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Nebraska...Our Towns

FIRTH -- LANCASTER COUNTY

Very early in Nebraska's history -- prior to 1860 -- a "courthouse square" was set-aside in a town platted at this location. Evidence of its existence is noted by the location of a park in the center of Firth. Located near the middle of "old Clay County" on the Nemaha River, this was thought to be "the western-most region for white settlement," and as such, settlement did not burst forth. Any residents were obliged to travel to Nebraska City for supplies.

In 1863 politicians in Lancaster and Gage counties, taking advantage of the lack of organization, split Clay County between them -- each taking half and doing away with it altogether. There was still no sign of a town in 1866, only a family named Givens living here.

However, in 1870 when the Atchison & Nebraska Railroad built north out of Kansas "under the dynamic leadership of Frank Firth," a town was established. From Rulo, the line went northwest to Humboldt. From there, the company offered to build the line either to Lincoln (via Beatrice or Tecumseh) or to Plattsmouth (through Nebraska City) depending on which community subscribed "sufficient aid along the line." A delegation from Lincoln came to Tecumseh promising $120,000 in bonds, free land for a depot, and a right-of-way through the city. The rails were completed to Lincoln by early fall 1872.

A station was needed in South Pass Precinct. The post office, named "Firth," was opened in Section 35 on December 6, 1872, and a plat was filed on July 28, 1873. The D. E. Champion, who established a "scoop house" near the railroad, was the first to build a house. The town was incorporated on January 20, 1879. By 1881 Firth was said to have been one of the largest grain markets on the A&N, shipping out some 700 carloads of grain and livestock.

Firth was known for its fine flour mill owned by the Kilbourne Brothers, whose "Golden Crown" was a popular brand. Several other mills also served the vicinity, most of them falling prey to fire or flooding.

A lumberyard was established soon after the railroad arrived. In 1910 the business was purchased by Eilert Harms. Surviving a fire in 1916, the company remained in the family, managed by John Harms and later by Howard Harms.

A bank was organized in 1891. Incorporators included such community leaders as Spencer, Collins, Harms, Adams, Kramer, and Heckman. It endured through many good times and bad, but closed during the Depression. The Cooperative Credit Association, which liquidated in June 1966, was replaced by the Firth State Bank in July with Roland Beach president and Gerald TeKolste vice-president and cashier.

A two-story schoolhouse served the town for many years. In 1916 a brick school was built and the 12th grade added. Firth consolidated with other schools to form the Norris school district in 1964. In 1971, after standing empty for a number of years, the building was torn down.

There are two active churches. The Firth Reformed Church, organized in 1890, continues to serve a membership of over 250. A Presbyterian Church, built in 1881, was destroyed by fire in 1946. During the rebuilding, the congregation affiliated with the Bible Presbyterian Testimony, and then as the Firth Community Church.

Firth has had a water tower for many years. In the 1950s a sewage system was installed, and Main Street got a coat of asphalt. The remaining streets were paved in 1973. Lakeview Rest Home, which provides care for 38 people on a non-profit basis, was built in the northeast part of Firth in the 1970s. Funds for its construction were raised in the Firth, Pella, and Holland communities on land donated by Henry and Bertha TeKolste.

Firth's population is said to have reached 450 in the early 1900s, but dropped during the 1930s and again after World War II. Located in a good agricultural area, the elevator provides a local market for grain, and a dozen shops serve the needs of the residents. A number of new homes were built in the 1960s and 1970s, bringing the population to 385 in 1980, and to 471 in 1990. People choosing to move to Firth today do so because of the quiet, pleasant, and congenial atmosphere found in this community.

From material submitted by Elinor Brown of Ceresco from her Lancaster history book; Perkey's Nebraska Place Names, ; with additions by Roland F. Beach, Village Clerk-Treasurer.