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Kansas Collection Books

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

Part 6


[View of Sutton and the School.]

Luther French, born at Painesville, Lake Co., Ohio, looked over and located his homestead upon the north half of the northwest quarter of Section 2, Town 7, Range 5, upon which is the original town of Sutton, on the 14th day of March, 1870. June 5 of the same year he moved upon it and made permanent settlement, camping near the north section line on the creek for a few weeks, when he built his house, partly on the banks of School Creek; he was the first white settler in the town and precinct. The house is still standing on the margin of the grove and was logged up on the inside, cover with bark and dirt; having the ground for a floor, and is in much the same condition as when built, though long since abandoned. On one side of the dug-out was a blind chamber, under ground; this was connected with the outer world by a subterranean passage some rods in length and reaching down to the creek bank below. Here Mr. French gathered and hid his treasures--a flock of motherless children, when attacked by Indians.

That summer, Mr. French broke about six acres of land at the east part of town. His nearest neighbors in the county were at Spring Ranch, on the Little Blue, some twenty-five miles southwest, at which place the settlement of the county commenced. The next settler on the town site was James C. Vroman, who took a soldiers' homestead upon the quarter-section south of Mr. French, built a dug-out on the creek near C.M. Turner's present residence and began cultivating the land. During 1870, there were plenty of elk, deer, antelope, beaver and wolves.

In the spring of 1871, Mr. French sowed about four acres of wheat, threshed it by "treading out," winnowed it in the wind and had it ground at Milford, Seward County, forty-eight miles below here, on the Big Blue, which at that time was the nearest grist-mill. The neighbors had a bee to aid him in the harvest and are said to have got a "little too much in their heads," ending in a frolic and a general good time of fun and rejoicing.

May 4, 1871, H. W. Gray, his son John M., son-in-law, G. W. Bemis, with W. Cunning and wife, came into the town, all settling on land immediately adjoining town. Mrs. Cunning was the first married white woman that settled near town.

In May, 1871, the first business house was established by one Mr. McTyge; was built of boards and located nearly between the houses of H. W. Gray and A. A. McCoy; there the town started and grew for several months till the railroad crossed the draw, and then it moved west to its present location. Mr. McTyge's stock consisted of whisky and groceries. About the same time, Kearney & Kelley started a saloon in a tent. P. H. Curran and Mart Higgins started another saloon soon following.

These saloons preceded the railroad builders, and most of them vanished as the railroad passed forward to the west.

Andrew Sherwood was the first cunning worker in metals among us, and commenced blowing his forge and swinging his hammer in a sod shop, just below the French dug-out, in June, 1871. About this time, J. R. Maltby came up from Crete, Neb., followed soon after by William A. Way. These men jumped the claim of J. C. Vroman, contesting it at Lincoln and Washington, and succeeded in getting it canceled, and the title perfected in themselves, as elsewhere recorded. In February, 1873, they laid it out as the first addition to Sutton.

August 23, 1871, Thurlow Weed came from Lincoln and brought with him a carload of lumber, the first one in the county, and for some time managed the lumber trade for Monnell, Lashley & Weed, of which firm he was a member. On the following day, John M. Gray & Co. shipped a carload of lumber from Lincoln, and have continued in the same business until the present time. J. M. Gray was commissioned a Notary Public soon after, the first one in the county. Among the early men of the town who have gone away are Asa Tracy, who kept the first boarding and lodging house, and afterward a store, he has gone West; Charles Calkins, who followed the same business, has gone West. Old Father Lynch, a comical and very good-natured man, kept a saloon in the building now occupied by Bagley & Bemis; after losing his health, he left the business, bequeathed his property to charitable purposes and died.

Thornton R. Linton came from Iowa and commenced the livery business with four horses, September 20, 1871; his first stable was built out of poles, covered with prairie hay; he now has a spacious stable on Saunders avenue, well supplied with horses and carriages.

