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Kansas Collection Books

Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska
Produced by Diana Busing.

Part 3


Sunday night, April 13, 1873, there commenced a storm that will be long remembered by the early settlers of Clay County. It had been raining through the day, and just before dark the wind veered from southwest around to northwest--the rain increasing. Long before light, Monday morning, the rain changed to sleet; and at daybreak--the morning still dark--the air was filled with what seem like solid snow; so wet was it, and carried so swiftly by the gale, that it was almost impossible to move against it; it would wet a person through like rain in a few moments. All day Monday and Monday night, Tuesday and Tuesday night, it snowed, the storm increasing all the time until Wednesday morning. Many banks of snow were as high as the houses, and many of the draws, creeks and rivers, were level full of snow. Driven before the gale, almost the entire live stock of the county perished in the snow. In School Creek Precinct, Mrs. Kelley and child were trying to go a few rods to a neighbors, got lost, chilled and froze to death in the wet snow; before starting out, she remarked that she would die with her child is she could not get through with it alive. They were both found dead after the storm.

A heavy snow-storm occurred through this section of the State in November, 1871. The snow fell with bewildering rapidity and drifted into massive heaps, covering buildings and blockading roadways. During the storm, a man by the name of McGoon, living three and a half miles south of the town of Harvard, started on foot for that place, accompanied by his son. So thick did the snow fall, blown swiftly by the winds, that it was with difficulty they could maintain their course in the direction of the town. Upon nearing the town, the old man became fatigued and bewildered, and was unable to keep up with his son, who could not afford his father any assistance, and pressed on to secure his own safety. Blinded and overcome by the shifting snow, the old man lost his way, and upon search being made, as soon as it was safe to venture out, he was found on the edge of town frozen stiff.

In the summer of 1881, a severe hail-storm passed across the northern part of the county, coming from a northwest direction. The storm was accompanied with a heavy wind, blowing in a circular motion, and hail fell for about three-quarters of an hour, covering the ground, and was carried, with the water, into heaps. Extending over a course five miles in width, crops were beaten into the ground by the hail and entirely destroyed, resulting in great loss to many.

On the 14th of November, 1872, a fire broke out from a dug-out, and spread over a large territory in the vicinity of Harvard, and reaching to the property of E. J. Moger, burned his implements and tools, also a stable, in which were four valuable horses and two cows, all of which perished in the flames.

Some time later, as the section men on the B. & M. Railroad were burning a fire brake along the south side of the track, the wind carried some fire to the opposite side of the track, which caught in the grass and began spreading. A heavy wind was blowing, and the fierce flames rolled swiftly through the thick carpet of dead grasses, consuming houses and all combustible material that lay in their course. The wide spread burnings were unmanageable, and were not extinguished until they had burned over a wide scope of country, extending northward nearly to the Platte River, destroying property to the value of several thousands of dollars. The railroad company at once dispatched agents to the burnt district to ascertain the condition of things and to assess the damage to settlers, whose losses were adjusted and paid, to the satisfaction of all.

In July, 1874, swarms of grasshoppers came from the northeast in such countless numbers as to make the sunlight dim. So swiftly did they destroy the crops, that a forty or an eighty-acre corn-field would not last them more than two hours. The rank growing corn would literally bend over to the ground by the weight of grasshoppers. Potatoes, garden vegetables, and crops of all kinds, excepting wheat and barley already harvested, sugar-cane and broom-corn, were swept out of existence in every part of the county in the short space of two days. Not a bushel of corn was raised in the county. The year before, settlers burned corn--it being only 15 cents a bushel. The grasshopper year it was shipped from Iowa and brought $1 per bushel. The people had nothing but wheat and barley to eat and feed their stock. When winter set in, many of the settlers had no money, no fuel, and scarcely anything to eat. Want and starvation was upon them, when, by the timely aid of the Eastern States, the settlers were rescued from actual death by starvation. In the fall of 1874, a committee to procure and distribute aid was formed at Sutton, consisting of C. M. Turner, Chairman and distributing agent, with F. W. Hohmann, R. G. Merrill, George Stewart and J. Steinmetz.

