 1885. The parish has continued to grow, with St. Helena's present brick structure completed in 1923. Trinity Evangelical Lutheran, organized early in the town's history, continues to serve its parishioners. For a time there was a Congregational and a Methodist church.
Schools for Grafton's young people have also been an important facet of community life, growing and improving along with the town. A schoolhouse was built on the east side of town soon after it was established. The first class to graduate from Grafton High was in 1885. The present building was completed in 1914. Graduates of Grafton High have entered many walks of life and are widely scattered over the United States. In the 1960s, Grafton returned to a K-8, and to a K-6 in 1991. School and church activities still bring out a good crowd.
Grafton held its centennial in 1982, the anniversary of its incorporation. While Grafton is a long way from its peak, the present population, 185 residents, proudly call it "home."
From material gathered by Jane Graff primarily from The Fillmore County Story , 1968, Gaffney. Pictures by Loris Valda and Jean O'Connor.