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Nebraska...Our Towns

BENNET -- LANCASTER COUNTY

One of the earliest pioneers to this area was Dr. Stephen A. Mecham, who purchased 360 acres of land in the Nemaha Valley in 1858. The first physician in "old Clay County," he also farmed, served as "master" of the first school, and dealt in the salt market, hauling salt from "the flats" to Iowa. Logs from along the creek bed provided lumber for several early homes, and limestone, discovered on Charles Genuchi land, was quarried for houses. Later it was utilized in the building of some state buildings in Lincoln.

In 1867, soon after Nebraska became a state, a group of men from Nebraska City and Otoe County organized an independent company to build a railroad from Nebraska City to Lincoln, then west to Fort Kearny, where it would join the Union Pacific's transcontinental line. A crew was hired to work on the right-of-way in 1868, and in 1869 the state legislature approved a land grant of 100,000 acres, estimated to provide $250,000 toward the project. It was in August 1868 that a post office was established in the vicinity. Given the name "Rebecca" it was managed by postmaster John Staley.

When the rails were being laid, a station was needed in the vicinity of the Little Nemaha River. Land was donated in Section 10 by William Roggenkamp, and with the help of Dr. Joel Converse (representing the financial interests for the project), a plat was surveyed and recorded on July 29, 1871. Named for the vice-president of the railroad, John Bennett, it was originally called "Bennett's Station." The records indicate that the second "t" was dropped from the name by 1872. When the town was incorporated in 1881, it was registered as "Bennet."

Thomas Elrod completed the first building in 1871 that served both as a store and his residence. Soon thereafter H. R. Kemper built a hotel, which was managed by Thomas Price, and in 1872 Walter Scott established a store. The Nebraska City Elevator Company built a large elevator in 1875.

The Altamah Flour Mill was built in 1875 by A. L. Strang. The new town soon had a complete line of shops and services. The railroad provided access to the ready market in the state's capital "for everything that could be grown or made."

The first newspaper, "The Bennet Record," was printed in 1883, followed by the "Union." In 1937, when Ray Clark took it over, it became the "Bennet Sun." Sold to Carrol Stewart in 1961, it became the "Sun Newspaper" published at Cotner and Garfield Streets in Lincoln for many years. It has now ceased publication.

A most tragic event which involved the Bennet area occurred in January 1958 when Charles Starkweather went on a grisly killing spree. During the escapade lasting several days and involving 13 persons, Starkweather shot August Meyer on a nearby farm where he had often gone hunting. After his car became stuck in the snow and mud, Bob Jensen and Carol King, two young people from Bennet, apparently stopped to see if they could help. They were forced into a storm-cave and brutally murdered. Several other people were killed before Starkweather was captured, tried, and then executed for the crimes.

At one time Bennet had three churches: Methodist, Christian, and Presbyterian. Some years ago the town established a United Community Church.

Local organizations include the Federated Woman's Club, 4-H Clubs, the American Legion, the IOOF and Masonic Lodges, and an active Bennet Builders for Community Betterment.

Bennet's original school was known as District 8. After consolidating with several rural districts it became District 151 for a time. In 1966 Bennet merged with Palmyra to form District OR-1. Elementary classes for 225-250 students are held in the Bennet school, with secondary students at Palmyra.

Bennet grew from a town of just over 100 in 1875 to 495 in 1900. At that time there were 23 businesses and lots of activity. During the 1930s the population declined and the number of businesses dropped to 12.

In the early 1960s, Bennet started growing again. A good water supply was available, a modern sewer system was installed, and a rural fire department was established to serve the town and the surrounding 72-section area. Many people who work in Lincoln have chosen to live in our small town. In the past 30 years, many fine homes have been built in Bennet. With the influx of new families, the 1990 population had reached 523. Bennet is still growing.

By Jane Graff from material submitted by Elinor Brown, and found in Perkey's Nebraska Name Places, and LNM Directory.