Skip Navigation

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  • Virtual Nebraska Logo

Virtual Nebraska

Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Osceola -- Polk County

Bird's eye sketch of Osceola, shows its Iowa and Indiana roots with streets named "Hawkeye" and "Hoosier," 1880.
Recent Hufnagle aerial of Osceola, looking north, "...Right in the middle of everything!" [courtesy of Bernie Gissler]

Our town derives its unusual name from Chief Osceola of the Seminole Indian tribe. The first settlers, Rev. James Query and V.P. Davis, came with their families in October 1868. During the next two years the families of Stewart, Kerr, Beltzer, Hildebrand, Kenyon, Campbell, VanHoosen, and Arnold arrived.

When organizing in 1870, the county seat, given the name "Osceola," was located three miles southeast of the present town in Section 24. On October 10, 1871, another election was held at which time the people contested a proposed site five miles north of today's location. Approved by only 14 votes, the "geographic center of the county" was made the permanent site. Throughout the heated battle, the name remained the same.

A committee was appointed to locate the permanent town site in Section 16 of the approved township. By January 1872 the first courthouse was in place, and trees found along Davis Creek were used to build homes for those first on the scene. Many early settlers were Swedish and German people who had come in search of land in the new world. Word was carried back across the waters to relatives and friends, who then came directly to Polk County where they filed claims of their own or purchased railroad land.

A post office, established July 21, 1871, was moved to the new site by postmaster William Loring in 1872. At that time, Osceola was the terminus of the overland mail route from Lincoln by way of Ulysses. "The Osceola Homesteader" was established as a weekly paper in 1872 by Herbert Arnold. The present newspaper is the "Osceola Record."

The Omaha & Republican Valley Railroad was completed as far as Osceola by June 1879. One of the first locomotives into the city carried the name "Osceola," but was later renamed number "9."

A college named "Nebraska Wesleyan" was chartered in Osceola on May 21, 1879. Classes opened that Fall in a two-room annex of the Methodist Episcopal Church with 11 students and four instructors. Rev. Jesse Jackson Fleharty served as president, with John Mickey president of the board of trustees. The college moved to Fullerton in 1881, and from there to Lincoln.

Four governors have come from our community: Albimus Nance served Nebraska 1879-83, John Mickey from 1902-007, Ashton Shallenberger from 1909-11 then ten years in Congress, and Stanley Hathoway was Wyoming's governor 1966-74.

On August 26, 1881, Oseceola was incorporated as a village, having attained 200 residents. Today, Osceola is a beautiful city on U.S. Highway 81 and Nebraska 92, just 30 miles north and east of York and I-80. The city is comprised of well-kept homes and friendly, energetic people. Rich farmlands surrounds the town, and because of the substantial aquifer, irrigation plays a large part in ag-production. In addition to several grain elevators, implement center, and veterinary hospital, Osceola has a balanced business district and a sizable industrial park, which currently includes manufacturing by Midland Products and County Feeders Supply.

Education is a top priority at Osceola. Churches include Catholic, Lutheran, and United Methodist. The Annie Jeffrey Memorial Hospital serves the county as does the Good Samaritan nursing home. We have a public library, a senior citizens center, a volunteer fire department, an ambulance service, and the Polk County Historical Society Museum. NPPD provides power to the community, and the town has a substantial municipal water system.

Osceola has an olympic-size swimming pool, tennis courts, picnic area, and camping facilities in the city park. The Polk County Recreation Association maintains a nine-hole golf course, Ryan Hill Clubhouse, a gun club, and a bowling alley.

A grand centennial celebration was held in 1971. An even larger celebrations was held in 1976 when the national bicentennial wagon train, following the Ox Bow Trail, came through town and camped overnight at the county fairgrounds. A program was presented at the school auditorium to a standing-room-only crowd, tapes of which were sent to the National Archives. Another commemorative event occurred in September 1991 when St. Mary's Catholic Church at "Pilzno," north of town, the second national Polish church in the Lincoln Diocese, held its 100th anniversary.

Osceola's city government is managed by a city council and a mayor. A population peak was reached in 1920 with 1,200 residents. The 1980 census count was 975.

Story and pictures by D. Ruth Lux, Rte 2 Box 92, president of the Polk County Historical Society, Osceola, NE 68651. Aerial photo by Bernie Gissler.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Osceola Centennial, 1971; Early Days in Polk County ; Polk County Heritage Bicentennial Book, 1976 (cemeteries and biographies); and information provided by Dr. David H. Mickey, retired professor of history, NWU.