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Nebraska...Our Towns

Tecumseh -- Johnson County

The Burlington Station at Tecumseh, prior to 1910. [Alfred J. J. Holck]

A land surveying team, working westward in March 1856 wrote, "...the north fork of the Great Nemaha runs through the east side [of the township], on each side of which are extensive bottom lands...lime and limestone good for building are abundant...timber (walnut, elm, oak, hickory, and hackberry) is found...no settlement has yet been made."

Soon after the territory was opened, Col. John Boulware sold his ferry business and chose a spot on the route to Marysville to locate a town. It was situated near the Big Nemaha River 37 miles southwest of Nebraska City (known then as Fort Kearny) and 30 miles due west of Brownville. Boulware chose the name "Tecumseh," after the famous Shawnee Chief killed in battle by Col.Richard Johnson, for whom the county was named. A town site plat was filed in July 1856, a post office was established in January 1857, and in February of that year, Tecumseh was named county seat.

To raise the money to build a courthouse, lots were donated from the town site called "Lexington" and at Tecumseh to be sold at auction. There were, however, no buyers. C. A. Goshen, I. C. Lawrence, and George McCoy, who realized the importance of an established county seat, formed a committee, drew up plans, and "saw to its completion," a building 12 feet by 16 feet.

Almost before it was finished, a petition demanded a vote on the relocation of the county seat. The election results were: Tecumseh 46, Kingston 47, and Centerville 3. Since no locality had "a majority of the votes," the law stated that the county seat remain where it was, in Tecumseh, and both challengers disappeared from the maps.

Tecumseh, an "inland town" away from the Missouri, struggled to survive. All materials and supplies had to be hauled overland, and while there was an adequate supply of game and crops, getting them marketed was a problem, so money was scarce. Interest rates were from 18 to 60 percent.

In 1870-71 the possibility of the Atchison & Nebraska line coming through the area was hotly pursued. With the help of bonds passed in Lincoln, the line was laid through Johnson County, linking it to the new capital city in 1872. The railroad proved to be "...the impetus to the growth and stability" needed.

In April, when the first train arrived at the depot in the southern end of town, there were about 100 homes and 20 businesses. Most buildings were frame, with the typical false front to make them appear larger and to offer space for the name of the establishment. By the 1880s, more substantial brick was being used. Tecumseh reached its peak in 1940, with 2,104 residents.

The first school was held in 1856, with the parents paying "by subscription" for its teacher, Mr. Lawrence. Evolving over the years, the present school system includes facilities for over 400 students K-12.

An early church was organized when nine persons met at the schoolhouse in Tecumseh on February 8, 1868. Meetings were held at the courthouse for a number of years until a church could be built. A brick church was erected in 1880, and a larger building in 1899. Now there are many active churches in Tecumseh.

The first bank was established in 1871, with a number of "bank wreckings and bank failures" over the years. The Johnson County Bank currently serves the community. The first newspaper, "The Journal," was published in Brownville in 1867 and sent to Tecumseh for distribution. Two years later, the "Tecumseh Chieftain" was established. As a county seat, it was not uncommon for there to be several newspapers published at any one time, but many gave up for want of support.

The Nebraska City-Holdrege line was completed through Tecumseh in 1882 and served for about 70 years. In the decline of rail traffic, this branch was abandoned in segments, with the line between Tecumseh and Johnson abandoned in 1985. The Burlington Northern mainline still provides freight service through town.

In addition to a trading center for the agricultural community, industries have included an iron foundry, a canning factory, a roller mill, and a poultry plant that employs up to 250 persons. Keim Construction, established in 1882, built one of the first highway projects from Tecumseh to Crab Orchard and continues state-wide.

Tecumseh, now well into its second century, will mark its 150th anniversary in 2006.

By Jane Graff from material found in Johnson County History, Perkey's Nebraska Place Names.