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Nebraska...Our Towns

Adams -- Gage County

Adams' General Store. L-R: Hannah Shaw Noxon, Georgia Noxon Ripley, Ruby Ripley, Neva Ripley, and Bacon Davis. N.D. [Nebraska State Historical Society]

When Nebraska became a territory in 1854, settlers did not venture far from the Missouri River. By the spring of 1857, however, white men "in considerable numbers" went as far west as the Nemaha Valley in what was then "Clay County," now northern Gage. One of these men was John Adams. Born in 1808, Adams married Letitia Harris in 1840. Deciding to relocate in this new land in 1856, Adams went as far as Missouri, where he stayed the winter with a brother.

Come spring, Adams crossed the Missouri River and journeyed until he found this spot in the beautiful Nemaha Valley. He marked the location in Section 26 with a piece of bark stretched between two saplings upon which he wrote, "John O. Adams claims this tract of land this 30th day of March, 1857."

When he returned with his family of nine, there was no sign of any other inhabitants -- or even wagon tracks -- for many miles. They moved into a house made from logs, just east of where our town now stands. Adams held "squatter sovereignty" over his 160 acres and claimed the title of "first settler" in the county, long before homestead laws were established.

On July 6, 1857, the Stephen P. Shaw family, consisting of 21 members, arrived in six wagons and settled on the north side of the Nemaha River about a mile west of Adams'. Shaw helped organize the first school district, and his wife Hannah (nee Hicks) started the first Sunday School. During the next few years other settlers included: Silvernail, Lyons, Noxon, Gale, Hildebrand, Golden, Curtis, Barmore, Bryson, Whyman, Horrum, Merrick, Galloway, Clark, and Killen.

Stories are told of Indians breaking into Alfred Gale's house in 1859 and taking "everything eatable." At John Lyons', they ran off the livestock. During the "great Indian scare" on the Big Blue and Nemaha in the early 1860s, settlers buried or hid what they could not load up in wagons prior to making a run for their lives. Silas Bryson told many "colorful tales" of these early days.

When Adams' daughter Nancy married Plymton Zuver in 1868, she received title to the land where the present town site is located. She sold it to her father for $400. Then in 1873, when the Atchison & Nebraska Railroad built its line through Adams Township, Adams gave the railroad a half-interest in the land. He had successfully established a post office in December 1872, so when the depot was established, the town was already named "Adams." The "Laona" post office, established in 1867 several miles to the west, later combined with Adams.

John Adams and William Curtis built a grain elevator and store in the new village in 1874. Gillette opened a blacksmith shop in 1875. In 1880 John Spellman erected a store with a complete stock of goods -- from implements to clothing. Dr. McKibben, first resident physician, also began his practice.

A bank was chartered in 1884. Other businesses included a drug store, Sumpter's hardware, the Clark & Whyman Mercantile, Grandma Noxon's store, Blakely Furniture, and the Valley Hotel. A flour and feed mill was established in 1905 as was the power plant that brought electric lights.

The first school was held in a dug out. In 1882 a two-story building was erected near the present school, with a brick structure for 12 grades built at a cost of $16,000 in 1909. An auditorium was added in 1924 at a cost of $24,000. A new elementary school was built in 1976, and several years later a gymnasium and high school classrooms were added.

The first Methodist Church was built in 1882. The Presbyterians, organized in 1880, also held services in that structure for several years, building at their present site in 1889. When the Methodist built a new church in 1902, the Baptists purchased the old one and moved it to a lot west of the school.

An ordinance was passed on March 10, 1892, "to prohibit the sale, giving away, delivering or furnishing in any manner, any spiritous malt, vinous, or intoxicating liquor, within the village." By the 1930s the main street boasted a dime store, a bowling alley, and a theater, but no saloon.

We are proud of the present businesses that care for the needs of our 395residents and surrounding area. We have an accredited school, three active churches, many new homes, and the Gold Crest Retirement Center. We invite you to come to Adams.


By Byrleta Pittam, historian, 401 5th Street, Adams, NE 68301