"We're Small, But We Have It All" is the slogan you see as you enter the Hampton city limits on Highway 34. Our town owes its beginning to the vision of one man, and the coming of the railroad.
The railroad -- the Burlington & Missouri River -- built a line west from Lincoln to Hampton, arriving in 1879. The man was Joshua Cox, who drove over the entire eastern part of the county in a lumber wagon to obtain signatures on a petition to get a town located where Hampton is. Cox had purchased 400 acres of land in 1879. It was here that he platted a town. Later he purchased 600 acres next the original tract, and his brother James purchased 1,000 acres adjoining Joshua's land.
The Cox brothers called the new town "Plano," after the city in Illinois where they had lived. The railroad objected, since there was another station by that name, and proposed the name "Murray." The inhabitants objected for reasons unknown. Finally the name "Hampton" was agreed upon by all concerned.
Building began immediately. Ernest Leyrer built a general merchandise store with living quarters above. A home was built by C.R. Young, who also built a grocery store. Incorporation was completed in 1879, indicating that there were 200 or more residents within the first year of existence. Because of the town's location on the B&MR's mainline, elevators equipped to handle large amounts of grain have always been a major business.
By 1882 there were 25 business establishments, and the 1887 Nebraska State Gazetteer and Business Directory listed 49 business places. In 1886 there were 600 inhabitants. German, Danish, and Swedish settlements were located north of Hampton, and a Russian community south and east of town, all of which made Hampton their trading headquarters.
The first schoolhouse was built in 1881, with Joel Sauls listed as its teacher. A larger elementary school was built in 1885, and in 1913 a new 12-grade school was built. This structure served Hampton until 1958, when a new elementary school was built. A high school was erected in 1972.
In early times, Hampton had both a Christian and a Methodist church. The Christian closed before 1910 and the Methodist in 1949. There are now two Lutheran churches:
-- St.Peter's German Lutheran, organized in 1910, with services held in the vacant Christian Church until 1915 when a new church was built. A new sanctuary was built in 1967. A parochial school was built in 1958.
-- The United Lutheran is the result of a merger between the Danish Lutheran congregation, three miles north of town, and the English Lutheran Church which organized in 1916. Its place of worship was purchased from the Christian Church, just after it was vacated by the other Lutheran congregation. Following the merger of the two groups in 1962, a new church was built. The Danish Church was moved to Stuhr Museum in Grand Island, where it has been restored.
The Hampton IOOF Opera House, built in 1893 on main street, provided the community with space for various groups of entertainers, school activities, dances, and civic meetings. Of special interest are the walls around the stage, said to be "a solid mass of names of persons who took part in the activities there." In 1987 this building, whose upper floor has remained just as it was when it closed in 1928, became one of 26 opera houses now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. An auditorium was built in 1939 and continues to be the center of community activities.
The Stephen C. Houghton Memorial Masonic Temple, said to be the first of its kind in the country, was dedicated November 1929. An appreciation day was held in 1954 to honor Dr. Otto Michael Troester, born near Hampton in 1889, returned to the community where he practiced medicine until 1977, a total of 56 years.
Today Hampton is a town of just over 400. While the number and kinds of businesses has changed considerably, it continues to serve the needs of its citizens and of those living in the surrounding trade area. A dozen or more businesses make this their headquarters.
A grand centennial celebration was held in 1979. Our town of Hampton continues to be a credit to the man who envisioned it, and the railroad that brought it into being.
By Wilhma Malek, 1308 15th Street, Aurora, NE 68818
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: History of Hamilton & Clay Counties Nebraska , Volume I, 1921; and Centennial History of Hamilton County, 1967.