WILSONVILLE -- FURNAS COUNTY
In 1872 Civil War veteran Alonzo Plumb and his sister, Louisa Jane from Wisconsin, staked separate claims near the present village of Wilsonville. They petitioned to locate a post office. In April 1873 Jane Plumb was commissioned postmaster of "Wild Turkey," so-named because of the abundance of turkeys roaming Beaver Creek Valley.
Later that year Pennsylvania-born Lorenzo Wilson moved here from Virginia City, Nevada, and established his homestead which included land within present day Wilsonville. After building his dugout, he began selling food, hardware, clothing, and other necessities to settlers and travelers. Increasing demands for supplies necessitated the building of a larger frame structure that he stocked with $5,000 worth of merchandise. The locals met and proposed a new town name "...where merchant Wilson was established," and chose "Wilsonville." The Wild Turkey post office was moved to the new town and growth began.
February, 1887 saw the first issue of the "Wilsonville Review" that stated "...Wilsonville is a town of about 300 inhabitants...while last year there were but two or three houses, at present there are 70 or 80 homes. We are a booming town soon to have a railroad. We are fast growing into prominence and will soon reach the ranks of a city."
The first train arrived before year's end. Within two years the "Review" listed nearly 60 businesses.
When its population peaked at 500 in the 1920s Wilsonville boasted of being the largest livestock rail-shipping point in Nebraska. There are still large cattle operations today, but shipping is done primarily by truck.
In 1892 the Beaver Valley Harvest Home & Exposition Society began to "disseminate knowledge in agriculture, horticulture, arts and science, and for sociability." A park was laid out and a large exhibition hall erected. Each September merchants promoted a festival called "Harvest Home." Community residents competed for prizes in categories from quilting to livestock, with essays written by the high school graduating class. In 1895 it was estimated that 2,500 to 3,000 people attended. The exhibition hall is gone but in its place are rodeo grounds, a park, and ball diamond. Since 1967 the Saddle Club has sponsored an annual rodeo that brings in large crowds.
School was first held in the 1870s in a sod house. An early settler told of a time when 105 pupils were taught by one teacher! Wilsonville graduated seniors from 1896 to 1981. At that time the school district merged with Beaver Valley School in Lebanon, but maintains a K-6 school.
Rural mail delivery was established in 1903 and a telephone system in 1905, with rural lines completed the following years. The first automobile showed up in 1906, with cement sidewalks replacing boardwalks in 1908. Electricity began on a limited basis in 1916, with full service available in town by 1920, but rural homes waited until 1945-50. A waterworks system was completed in 1929, explaining the many fine buildings lost to fire in earlier years.
Wilsonville enjoyed the support of the surrounding rural areas. Precincts of Sherman, Lynden, Tyron, and Rockton each had several one-room schools that provided learning and social activities. Names like Sunflower, Anderson, and Bradley, plus the Kansas community of Devises, are often mentioned in news items.
Six Christian denominations have been active within the village of Wilsonville. In rural areas many groups met in homes, schools, and small one-room churches over the years.
Today Wilsonville is a quiet farming and retirement community. The village population is 200, but it supports a good selection of businesses and services.
Wilsonville never became the city predicted in 1887, but did succeed as a settlement where roots are deep and history fondly recalled. The town's heritage is stitched with the memories of Indian scares, old Stone Fort, medicine shows, the opera house, social events, KKK gatherings, crow, wolf, and coyote hunts, garden groups, Chautauqua, literary guild, tennis clubs, and brass bands. There have been good times and bad, moments of courage, sorrow, disasters, nonsense, and joy that weave a people into a community. Its fabric is sturdy. Wilsonville IS!
By Sondra Spence Horning, 4448 Woolworth, Omaha, NE 68105
"The Land Where the Meadowlark Sings" by Garey, Merlin
"The Garey Family 75th Anniversary" by Garey, Merlin
"The Orr Family" by Garey, Merlin
"Where the Wind Blows Free" by Gelpin, Burhl
"Wilsonville 100 Years of the Good Life" by Centennial Committee
"The History of Furnas County" by Furnas County Genealogical Society
"Devises" by Abernathy, Charles