Mr. Turner went to Omaha at his own expense and secured from the State Aid Society the power to constitute Sutton an aid supply depot. Parts of Fillmore, York and Hamilton Counties were included in this aid district. There were distributed from Sutton depot four carloads of coal, four carloads of miscellaneous supplies, including flour, meal, bacon, dried apples, sugar, etc. Lieut. Brown, of the Fourth United States Infantry, from Omaha Post, assisted by Mr. Turner, distributed a large lot of army clothing to the most needy.

The committee to procure and distribute aid was formed at Harvard before that at Sutton. Harvard was a distributing point for Edgar, also for Hamilton County, and distributed large quantities of supplies.

An aid society was formed at Edgar, which drew its supplies from Harvard (W. A. Gunn, President, and M. J. Hull, Vice President), and did the principal part of the work. There were distributed about three carloads of coal, one carload of miscellaneous supplies, besides one-half carload of United States Army clothing.


The first district was organized in December, 1872. The three earliest teachers in the county were W. L. Weed, District No. 2, Thomas M. Gregory, District No. 5, and Laura M. Bancroft, District No. 6; Mr. Gregory taught the first school commencing about the first of December, 1861, before the district was organized. There are at present sixty-nine districts and seventy-four schoolhouses. Of these schoolhouses, sixty-eight are furnished with patent seats and furniture. The districts were originally organized on a basis of nine government sections to the district, but have been modified to some extent, smaller districts being called for as the population increases.

Directors' reports for the last year (1881), just sent in to the County Superintendent, furnish the following statistics:

Number of children of school age in the county--
Total value of school property.....$53,991 46
Number of teachers employed........        89
Total of wages paid teachers.......$20,548 71
Total cost of running schools 
   (teachers' wages included).......29,953 26

Every district in the county had schools during the year. Fifty-seven districts had six months and more school during the year and sixty-three districts had four months and more.

In the organization of the county, the districts, or most of them, were bonded for the building of houses, purchase of furniture, etc. This indebtedness has been disappearing quite rapidly in the last few years, and the entire indebtedness of the county is now $13,092.91. This will probably all be discharged in two years more.

Reviewing the history of Clay County, it is justly astonishing to note the rapidity with which it has sprung from an uninhabited waste in 1870 to the thickly populated and comparatively wealthy community it now is, with its many fine farms, numbering thousands of improved and fertile acres, and its several thrifty, growing and prosperous towns. The county is regarded as one of the most fertile in this section of the State, and with its excellent natural resources, railroad facilities, good government and industrious people, there is no reason why this county should not become one among the wealthiest and most important counties in the State.


In the northwestern part of Clay County, and about sixteen miles east of the city of Hastings is situated the village of Harvard. The town is located in the midst of a beautiful level prairie, stretching away in gently undulating swells in every direction. To the northward and in the direction of the School Creek Valley the character of the surface of the land becomes more broken by the presence of low bluffs hemming in the valley of the stream, which, with the straggling growths of timber, add much to the beauty of the landscape.

The land upon which the town site was located was obtained from the Government by pre-emption. George W. Van Guilder, E. J. Stone, N. W. Brass and Bart Mosher being the pre-emptors. These parties proved up on their property in September, 1871, at which time they received Government patents for the same.

During the fall of the same year, the land was sold and became the property of the South Platte Town Company. But, as in other instances, the settlement upon the property was made by these men at the expense and instigation of the company, who, by the terms of the grant, were required to located town sites on the Government sections.

In the fall of 1871, the town company laid off the site into lots and advertised its location. At this time, only the four pre-emption houses were to be seen, to note the spot where, hid in the tall grasses, were the surveyor's stakes, marking out the features of the future village of Harvard. Little more than a decade of years brings one back to the time when that whereon now stands a thriving village, encircled by all that adorns and embellishes her civilized life, was an uninhabited prairie, the grazing-grounds of wild herds and the hunting lands of savages. How marked the change! How wonderful the progress! With what spirit of satisfaction must the pioneer and early settler, supplied as he now is with comfort and plenty, look back to the time when in the canvas-covered wagon, he made his way across the monotonous prairie scene, unadorned by human habitation. With what delight did he who was here already welcome him that had newly come! With what pride and satisfaction did they watch the progress of development as wrested from the hands of untamed nature, converting the land into a garden and paradise, blooming with the lily and the rose, and where peace and plenty find undisturbed lodgment at the hearthstone of every home.