August 10, 1871, Mr. French laid out the town in about 600 lots, and, on a suggestion of Mr. Maltby, it was named Sutton from a town of the same name in Massachusetts.


The first caucus in the town was held in the fall of 1871 at French's dug-out.

October 14, 1871, an election was held at the house of Alexander Campbell, near Harvard, at which election Sutton was made the county seat by a vote of fifty-six to thirty-three, and retained it up to November 7, 1879.

The first white child born here was the little daughter, since deceased, of Mr. and Mrs. F. A. Gross, born February 15, 1872.

The first death was that of little Maude Tracy, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Asa Tracy, April 21, 1872. It was the first shadow that death had cast over the town. She was a general favorite; every one missed her. To her funeral all went. Although no solemn bell tolled, every one was sad, and the well-known requiem was sung at her grave--"She sleeps in the valley so sweet."

The first shooting affray that occurred in the town and in this part of the county was occasioned by a jealousy between Mullen and his partner, saloon keepers. Flynn shot Mullen in the face, although not seriously. These fellows were fascinated by the charms of an Omaha belle.

Gray & Bemis established a nursery business November 1, 1871, shipping a general assortment of fruit trees, small fruits, shrubs and ornamental trees.

In February, 1872, the first directory of the town and county was published by Houston & Street, since dissolved, at Lincoln. The description of the town in that directory forms the basis of nearly all that has since been written. The directory contained: In dry goods and groceries, three; flour and feed, two; drugs, one; hardware, one; lumber, two; hotels, one; implements, one; nursery, one; livery, one; fur and hides, one; meat market, one; real estate, two; doctors, one; attorneys, one; Notary Public, one; shoemaker, one.

William Woolman was then the shoemaker, and also the first resident minister in the town. In all there were but twenty-one business and professional men.

Then the combined capital of the town was $15,000; amount of business per year, $25,000; whole number of houses and buildings in town, twenty.

To-day we have in dry goods and groceries, three; dry goods, five; groceries, four; hardware, two; drugs, four; millinery, two; meat markets, two; shoemakers, four; blacksmiths, three; carriage-makers, two; cabinet-maker and furniture, one; builders, four; jewelry, one; livery, one; hotels, two; lumber dealers, two; grain dealers, six; stock dealers, three; implements, three; proprietary medicine manufacturers, two; newspaper, one; lawyers, seven; doctors, four; clergymen, two; Notaries, four; brick makers, one; ice dealers, one; billiard halls, two; harnessmakers, two; barber, one.


Eleven years ago the population was in all, thirty-five; population now, 1,000.

November 1, 1871, Isaac N. and Martin Clark came from Illinois and Ohio, respectively, and purchased the unsold portion of the town site of Mr. French for $4,000. They immediately commenced the building which is now the Clark House, and, in February, the following year, put in a stock of hardware and drugs. These stocks were the first of the kind in the town or county, and the earliest on the Burlington & Missouri, west of Crete. I. N. Clark & Co. opened the hardware February 20, and Martin Clark & Co. the drugs, February 10, 1872.

C. M. Turner, on November 17, 1871, came up from Crete and built a store near where he lives, facing north to a street which has since been moved several lots south, and is now call Elm Street. December 9, he opened a stock of general merchandise, and shipped the first full carload of flour to town. Corey & Co. came up at the same time and built beside Mr. Turner. These two firms were always spirited rivals. Corey & Co. sold out to Stewart & Evans, went to Crete and have-since failed.

At this time most of the town was all on this now obliterated street, which extended down as far as the present switch, and was called "Whiskey Row." Afterward, the town, like a balky, head-strong horse, went east across the draw, the Clarks and Grays building the trestle bridge east of the court house to go over on. I. N. Clark & Co. built and stocked a hardware store down on Main avenue; also Martin Clark & Co. a drug store; this was late in 1872.

