On May 4, 1871, a 56-block town plat was filed with the Pierce County register of deeds and our town officially came into being. The land originally had been granted to Daniel Green, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, giving him rights to certain lands "in the great undeveloped western area." His widow later gave title to George Ware, who in turn sold a quarter section to James Brown for $500. Robert Lucas also purchased a half interest, so these two men are considered to be its founding fathers.
While Pierce County had been in existence since 1859, very few settled in the area until a colony of Germans arrived from Wisconsin in 1869. In the wave of migration that followed, things developed rapidly.
Brown built a cabin on the banks of Willow Creek in 1870. Being at the right place at the right time, near the center of the county, the site was chosen county seat in an election that July. By adding several rooms, Brown's home served as a hotel, post office, and temporary county office.
A courthouse was built on the town square in 1871, the same year that an elementary and secondary school was established. Trails quickly became roads as people clamored to locate businesses and offices in the "new town." The Pioneer General Store was established in 1873, and a newspaper, the "Pierce County Call," in 1877.
A flour mill, built in 1880 by S.F. Gilman, used power from a dam on the north fork of the Elkhorn River. The mill prospered, shipping "Golden Crescent Flour" to many parts of the country on the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad line that had been extended through Pierce.
By 1883 a ten-block addition was needed, and the town took steps to incorporate. The following year the 32-block Gibson Addition again increased the size of Pierce.
A creamery was established in 1885. Butter from Pierce found markets over a wide area of the Midwest. Pierce also had a cigar factory, a brick yard, and an ice plant. Time and progress eventually eliminated these industries.
The flour mill was destroyed by fire in 1908. When it was rebuilt in 1913, it was powered by electricity generated by the mill's own power plant, which also provided electricity for the entire city of Pierce.
The North Fork River was prone to flooding and in many instances the entire east side of town was under water. The old mill dam went out in a 1924 flood, but was rebuilt as a WPA project in the 1930s. The old mill, which had been idle for several years, was destroyed by fire in 1932. The area then developed as a park named for the late Mr. Gilman, with the mill pond providing a place for boating, swimming, and fishing. When the dam washed out in 1963, the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers built a dike to control the river, sparing the city further losses by flooding.
The population of Pierce, only 73 in 1880, was 1,200 in 1910. After several decades of decline, the town grew to 1,360 in 1970. The census taken in 1980 recorded a population of 1,550.
Present-day Pierce has six churches and three schools with an enrollment of just over 700. Well-equipped and trained volunteer fire and EMT rescue units are ready in case of emergencies. There are two doctors, a physician's assistant, and a dentist, in addition to an 86-bed nursing home with a new Alzheimer's unit.
Recreational facilities are not lacking. The 50-acre Gilman Park includes a six-acre lake, swimming pool, baseball and soccer field, museum complex with four buildings, and an area for picnics. There are two more soccer fields, a soft ball diamond, tennis courts, and a six-lane bowling alley. Rod & Gun Club property has two lakes, and the community is proud of the nine-hole grass greens golf course. The 1,600-acre Willow Creek State Recreation Area, just two miles from Pierce, includes a 700-acre lake. Water that was once a constant threat now provides an economic boost to our primarily-agricultural base.
A third Pierce County courthouse, replacing one built in 1889, was completed in 1975. Our town, laid out as a county seat with wide brick streets, is certainly one of Nebraska's progressive communities with a promising future.
By Donald R. Zimmer, 417 South Elm, Pierce, NE 68767.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: "Along Pioneer Trails," a History of Pierce County by Esther Kolterman Hansen.