To recount the steps of progress in the development of any new country is a matter full of interest to any one, and particularly to those whose lives and labors have been identified with the work, who have endured its trials and hardships, performed its labors, and, in due season, gathered the fruits.

Future generations, too, look back and bless with grateful recollections those dead sires whose hands wrought out and transmitted to them these beneficent inheritances.

The fertility of the land surrounding the place gave it wonderful advantages and augured favorably for its future. Being well adapted to agriculture it was soon settled with many thrifty and industrious farmers, and, in the supplying of these with necessaries, naturally induced the upbuilding of the town and gave it prosperity.


The first building erected on the site was the railroad station, which was built in the fall of 1871, directly after the place was laid off. In February of the following year, E. H. Birdsall established the first business house, having erected a small storeroom in which he placed a small stock of goods, consisting of general merchandise. During the same spring, O. G. Peck and A. Meston started a lumber yard; F. Mann and J. Decker started a feed store, and William Rowe opened a shoeshop. Later in the spring, L. J. Keeny built a storeroom and established the second business house, with general stock. W. F. Gue located a land and real estate office in the interests of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Company near about the same time. The influx of population was now almost continuous, during the spring and summer of the year 1872. Those coming in and establishing in business were W. E. Welton, who was an artificer, skilled in the handling of iron, after whom came A. H. Myers, also a blacksmith; I. J. Starbuck was the next man to settle in the town, and began business as a land agent and was engaged in locating homesteads.

The first hotel was built in the place during the spring by E. W. Dimick and Brad Stone, and was called the Harvard House. Mr. Estes put up the next building, which was occupied by C. K. Morrill with a drug store, and in which the post office was kept by E. J. Stone.

In July, J. D. Todd opened a furniture establishment. The next to settle in the town was E. P. Burnett, who opened a law office as the first attorney in Harvard. Following Burnett was J. F. Sawtell, who came later in the summer and erected a large two-story frame building to be used as a business house; this was the first two-story structure built in the place.

In the fall of the year, a man by the name of Strickland came and opened a small grocery store. Mr. Strickland lived in Michigan and had emigrated from that State to Nebraska under peculiar circumstances. When living in Michigan, his occupation was that of a Methodist preacher, but he became enamored of a lady--a grass widow-- in whose treacherous charms he became ensnared. Turning his back upon his wife and four or five children, and, in company with his paramour, they twain emigrated to Nebraska, taking up their abode at Harvard as man and wife, when he began business as a small grocer. During his stay in town, he very cleverly ingratiated himself into the good graces of the people, passing himself off as a worthy citizen and won the respect of many. He was also accustomed to take part in church affairs, often supplying the place of the regular pastor in his absence. By this and other means, he, in a short time, came to be regarded as the pillar of the Methodist Church. Things passed off pleasantly to the guilty pair for a time, but it was not always to continue thus. Were they surely not to be discovered in their guilt and overtaken in their iniquity? In about three or four months following their advent, the Postmaster received a letter from a son of the reverend gentleman, relating the circumstances of the departure of his father, giving a description of him and sending a photograph and making inquiry if such person was living in Harvard. The description and all corresponded exactly, and the Postmaster replied that the parties were here. Thus was the recreant husband and father exposed in the disgrace of his own and his accomplice's crime. Confronted by these facts by those upon whose generosity and credulity they had so deceitfully imposed, and threatened with social ostracism, they took a moonlight departure and fled the town, their whereabouts having since remained a mystery to the citizens of Harvard.

During the summer and fall of 1872, building was quite brisk, about thirty houses having been erected in that time, and, by the end of the year, the town had accumulated a population of about 200. The town being located on the main line of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, is possessed of abundant shipping facilities. The road was built and in operation just before the town was started, and thus it did not want for the advantages arising from such source, which also in great part accounts for the rapidity of its growth.

Directly following the completion of the railroad, the tide of emigration set in more briskly, and soon the surrounding country was teeming with an industrious population of settlers. From these accumulated advantages the village flourished with renewed vigor and grew with increased rapidity.

From the beginning, the place has built up gradually, with a stability denoting permanence, and for this reason the town has not experienced that retrogression so common with new towns. At present it contains a population of nearly 1,000, and in all is a live and prosperous business town.

