Clatonia -- Gage County
Clatonia is located between Lincoln and Beatrice, six miles west of Highway 77 on Highway 41, near a creek by the same name. In 1855, when a proposed town named "Clatonia" was approved as the seat of government for "Clay County" by the territorial legislature, the small scattering of pioneers dreamed it would become "a city of considerable size." However, after nine years, during which time little progress was made in development, "someone -- without the permission of the people living in Clay County -- prevailed upon the legislature to carve it up." The south half was given to Gage County and the north half was joined to Lancaster County. "Old" Clay County disappeared from the map, as did the paper town of Clatonia.
By 1869 the German immigrants, who had taken up homesteads, established a post office which they named "Baden," for the province in Germany. These God-fearing people had established schools and organized congregations. A Methodist church was built in 1871. When the location of the post office was changed in 1874, the name, "Clatonia," was revived. As settlement continued, a Lutheran church was established one mile to the west in 1883, and the second Lutheran congregation four miles to the southeast in 1884. All three still active today.
Two more decades passed before Henry Albert and J.H. Steinmeyer actually founded a town. In 1892 these men had a site surveyed and a plat filed. The village of Clatonia was incorporated the following year! All this was the result of the Rock Island Railroad establishing its line from Chicago to Denver in 1892-93. With train service available, the residents of Clatonia could buy a ticket that would take them to Lincoln and back the same day.
The first family to establish residency in Clatonia was Henry Jones. His nephew Frank, appointed postmaster, started the first telephone company in northern Gage County, had the first automobile, and built one of the first radio sets.
In 1893 Henry Steinmeyer established an elevator, and soon there was a lumberyard and grocery store. In 1894 Henry and William Steinmeyer built a bank and the following year Henry Albert started one across the street. Robbers blew up the safe in the Steinmeyer Bank in 1897 and stole Rev. Sallenback's ponies and buggy to make their getaway. A few weeks later the ponies were found in a pasture eight miles southwest of Lincoln, but there was no sign of the robbers or the $1,500 they had stolen. With no insurance to cover the loss, Steinmeyers went in with Albert and established The Farmer's Bank of Clatonia. The bank struggled during the 1930s, but survived. Charles and Mary Schuerman bought controlling interest in 1963.
Clatonia continued to grow until World War I, after which the number of residents and businesses declined. Following World War II, however, many returning servicemen chose to establish businesses in Clatonia. Gaylord Henke and Raymond Rehm established Vet's Service Station. Harvey Rehm bought Orris Heller's tavern. His son Richard now owns it. William Steinmeyer became the postmaster in 1949 and Raymond Walker was the rural mail carrier. A good number of second and third generation people now operate the businesses and provide the services needed by the community. In 1992 Ron Suden is postmaster and Laura Gerlach is rural carrier.
A fine brick high school was built in Clatonia in 1924, with an auditorium added later. After consolidating with Wilber in 1965, the old building was torn down, but the gym was retained. A kitchen and meeting room were added, and in 1972 it was dedicated as the Clatonia Community Center. Used for social and family gatherings, the adjoining playground area, picnic table shelter, and ball diamond add to the town's facilities.
Clatonia is not a declining community. In fact, the 1980 population of 273 was a record high. Our present population stands at 296! The village has a good water supply, modern sewer system, and paved streets. A town and rural volunteer fire department keep the fire truck, ambulance, and other equipment in a building on main street, and the rescue squad is manned by trained personnel.
Clatonia has an active Commercial Club that sponsors events such as an annual pancake feed, hands out treats at Christmas, and provides activities for the people who live here. We are proud of our town.
By Grace Janssen, Box 116, Clatonia, NE 68328. Pictures from Rosa Riechers, Edmund Krauter, Raymond Rehm, Larry Krauter, Florence Schuerman, and Betty Schuerman.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: "Clatonia" from Gage County History, 1983; The Steinmeyer History, Wm. Steinmeyer; and Perkey's Nebraska Place Names.