Fur Traders and explorers used a trail earlier, but 1841-43 saw the beginning of the overland trek through Nebraska on the Oregon Trail for westbound pioneers. Many of these pioneers recorded passing the landmarks known as Court House and Jail Rocks which rose majestically out of the prairie south of the North Platte River.
In 1847 the Mormons passed by this site and in 1858 a stage station was erected nearby on the run from St.Joseph to California. In the following years, freighting came from Sidney to the south, through this area on its way to Ft.Robinson and the Black Hills. The gold rush in that region in the early 1870s prompted the freighters and merchants to search for a better way to get across the treacherous Platte.
Henry T.Clarke, one of the freighters, was asked to find a site where a bridge could be built. He chose a spot north of Court House and Jail Rocks where a toll bridge, some 2,000 feet long, was built. It opened May 15, 1876, with a sod house built at the north end by Charlie Moore and used as a store, called "Wellsville." "Camp Clarke," built by Clarke, a store that also contained a post office, was at the south end. The bridge funneled tons of freight and people to the north until it was closed in 1906 when a new bridge built 3 miles to the east, at the present-day site of Bridgeport, replaced it.
The Burlington Railroad put Bridgeport "on the line" in 1900 when building from Alliance to Sterling. It immediately showed real growth. The town became an incorporated village in 1901 with J.H.Bowen as its first mayor. A bank was opened by J.W.Wehn, J.O.Baker, and C.H.Connett. "The Bridgeport Blade" started with L.B.Cary and Steve Lowley as publishers. J.C.Neubauer was the first school teacher in the fall of 1901 with an enrollment of 32 students. Early churches were Presbyterian, Episcopal, and First Baptist.
Soon after the new bridge was completed and in use, the Bell Telephone Company put in a line connecting Bridgeport with Alliance, to the north, and the towns west to Scottsbluff. When a national weather reporting station was moved into town, Bridgeport was really "on the map." The new communications and first-rate transportation facilities made Bridgeport a real thriving town, complete with social events, clubs, school activities, and its own organized baseball team.
When Morrill County was formed out of the old Cheyenne County in 1909, Bridgeport became the county seat. The population of the town that year was 200. The following year, after some controversy concerning the cost and funding, a courthouse was built at a cost of $25,000. It is still in use, although some offices have been moved into an annex and a new law enforcement building.
Irrigation systems fed from water stored in dams to the west made the valley a productive farming area. Modern center pivot systems have recently brought land into production that was otherwise dryland and dependent on Mother Nature's moisture. The local economy relies on farming with beans, potatoes, sugar beets, alfalfa and livestock the main sources of income.
At the present time, 93 businesses, three lawyers, two doctors, dentists, and veterinarians are listed as operating in Bridgeport. Of these, the major businesses include two beaneries, a potato factory, a grain elevator, and three farm equipment dealers.
Bridgeport has nine churches and its share of service organizations. The Lions Club promotes an annual "Camp Clarke Days" celebration each May, the Arts Council brings in outstanding performances, and the County Fair Association holds a Rodeo on July 4th and Labor Day in addition to the County Fair.
Bridgeport has a modern county hospital, nursing home, and a good school. The school is the site of many activities, events, and sports tournaments for the area.
The residents of Bridgeport and surrounding area are hard-working individuals with backgrounds that include German, Scandinavian, Germans from Russia, Italian, Greek, and Mexican. We are proud of our town and its citizens. We are also proud of our heritage and historical significance to the state of Nebraska.
By Donna Nelson, Bridgeport Public Librarian, Bridgeport, NE 69336