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Nebraska...Our Towns

Virginia -- Gage County

Bird's eye view of Virginia. N.D. [Nebraska State Historical Society]

The village called "Virginia" developed in a unique way. Ford Lewis had come to Nebraska in 1866 with "all the money he could borrow" from banks back east. He eventually owned 50,000 acres in Pawnee, Otoe, and Gage counties. The town, which he established nearly 20 years later, was named for his only daughter, Virginia. When grown, she and her husband Dwight Dalby continued to handle the property left to her by her father from their home in Beatrice.

The development of the town came as a result of two railroad lines being built into the area. Located 14 miles east of Beatrice, there were houses, several businesses, and an elevator before the town's plat was filed in 1887. H. R. Simpson had a store, A. L. Boyer ran a blacksmith shop, a Mr. Darwin had a livery barn, and there was a general store. A post office was established on August 30 of that year.

When the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway was built to Beatrice, Fairbury, and Hebron, some established businesses were in the way. Since the railroad wanted to lay the track where the blacksmith shop and livery barn were located, the company had to "buy them out" and tear the buildings down. Boyer rebuilt his shop, and a new livery barn went up across the street. Albert Hubka built the first brick building about then, and within five years had built several more, one of which was three-stories high.

The Missouri Pacific Railway from Kansas City made Virginia the terminal, and as such, there was a round house and turntable in town.

In 1894 businesses consisted of the depot, telegraph and express offices, two grain elevators, two stock dealers, several general stores, a restaurant and confectionary, a drug store, two fuel dealers, a harness shop, a barber, a livery and feed barn, a blacksmith, an implement dealer, a bank, a meat market, a lumber dealer, a physician, two brick masons, and a carpenter.

The first bank is said to have started in a box car. A brick bank was built, but in 1908 it was blown up and robbed. A new bank building, still in existence, was established across the street on a lot provided by Dwight and Virginia (Lewis) Dalby.

Virginia's first school was about a mile out of town. Lewis donated land for a single-story schoolhouse in 1887. For a time, the Christian Church building was used for classes, with a two-story frame school built in 1902. It was replaced in 1918 when several neighboring districts consolidated with Virginia. A large brick school was built on 15-acres of land donated by Darbys. At this time students from Virginia attend classes in the Wymore/Blue Springs district.

In 1905, with a population (at least on paper) of 200 or more, Virginia incorporated as a village. In 1910 the official population was 154. Times were good. Charles Holmes had built a cement block building for a windmill and pump supply house in 1906. Later it was used for a cheese factory. John Norcross and Ralph Ramsey built a garage in 1911, and the following year the Dalbey's built a lovely hotel, which served the community for many years.

O. D. Dratzer printed the "Virginia Review" until a fire destroyed his printing press in 1921. That fire destroyed three brick buildings on one side of the street, which were not replaced. In 1922 the old restaurant was torn down and a new building, consisting of a post office and a confectionary, was built. The following year, a Z.C.B.J. Lodge Hall and a new store were built just north of the implement house.

Changes in the local economy were reflected when the Missouri Pacific line, after several years of "discontinued service" abandoned their line to Virginia in 1925. One of the earliest railroad abandonments in Nebraska, this perhaps marked the turning point from an ever-expanding system.

The Farmers Coop elevator, located on old Rock Island right-of-way was destroyed by fire in March 1962. It was rebuilt and continues to serve farmers in the vicinity. The Rock Island line, however, was abandoned in 1967.

During his lifetime Ford Lewis kept one of the many sections of land which he owned just as he found it -- in native grass. Virginia Dalby donated some of this areas to the University of Nebraska, in her father's memory, to remain free from the plow. Today it can be enjoyed, as such, by all Nebraskans.

 

Material gleaned from "Virginia" found in a recent Gage County History book, and from railroad-historian Jim Reisdorff, South Platte Press, David City.