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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Ashland -- Saunders County

The convergence of the Wahoo and Clear Creeks from the north and northwest, and Salt Creek from the southeast into a narrow neck of land not far from the Platte made water a major consideration at this location. A low-water crossing on Salt Creek, however, put the beginnings of the town on the map. Pictured is ice harvest on a creek in eastern Nebraska. [Lyons Mirror]
Silver Street in downtown Ashland, looking east, ca. 1908.
Silver Street looking west, 1988.

The town of Ashland, in the southeast corner of the county, has a colorful history that includes Indian lore, cattle rustling, floods, claim jumping, petty thievery, and the "stealing of county records." Today, by contrast, it is a delightful town of approximately 2,500 law-abiding citizens, proud of their school system, churches, businesses, library, and many social clubs.

In the early days (1845-1848), it was the ford on Salt Creek that put us on the map. "Saline Ford" was a low-water crossing on a limestone ledge -- the only one in this area. Thus, the Ox-bow (a branch of the Oregon Trail), Settlers' Road, and Military Road all came through here. As a result, tradesmen, blacksmiths, and inn keepers set up businesses to service westward-bound travelers. Before the railroads came, it is estimated that thousands of people crossed Saline Ford.

Many names were suggested for the settlement that was developing. These included the obvious, Saline Ford, to Flora City, Troy, and Washington City. About the time that the new "Calhoun County" was being organized in 1856-58, and the settlement on Salt Creek was name its seat of government, a Mr.Argyle, who was an admirer of Henry Clay named it, "Ashland," for Clay's home in Kentucky. Later, the name Calhoun was stripped from the records and the county was renamed "Saunders."

Ashland celebrated its centennial in 1957, because it was 100 years from the time that the first families -- Aughey, Warbutton, and Stambaugh -- had settled just north of town. The town itself was not platted until March 1866, and a post office not established until November of that year.

Ashland served as the county seat for several years. A two-story, stone building in the center of town provided space for county records. A general store was downstairs, and upstairs, in addition to the county offices, was the doctor's office. A little cast iron safe held tax money and valuable records. The register of deeds book, clerk's records, and commissioners' minutes were stacked on a shelf in the corner. A wooden table served as a desk or judge's bench. In 1870 a big courthouse was built. Because of frequent floods along Salt Creek, most businesses had moved away from the old Main Street to Silver Street, so named by those who had begun their businesses with profits from the silver mines of Colorado and Utah.

By now the northern part of Saunders County was becoming populated. The citizens complained about having to drive to the farthest-most corner, 40-50 miles over muddy roads, to the county seat. In the election held in October 1873 between four "towns," Eldred, Alvin, Ashland, and Wahoo, there was "no clear majority," so another vote was in order.

Then came some illegal intervention! It is said that a lawyer from Wahoo, weary of making trips to Ashland, paid the janitor of the courthouse in Ashland to leave a side door open. That night three men loaded the records into a wagon owned by Mr.McKane, and droved them to Wahoo, where they remained. Thus, Ashland became yet another town to have lost its claim to county records by thievery, having them hauled away in a farm wagon on a cold December night.

Despite this loss, Ashland became a boom-town in the decade from 1870-80. The railroad had arrived! The line from Plattsmouth to Lincoln via Ashland was completed in 1870. A busy rail line from day-one, it brought new settlers, which meant more homes, lumber, tools, and household goods. Coal and produce were big sale items. Many new businesses were added such as, Swifts Ice Plant, Chickering Piano Company, a broom factory, brick kiln, cigar factory, harness factory, two flour mills, limestone quarry, and a sand and gravel pit. In 1887 a second rail line from Omaha was completed and a branch line was extended across the county from Ashland to Schuyler.

During its first 100 years, Ashland had no outstanding leaders. Everyone helped, each in his own way. For example, some ladies, who did not like the unkept appearance of the cemetery, organized and, with scythes and grass scissors, took care of the problem. Another women's group was responsible for obtaining funds for a Carnegie library, resulting in the introduction of concerts, plays, and public debates to the community. The Chamber of Commerce started the annual "Stir-Up."

Newer organizations include: Jaycees, Mrs.Jaycees, senior citizens, Boy and Girl Scouts, 4-H clubs, each adding something to the community.

By Laura Motes, Local, Wahoo, NE 68066

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Saunders County Nebraska, by Saunders County Historical Society, Taylor Publishing Co., 1983; and Looking Over Our Shoulders, by Alice Gilkeson Graham, Walsworth Publishing Co., 1984.