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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Dawson -- Richardson County

Molasses, made from sorghum, provided pioneers with a "sweetener," of sorts, and a cash crop. [Arnold]

The first pioneers to settle this area in the late 1850s were Michael Riley and Thomas Farrell, both from Ireland. The "Pennsylvania Dutch" arrived soon thereafter, adding such names as Draper, Libbee, Allen, Buser, Hill, Smith, Burr, Belden, Miles, and Barlow to the area. Of all these families, only the Belden name remains, while today's phone book lists five Kean and five Heim families.

Joshua Dawson and his son Elijah came to this area in 1867 to build a grist and sawmill on the north fork of the Nemaha River. As other businesses and homes appeared, a request was made for a post office. On August 26, 1868, when one was granted, which was named "Dawson's Mill."

Everyone was delighted when the Atchison & Nebraska Railroad built through the area in 1871. The town, which initially built in the valley near the mill, moved to higher ground on the north side of the tracks. In addition to putting the village above the flood plain, there would be more room for growth, since the space between the river and the railroad was limited.

On March 4, 1872, William Draper, on whose homestead the new town was platted, took the survey and papers to Falls City by train to have them properly recorded. Enroute he decided that he would name the town "Noraville" in honor of his wife, Lenora. However, upon returning home, he found the people less than happy with his decision!

The name caused such controversy that it was never accepted by the community, nor was it forwarded to Washington to have postal authorities verify it as the name of the post office. In 1882 the post office shortened the name from Dawson's Mill to "Dawson." However, because of the wording on the initial plat, all legal descriptions still must contain the phrase, "town of Noraville, now known as the Village of Dawson."

During the turmoil over the name -- from 1872-82 -- the town also experienced a violent "cyclone." On May 20, 1879, storm clouds gathered both from the northwest and southwest, then converged at the edge of town. The nearly-completed Catholic church was moved half off its foundation before it broke apart, and people out watching the strange clouds were blown from their feet and "rolled along on the ground to a place of shelter." Andreas adds, "...many incidents of peril are a part of the folk-lore...marked as the year of the cyclone."

Storekeepers initially served as postmaster, with a portion of their business houses partitioned off for a post office. In 1882 a real post office was built. Then in 1954 that building was moved to its present location, and in 1978 the interior of the building was remodeled and modernized (water was brought in), and the exterior was resided, but it is still the original building.

Our first newspaper, "Dawson Newsboy," was established in 1883. In 1925 Pat and Gertrude Ross began publishing the "Dawson Herald." After they retired some 30 years later, a Dawson Herald page was published in the "Humboldt Standard."

Dawson has two active churches: St. Mary's Catholic and the United Methodist. With volunteer labor -- both Catholic and Protestant -- St. Mary's Hall was built in 1976. In addition to church activities, it serves as acommunity center, both pleasing and convenient.

The John G. Smith Memorial Library opened in January 1944. In 1948 Arta Draper Parriott and other community volunteers planned and built the present 20 by 30 foot structure. Today's library is the site of a free year-round preschool each Tuesday morning, with Carol Kean as teacher.

In 1976 the nation's bicentennial was celebrated in style. Since then there has been an active Dawson Community Improvement Program (DCIP), which has given Dawson new vitality and leadership. In 1987 our first street signs were erected, financed through a community soup supper. The group has established a park with playground equipment. In 1991 mud and weeds were cleared, revealing the names of people who financed each square of cement sidewalk to the Heim Cemetery. The 1992 activity won a Q125 Certificate of Merit for Dawson.

The rescue squad, established in 1977, augments the volunteer firemen, which includes 12 certified Emergency Medical Technicians.

Dawson's peak population was recorded in 1940 with nearly 400 residents. The 1990 census shows 157. We are small but enjoy our active community.


By Genevieve P. Gergen, Rt 1 Box 107, Dawson, NE 68337-9998.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Dawson's History 1976, by Elma Griffith; Bacon-Larabee, 1986, by Marjorie L. Wright; Grant Precinct , 1980, by Ray Etter; Heim 1490-1979 , by Keith Heim; Fun in the Kitchen , Nebraska Colony of Pennsylvania Dutch, 1874-1991, Bob Williamson, Editor; The Sweet Spring Still Flows , 1992, Bob Williamson, Editor; and Come Explore Our Past, 1992, Richardson County Historical Society.