Then came Merrill & Co., built and stocked a general store, early in January, followed by John I. Smith in the harness business, and Charles Meyer, boot and shoe shop. About the same time, A. Burlingame bought out Judge Maltby's interest in the building he had previously built for a post office. Afterward, Mr. Burlingame added a leanto, and J. M. Gray put up a building south of the post office. Charley Calkins and W. B. Jenkins built houses and Gray moved the Mines building, which was the first schoolhouse, over for an office. The new town flourished. A lot of sorghum cane growing in that part of town gave it the name of Sorghum. The impetus given by the establishment of the depot and the surveying of the first addition to Sutton, by Maltby & Way, checked the progress of the building of East Sutton for a business point, and, accordingly, the business men one by one came back, and, excepting J. M. Gray & Co. and H. W. Gray, located on Saunders avenue. Fixed in the memory of the actors in that movement are the awful big stories Gen. Warren Hull used to spin in the stores through the winter, and the lays of Charley Meyer's clarionet in the summer evenings, when his day's work was done. That part of the town afterward built south of the track was called Scrabble Hill.

Thompson & Young commenced the agricultural implement business January 1, 1872, and were the earliest in that business in the county. They sold the first year $10,000 worth of implements and were succeeded by Thompson Bros.

Stewart & Evans succeeded to the business of Corey & Co. October 9, 1872. Two years later, George Stewart & Co. purchased and carried on the business.

April 1, 1873, William A. Way came up from Crete and started a hardware store in the Fitzgerald building; this was the third building south of the track; the first was built by F. A. Gross, in the fall of 1872. In the spring of 1873, Kribbler built a furniture store now occupied by George Henry. Soon after commencing business, Mr. Way built the building now occupied by Weed & Co., who succeeded him in business in 1874.

In the fall of 1873, Way & Stewart built the double building occupied by Keller & Co. and Merrill & Co.

Among the early settlers in Sutton Precinct are Russell and John Merrill and their families, who settled on Section 20; Russell built his house in the summer of 1871, a frame house ceiled, which was a great luxury in those times. John built in the fall. Most of the houses were made of sods, with roof covered with sods and ground floors. The settlers often used boxes and nail-kegs for chairs, and board home-made tables were common articles of furniture.

Indeed, the people in the town and country never dreamed of a suite of rooms, but were very proud if they had one room in a house. Dug-outs, constructed in the banks of ravines, were also a very fashionable way of living, when the people were either afraid of the winds or came in too late to build their houses.

Merrill & Co. commenced business on Main avenue in January, 1873, and dealt in dry goods and groceries. Russell raised and the firm shipped the first car of grain from this county, August 14, 1873.

Conner and Sheppard, respectively from Ohio and Illinois, opened an exclusive grocery store in March, 1873, and were the first exclusive grocers in the town.

December 15, 1873, Markus Wittenberg, a native of Hungary, came from Topeka, Kan., and opened a confectionery and fruit store; afterward added groceries and dry goods.

August 10, 1873, Mrs. C. M. Church opened a millinery store. Mrs. M. V. Foote's was the first one in the place.

Melvin Bros. came from Fillmore, Neb., and commenced business in dry goods and groceries in August, 1873. Gross, Kribbler, Turner and the Melvins' are the pioneer store builders in that flourishing part of town, south of the track.

Grice & Towslee established their harness business February 25, 1875, successors to John I. Smith, a very talkative chap, who flourished in Sorghum's palmy days, and whose business card still remains all over the front of his former shop on Main avenue. On the same day, J. F. Evens & Co. opened their lumber yard, successors to Monnell, Lashley & Weed.

F. W. Hohmann came in from Lincoln, Neb., and opened a dry goods and grocery store, in June, 1874; he was a musician by profession and organized cornet bands at Harvard and Sutton.

John B. Eaton & Son built a grain warehouse February 1, 1874. The building was afterward sold to Eaton & Pyle, and later passed into the hands of F. A. Pyle & Co. Eaton & Pyle enlarged it to a horse-power elevator, having a storage capacity of 7,000 bushels and a daily capacity of 1,000.