But few incidents of historic merit have transpired within the village since its establishment. Generally speaking, the settlers are quiet, peaceable and cultured in civility, so that the pages of her record are free from the stains of crime or the marring presence of startling or sensational escapades.

The earliest celebration held by the settlers of Harvard and vicinity was on the 4th day of July, 1872. The people, though wrapt up in the pride of their newly adopted State, did not forget their mother country or the heroic deeds of their fathers whose memory they assembled together to celebrate in appropriate and venerating ceremony. There were about 300 people present on the occasion, and the exercises consisted of an oration by the Hon. N. H. Harwood, of Lincoln, martial music, picnic dinner, dancing, pyrotechnic display, etc. The celebration was held in a rude pavilion, constructed of poles, wagon-covers and brush, in which a temporary floor was laid for dancing. Even here, on the frontier of the wierd and lonely Western prairies, the spirit of freedom animated those, who, as vet, were strangers in a far-away and uncivilized land, and the day was one of general enjoyment and rejoicing.

Not a little mirthfulness was aroused on that day by the eccentric actions of a couple of Russians, who had but lately come to this country, and, being unused to the customs and manners of the people, were likewise objects of curiosity to others. The old Russian and his wife had come to the celebration presumably to promulgate the fact that, in adopting the American Union as their home, they also indorsed the cause which gave it existence.

The ceremony, however, was new and odd to the foreign couple, and, not feeling inclined to take active part, they went apart a short distance from the rest of the people, and assumed a prostrate position side by side, on the ground, with their forward side downward.

As they thus lay stretched out flat upon the earth, resting their heads in their hands and propped up by resting their elbows on the ground, they watched with much interest in everything that passed, occasionally giving vent to remarks of such ludicrous character as to excite outbursts of hilarity by those within hearing.

Although the day was not fruitful of remarkable incidents, yet it is one long to be remembered as the first Fourth of July celebration that was ever held in the village of Harvard. The music for the day was under the direction of L. S. Backus, who went into the country a distance of six miles to procure a melodeon belonging to Thomas Majors, to be used on the occasion. The Declaration of Independence was also read as a part of the exercises, this honor being conferred upon E. J. Moger.

The day passed off very orderly under the police regulation of O. G. Peck, who had been chosen to act as Marshal for the day. Since that time a Fourth of July celebration has been held at Harvard regularly every year except one.


On the 2nd day of July, 1873, in accordance with a petition signed by E. H. Birdsall and eighteen others, the Commissioners of Clay County granted a village charter to Harvard, and appointed a board of five Trustees, composed of E. H. Birdsall, E. P. Burnett, J. D. Bain, W. A. Farmer and G. W. Howard. At a meeting of the board July 19, 1873, E. H. Birdsall was chosen Chairman; E. P. Burnett Clerk; William Mulliken, Treasurer; W. F. Gue, Assessor; C. W. Gardener, Marshal; and S. M. Risley, Pound Master. G. W. Howard resigned as member of the board, and Rev. B. F. Haviland was appointed in his place. S. M. Risley failing to qualify as Pound Master, E. P. Davison was appointed.

Harvard became organized as a city of the second class in the spring of 1879, and on the 7th of April and election was held for the choosing of officers for the city government. W. J. Turner was elected Mayor; W. H. Hammond and Ezra Brown, Councilmen for the First Ward; C. J. Scott and P. B. Lyon Councilmen for the Second Ward; T. R. Hall, Clerk; L. A. Payne, Treasurer; T. A. Barbour, Police Judge, and J. T. Fleming, Engineer. On July 7, T. A. Barbour resigned, and D. T. Phillips was appointed to the office of Police Judge. T. R. Hall, Clerk, removed outside of the corporate limits and resigned the office, and was succeeded by L. A. Varner.

Harvard had now grown to be a city, possessed of all the dignity of her youthful aspirations. But alas for the uncertainties of human affairs. For one year she held her position, until the ruthless voice of the Legislature announced her incapable of maintaining such a position, and in the pride of her importance she was stripped of all that made her a city and again returned to her earlier proportions as a village. The law making this change, among its provisions, fixed the limit for the incorporation of cities and towns, requiring that places with a population of 1,500 might be incorporated as cities of the second class, and declared all places with less population as villages. Unfortunately, Harvard lacked the requisite population, and was forced to succumb to the pressure which so uncharitably robbed her of the glories she had assumed.

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