Skip Navigation

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  • Virtual Nebraska Logo

Virtual Nebraska

Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Valparaiso -- Saunders County

The Andrew Johnson family, founders of our town, include (seated L - R) R. K., Mary Ann (mother) and Andrew (father), Albert, and Minnie; (standing) Ellen, Clarence, Olive, Charles, and Edward.
Main Street during "horse power" days.
Downtown Valparaiso during the 1920s. Model T parked in front of the Strand Theatre
The "Valparaiso Visitor" newspaper office, L - R, Darlene Quinlan, Gladys & Harry Parker.
Saturday night and a "good movie" at the Strand Theatre, 1950s.
The main street at Valparaiso, 1990

Valparaiso, a Spanish word meaning "vale of paradise," is located in Oak Creek Valley. The town appears on an 1863 map as the county seat of Calhoun County. A post office, first located in Andrew Johnson's home in 1871, was later moved to the family's store. When rural free delivery was initiated in 1904, there were four routes. Since 1972 there has been only one, 122 miles long.

The railroad arrived in Valparaiso in 1876-77, with A.G.Pollack, as depot agent. This provided transportation for produce, building materials, and passengers. As a junction point for three branch lines (Valparaiso-Wahoo, Valparaiso-Lincoln, and Valparaiso-Central City) the Union Pacific established an engine house for maintaining its locomotives between runs. There were also loading chutes just west of town for livestock, and a shovel house for loading grain. The depot, once the busiest place in town, was dismantled in 1979, leaving Valparaiso with rail service but no depot agent.

Valparaiso attracted many pioneers. Soon there was a flour mill, several grain elevators, and two hotels, a newspaper, lumber yard, livery stable, harness shop, blacksmith, cobbler, a furniture store, millinery shop, creamery, bakery, grocery store, drug store, barbershop, several saloons, an opera house and theater, and an undertaker. There were also doctors, attorneys, and dentists. The town was incorporated in 1880 and hit its peak population of 614 in 1900. The present population is 480.

Early church services were held in homes and the school. George Worley was one of the first circuit-ministers. The Mary A.Johnson Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church (now United Methodist) was dedicated in 1881 with T.H. Worley as pastor. The Church of Christ (Christian Church) was dedicated in 1883 with Brother Bowls minister. Brother Barrows held the first revival when about 50 joined the church by confession. The south wing of the church was added in 1894. The Baptist church was built in 1885 and dedicated by Rev.Tyson. It was disbanded in the late 1890s and the building remodeled into a dwelling. The Lutheran Oakdale Church was dedicated in 1901 by Rev.Chinlund. It was disbanded in 1931, and the building sold to the German Lutherans the following year. Charles Mortensen purchased this building in 1942 and utilized the materials to build a home in the country. The Catholic church was founded in 1913 with Father Alois Fessler officiating. A new church serving the Valparaiso-Agnew areas was built in 1977 with Father John Glaves as pastor.

The Valparaiso School District, originally No.18, consisting of most of Oak Creek Precinct, was organized in 1869. Adeline States was the first teacher. A one-room schoolhouse was built, and also used for a union Sunday school and church. District No.101 was organized in 1878, and a four-room school was completed in 1884. Two more rooms were built in 1899, with classes for K-12 available in 1915. This structure burned in 1919, and the present building was completed in 1921. A four-room addition was completed in 1964. In 1967 the Valparaiso district merged with Ceresco and Raymond to form Raymond Central Public Schools. Grades 7-12 are located in a building at a former Nike missile site nine miles from Valparaiso. Valparaiso's building houses grades K-6 students from approximately 16 square miles that comprise the present Raymond Central district.

Some of persons and events which stand out as important to our community include:

-- Andrew Johnson, first postmaster.

-- Albert Johnson, owner of Crete Mills.

-- Olive Johnson White was the founder of "Whitehall," which is still operating in Lincoln as Nebraska Center for Children & Youth.

-- Mrs. Nels (Irene) Christensen was a second cousin to President James Buchanan.

-- Ace Hudkins, listed in the Nebraska Hall of Fame as a boxer in the 1920s.

-- During World War II, President Franklin D.Roosevelt spent the night of April 26, 1943, in Valparaiso while on a tour of military installations.

Story by Darlyne Quinlan, Harry & Ruth Christensen, and Donald Blazek. Pictures supplied by Edith Geib Svoboda and Barbara Chesser.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Stories of Early Days of Valparaiso and Vicinity, by Nellie Throop Mcgee, and the Wahoo Newspaper and the Waverly News.