J. F. Evans & Co., T. A. Margrave, manager, commenced the grain business in the fall of 1874. This company are extensive dealers, it being a series of seven, extending from the Mississippi River to Sutton, there being five in Iowa and two in Nebraska. The daily capacity of their elevator in Sutton is 2,000 bushels.

McKee & Robinson commenced the photograph business in the summer of 1873. Afterward, McKee succeeded to the business.

W. J. Keller & Co., druggists, commenced operations November 30, 1875; they are successors to J. Thompson & Co., who commenced business in the fall of 1873.

Alcorn & Clyde commenced business in agricultural implements September 15, 1875, successors to Alcorn & Colvard.

J. E. Ryan, from Illinois, commenced business May 1, 1876, operating the first exclusively dry goods store in the county.

May 19, 1876, Mrs. F. A. Gross opened a millinery store and dress-making establishment.

In the spring of 1876, B. B. Cronin commenced in the boot and shoe trade, the first of the kind in Sutton.

The Sutton Brick Company, J. S. LeHew, Superintendent, I. N. Clark, Treasurer, commenced the successful manufacture of brick June 1, 1876.

April 22, 1876, Sherwood & Torrey opened their meat market. Krieger & Ballzer were in this business before them, and had a shop just north of Gray's lumber yard. After, the shop was moved on to Saunders avenue. W. Cunning bought into the firm and sold out again to Kreiger.

Afterward, Cunning was appointed Deputy Sheriff, which office he held for four years. Earlier he used to be a great man to drive work, and did most of the heavy hauling in town. Later, Eugene Bemis succeeded to the business, and had a dray built, the first one in the town.

The first builder in town was Henry Potter, now of Spring Ranch. He built P. H. Curran's saloon, near the last of May, 1871.

The first plastered building in Sutton was the county court house, built and plastered early in 1873. The masons came from Crete.

Other trades not before mentioned are A. A. Scott, Montgomery & Bro., Emery & Bro. and I. B. Terryll, builders; W. W. Jordan and Farris & Co., masons; Spencer & Co., William Smeltser and James McVey, blacksmiths; Daniel Cronin and F. J. Hoerger, carriage and wagon makers; Paul Braitsch, successor to J. D. Harris, jeweler; B. B. Cronin and George Karcher, shoemakers; Ramsey & Griffith, house and sign painters; John Nehf, harnessmaker; Augustus Meyer, barber; William Ryan, P. H. Curran and James Stewart, billiards.


Among the residences having considerable pretensions to elegance are the houses of J. B. Dinsmore, I. N. Clark, G. W. Bemis, J. M. Gray, R. S. Silvers, R. G. Brown and O. A. Kendall.

Noticeable among the many buildings that space does not allow mention is the two-story building, with Masonic hall above, of I. N. Clark & Co.; store building of Connor & Sheppard, one story, 22x70, the two-story building, with Odd Fellows hall, of John Grosshans, 24x60, and the one-story building of Mr. Griess, hardware, 24x60; one story, of Weed & Co., and store, same size, occupied by J. E. Ryan, and Turner & Hunter's store, 20x80; county court house, two stories; new public school building, 40x40, with appropriate and artistic projections each way, twenty-four foot posts, with a belfry and dome; it has two rooms below and a chapel, full size, above, with all the modern conveniences of cloak and apparatus rooms; cost $4,000.

The First Congregational Church, the first church building in the town or county, is 28x40 feet, sixteen-foot ceiling, and was erected in the fall of 1875; cost $1,500.

The First Methodist Episcopal Church of brick, now building, 30x40, eighteen feet high. Total number of buildings in the town eleven years ago, twenty; total number of buildings now, 284.

In that period of time, there has been five business failures, the period including the money panic of 1873 and grasshopper famine of 1874.

The County Commissioners appointed the first Board of Trustees for the town of Sutton in November, 1874; they were F. M. Brown, Martin Clark, James Melvin, John C. Merrill, William A. Way.

