Crete -- Saline County
Jesse Bickle and his family homesteaded along the Big Blue River in the northeast corner of the county in 1863. When high water forced them from their dugout, they moved to higher ground and built a two-room log cabin, which today is enclosed within a ten-room house.
Pioneers, traveling through the area on their way West, heard of the fertile land along the Big Blue and paused to check it out. Many decided to stay, filing homestead claims or buying railroad land. For a time this area was known as "Mapleton" because of the many maple trees that grew along the river.
Bickle was quite a willful man and he played an important part in developing the town. When the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad came through, he owned the land that the company wanted, but refused to sell. In 1870 he and the railroad each platted town sites. Bickle named his town "Blue River City."
There was great competition for the sale of lots. The open squabble hindered sales at both locations, so the two parties were forced to compromise. A plat, registered in 1871 combining the two town sites, was named "Crete" by Elizabeth Bickle for Crete, IL. As the first settler, Bickle was appointed postmaster, a position that he operated from his home.
C.J. Bowlby taught 46 students in a room 16-feet square in 1870-71. As the town developed, the educational facilities were expanded. An academy was incorporated in 1871 with a loan of $2,000 from Thomas Doane, after whom the college was named. In 1875 a system of grading was introduced, having the high school separated from the "grammar department." A wooden high school was built in 1881, plus three ward-schools, one each in the east, west, and then north part of town.
Crete also vied for the county seat on two occasions, 1877 and 1927, losing both times. Very early in Crete's history, Bickle chose a site on his farm for a community cemetery, which he named "Riverside."
In 1889 Mrs. Bickle sold 109.65 acres west of town to a group of citizens who founded the Nebraska Sunday School Assembly. People came by train, wagon, and on foot to attend the services, lessons, and enjoy cricket, croquet, and other recreational activities. They crossed the pontoon bridge, went up the hill, and settled-in for a ten-day or two-week session. Many brought tents, others purchased lots and built summer cottages for their families, or to rent out sleeping space. Many just slept on the ground under the large trees.
The emphasis of Chautauqua went from religion to politics, and finally to entertainment. In 1897 the facility closed and the grounds were sold. Anton Vavra converted it into an amusement park, with vaudeville shows, carnivals, and the county fair. The pavilion at Valva Park hosted many famous bands, and baseball was one of the main attractions. When the city purchased it in 1959 it became "Tuxedo Park." Facilities continue to be improved by local organizations' service projects. They have expanded the playground and added more ball diamonds. The county fair board has added a number of new buildings for its annual events.
As Crete expanded, frame buildings gave way to brick. The three-story Band Building was the first, and housed an opera house on the second floor. The dirt streets boasted of hitching posts and a band stand on the intersection of "Maine Street." Early industries included the Bridges & White Grist Mills (now the Crete Mills), the Fairmont Creamery, and a brewery.
Cars began to replace the horse and buggy. Crete's first theatre, "The Lyric," made its appearance in the early 1900. The Sokol Hall was built in 1915, at which time much of the town's social life switched to that location. The streets, changed in 1887 to the names of states, were changed again in 1922 to names of trees.
Crete, population 4,574, is located on Highway 33 about 25 miles southwest of Lincoln, and boasts a good hospital, a new swimming pool, a community center, and a "Surry Bus." V-Co Industries provides a training and rehabilitation center for the handicapped. The town's economic base includes retailing, livestock, farming, and manufacturing.
Bickle's home, "The Maples" is being restored. Started as a bicentennial project, it stands as a tribute to our historical roots. Elementary students enjoy a visit to learn of Crete's early history, and high school science classes replant and trim trees. Tours are also available for the public.
By Alice Kalkwarf, 807 Oak Avenue, Crete, NE 68333.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Pioneer Days in Crete , Gregory, 1937; "College Heights, 1885-1985," Osterhout; The Maples, I Early Pictorial History of Crete, Kalkwarf, 1976; and The Maples, II, Continued Early Pictorial History of Crete, Kalkwarf, 1979. Pictures reproduced by John Courtney, Media, CHS, and Vicki Allgood, Parks & Recreation.