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Nebraska...Our Towns

Liberty -- Gage County

The "High Grades" at Liberty, 1889-90. [Nebraska State Historical Society]

In 1855 David Palmer ran a trading post on Cub Creek. In 1874 he was appointed by the government to buy supplies and horses for the Otoe Indians on the reservation. The town of Liberty, just six miles from the Kansas border, is located on what was the reservation from 1854-81.

Early settlers to this area were Nathaniel Cain, Allen Jammerson, and Frank Mutchmore, who like many others had come from "the South." In the early 1870s Cornelius Wymore built and operated a post office less than a mile west of the present town site, which he named "Liberty." The mail was delivered twice a week on the run from Pawnee City to Blue Springs.

The first schoolhouse was built in 1866 where Liberty was later to be. After the town was established, that building was replaced by a four-room frame school, used until it burned in 1892. A brick school was built the following year with additions made in 1916 and 1932. High school classes were discontinued in 1963. Liberty is now part of Southern Gage District 1.

Soon after the government purchased the reservation land from the remaining members of the Otoe tribe, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad built its line through Gage County. Needing a station in this location, land was deeded to the Lincoln Land Company, which laid out the streets and lots. A plat was filed in Beatrice on June 19, 1881. Needing a name, they chose that of the post office, Liberty.

When the railroad was being built there were as many as 400-500 laborers living in box cars, shanties, and temporary shelter along the tracks. The town got the name "string-town" because of the way it strung out along the tracks.

Liberty grew rapidly. James Gay, a native of England, was already busy as the village blacksmith. E.W.Lane had the first general store, and the Olmstead family established a newspaper, "The Liberty Journal," in 1882. J. D. Lewis put up a building and opened a restaurant, where he carried a full line of fancy groceries, confectionery, and tobacco. He and his brother also ran the livery stable, a meat market, a feed store, and a sale barn. A. V. Starr arrived on an early train and built a hotel costing $1,000.

A Missionary Baptist was the first church to organize. Other churches included a Christian, two Presbyterian, and a Methodist. Later, when several disbanded, a Congregational Church was established, which is now called the Liberty Church.

The first bank was organized in 1882 by Frank Stewart and E. E. Harden. Their Bank of Liberty, later called the First National Bank of Liberty. Now known as the State Bank of Liberty, it is affiliated with First National Bank of Beatrice. In 1917 the Farmers State Bank was organized.

The "money panic" hit Liberty hard in 1893. The whole nation was in a depressed mood as politicians argued the question of "silver vs. gold standard." Silver lost. When that happened, the price of corn was less than 15 cents a bushel, and cattle sold for $8 to $10 a head. Many farmers sold out for what they could get and a number of businesses closed.

Liberty's population went from an official all-time high of 469 in 1890 to the present 105. The town is proud of having two state legislators, J. R. Buffomgton (in 1895) and G. R. Fouoke (in 1897). In addition, U.S. Senator Kenneth Wherry, and former New York Times editor, Raymond McCaw, were both born and raised in Liberty.

 

From material gleaned from the recent Gage County History book.