Skip Navigation

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  • Virtual Nebraska Logo

Virtual Nebraska

Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Davenport -- Thayer County

Davenport, located in the northwest corner of Thayer County, was the "D" on the "alphabet line" being built through this part of Nebraska in the early 1870s. Land, not owned by the railroad, belonged to John Littig, which he sold to settlers such as this widow and her granddaughter.
A balloon ascension in 1910 brought out great crowds. [Anderson]
Main Street before the 1917 fire.
Downtown Davenport, 1987. [Mersch]

Because of its nearness to the Oregon Trail, settlement in this part of Nebraska began early. In an effort to encourage expansion of railroads into remote areas, a land-grant system was established by the government, allocating many acres of public lands for that purpose. Railroads then sold the lands to settlers or speculators. By 1870 John Littig had acquired most of the land in this vicinity, much of which he sold for $1 per acre.

In 1872 the Nebraska Land and Town Company purchased land from Littig on which to plat a town. That same year the railroad was completed as far west as Hastings. Littig's son Adam moved to the new town from Iowa, and named it "Davenport" for his home there. The town incorporated less than a year later on January 13, 1873. While Littig lived here only seven years, he played a big part in getting the town started.

Another prominent family, John and Nancy (Horner) Lambert, arrived in 1878. Their son Charles purchased 120 acres east of town on Sandy Creek, where he manufactured brick and cement block. In 1914 he built a two-story building on Davenport's main intersection that housed the Eberman Mercantile business, the office of attorney M.S. Gray, and a Masonic Hall. The hall doubled as a movie theater and high school activity center. This was replaced with a steel building, which presently is the headquarters for the Little Blue Natural Resources District.

In 1888 a second railroad, the Chicago & North Western, was built, making Davenport one of the larger shipping points between Grand Island and Marysville, Kansas. The town recorded its highest population, 513, in 1890. Concrete sidewalks were laid in 1896, and in 1906 a power plant was built, furnishing the town with electricity.

The original school house, established in 1878 through the efforts of Adam Littig, was replaced by a two-story building in 1883. In 1909 a brick school, with a full basement, was built and two more grades were added to the ten-grade system. In 1951 a gymnasium was added to the building. A new school was built in 1958 with a second gym in 1978.

The class of 1910 became the first to graduate from Davenport High School. The High School Alumni Association celebrated its golden anniversary May 29, 1941. Since then over 600 persons had graduated from the institution. Now, after another 50 years, there have been over 1,500 graduates.

Davenport notes three distinguished alumni:

-- Roy W. Eaton, class of 1896, compiled "The Blue Speller," still used today for spelling contests.

-- Edward A. Brittanham, 1896, a foreign representative for International Harvester Company.

-- Rudy Uzzell, 1895, to whom the New York Cony Island amusement rides have been attributed.

An unusual claim-to-fame is that the first Gideon Bible to be placed in a hotel was in our town of Davenport. That bible is now in Gideon headquarters in Chicago.

In May 1917 fire destroyed the west side of main street, except for the two banks built in 1916. Sparks from the blaze then skipped a block where they ignited and burned the Lutheran Church and a livery barn.

In 1920 the American Legion and auxiliary were organized, the "Davenport Journal" office and doctor's buildings were built, the theater remodeled, and the Davenport Woman's Club organized. Two new grocery stores were opened. The library, opened in 1921 with 410 volumes, moved to a building north of the hotel in 1923, and in 1928 a new, brick library was built. The city water system was installed in 1923, and in 1930, natural gas was installed and main street curbed. In 1938, using W.P.A. help, the town built the sewer system.

The 1930s are remembered for the Depression, the black-blizzard dust storms, and grasshoppers. "Hard times" brought an end to the period of growth and improvements experienced in the 1920s.

Today, with a population of about 450, most of Davenport has paved streets. A community building, built entirely with donated funds and labor, is located near the city park, and a new ball field was dedicated in 1976.

By Lillian Sanner, Box 173, Davenport, NE 68335. Other material and pictures were supplied by Evelyn Mersch former resident, now living in Geneva.