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Nebraska...Our Towns

Filley -- Gage County

"The bridge at Filley," N.D. [Nebraska State Historical Society]

Mud Creek Township, established in 1858 when Gage County was surveyed, was not far from the St. DeRoin Trail, which angled west-southwest from Nebraska City and connected with the Oregon Trail in Jefferson County. A cutoff of that trail went through the west side of what later became our town, Filley.

The first pre-emption claim was filed in 1859 by James Dunn. Benjamin Blakely arrived in 1862, and George Franklin in 1863. Of all the homestead claims filed in the township, only 26 were actually carried out to final patent.

The Agricultural Land Grant Act in 1867, while probably not intended to, allowed land speculators to acquire large tracts of land and hold them "until the price was right." Alvah Buckingham purchased 2,560 acres; Adolphus and Julia Gale purchased 1,440 acres in Gage and Pawnee counties; and later John Scully, a native of Ireland, purchased 36,000 acres in southern Nebraska, some in this township. Known as Scully Leases for many years, and passed down to his descendants, it is now managed as General Agricultural Services, Ltd.

A great deal of our town can be attributed to the vision of Elijah Filley, who arrived with his wife Emma Jane, and two sons in 1867. At age 28, he purchased six quarter-sections of government land, the first "upland homesteads" taken in the county. Others had already taken the choice land in the valley or along the creeks.

Mrs. Filley, who did not want to live in a dugout, worked along side her husband and father-in-law to quarry lime and fire it in a kiln to build a stone house around the tent they used for temporary shelter. With a thatched roof completed just before winter, it was given the name "Cottage Hill Farm."

Filley purchased his first pair of oxen after his horses took sick and died. He soon had 18-head of oxen. He contracted to break sod, and ran three freight wagons, which took livestock and grain to Nebraska City, 75 miles east, and returned with goods, lumber, and flour. The Filley Freight Service continued even after train service arrived in Beatrice in 1876.

Filley's stone barn -- best known feature of the area -- was built, in part, because of the need for employment during the terrible grasshopper plague and drought that struck in the early 1870s. The project kept many settlers from losing their land. Built into a hillside, the lower level had stalls for 60 animals. The three-inch plank that covered the main floor was caulked with oakum (made from hemp) and covered with melted pitch to be water-tight for 30 additional stalls. The loft held 100 tons of hay. Completed in late November, a stone inscribed "Built By Elijah Filley - AD 1874" was set above the west door, and a grand barn dance was attended by everyone in the community.

The barn, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, was described as the largest limestone structure presently known, and one of the most magnificent barns in the state. The cost of restoration through grants and by the Gage County Historical Society, was many times the original cost of the building. It is now available for numerous activities and hopefully will stand as a land mark for another 100 years or so.

Cottage Hill Post Office was located on Lucious Filley's homestead in 1874. When word was received that the Republican Valley Railroad would be putting a branch line across the area, Elijah Filley purchased the Scott homestead in Section 28 and had a town plat surveyed by Anselmo Smith. Recorded on April 20, 1883, the first train arrived in the new town of "Filley" on September 2. Later, when the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad operated the line, there were both freight trains and (what was called) the longest passenger run not serving a major population area. The steam-powered passenger train was retired in 1928, and a "motor car" operated on a tri-weekly schedule. When the railroad ceased operation on December 13, 1943, no one came to witness the event. History noted, "...With two short blasts on the whistle, and the call, 'All aboard,' Number 114 pulled out of the station and was gone forever."

But Filley did not die. While its peak population was recorded in 1890 at just over 300, the current population is still 170. Located in the rolling hills east of Beatrice, a consolidated K-12 school is available for about 100 students, several churches continue to serve the community, and good roads provide easy access to larger towns for employment and markets.


From material and photos submitted by Michael Hendrickson, 3930 North 72nd, Lincoln, NE 68500.


ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Once Upon A Time Their Hopes Were High...Filley, NE, 1883-1983.