A. B. Lucore settled and built a large two-story business house, 18x40 feet, on Main avenue, in the spring of 1873. He first came to Sutton with Messrs. Gray, Cunning and Bemis, in 1871, and located at that time on land a few miles east of town, upon which he built a large frame house.

A colony of Germans from Southern Russia, near the port of Odessa, on the Black Sea, came to Sutton and settled in the town and adjacent country in the fall of 1873. The principal leaders of the colony were John Grosshans, Henry Griess and Henry Hoffman. The whole number of families is fifty-five. They bought, in the aggregate, 16,120 acres of land at an average cost of $7 per acre, making $112,840 that was paid the Burlington & Missouri Railroad Company and to the homesteaders for land. Their property in Sutton cost then $18,000; their combined wealth in this county is $500,000. They are a sober, temperate people and belong to the German Reformed Church.


The first rail laid on the town site of Sutton by the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Company was put into its place on the 12th day of August, 1871. Not long after, Mr. Joseph Wilsey, an attorney of Crete, representing the railroad company, waited on Mr. French in his dug-out and induced him to sign a contract, deeding the right of way through town to the company, the consideration of which was a promised depot at Sutton. This deed was not recorded until after French sold to the Clark Bros., and was consequently invalid.

A freight car had been used here for a station house, and was known as 124, which number was painted on a bleached buffalo skull, hung to a stick and nailed to one end of the car.

December 15 or 16, 1871, the company moved their station from this place to a new town they had laid out four and a half miles east, called Grafton, which consisted of four houses.

Originally, the intention of the Burlington & Missouri Company was to make a station here, the distance being about half way between Fairmont and Harvard and between Lincoln and Kearney, and the ready access to water in the valley of School Creek, and the friendly protection of the neighboring hills and the timber on the creek, were appreciated by Col. Thomas Doane, Chief Engineer of the company. The cause of the long and disagreeable contest is now a matter of great interest.

The railroad company, with its untold landed wealth, brought everything to bear on the struggling town that had started out so full of hope and good intentions. It instructed its officers to deny the existence of Sutton, even as a town, as well as a station. How bravely and well the people bore up--often heavy-hearted, but never quite discouraged--under their trials, it will be for our readers to conclude; as to who were in the right and who were victors in the end, remains for you to decide for yourselves.

It has been claimed by the company that because Sutton tolerated saloons, and also because the title to the Vroman claim was in dispute, were sufficient reasons for discarding it as a station.

The people were ever willing to give a reasonable proportion of their lands for a station. In due time, the contest between Vroman and Maltby and Way was decided and the title perfected in Maltby and Way.

About the 1st of January, 1872, Mr. T. Weed, deputed by the citizens, was sent to Crete with a proposition to the railroad company from the land-owners of the town, offering one-half of the unsold portion of the Clark, Maltby & Way eighties, upon which the town was afterward built. In addition, Maltby & Way offered twenty acres of the best of their land for depot grounds. Col. Doane wanted two-thirds of the lots besides depot grounds, and negotiations failed.

Simultaneously with this movement, Mr. I. N. Clark waited on D. N. Smith, President of the Town Site Company, an organization accessory in fact, though not in pretense, to the railroad company. This so-called company had charge of and manipulated the location of towns and stations. Mr. Clark remonstrated with Mr. Smith as to the action of the company in removing the station, but Mr. Smith would do nothing to relieve the situation.

Winter, cold and excessively snowy, had set in, and the settlers, strangers in a new country, with entire dependence on the railroad company to transport fuel and food, made the prospect gloomy indeed.

Stolid, cold, calculating--a perfect diplomatist--was the man Smith. Although acting under orders, he was very courteous. He "never quite gave Sutton up," and it was puzzling to know just what he meant, he had such perfect command of himself and his words.

The next movement for a depot was undertaken by Judge Maltby, who went to Boston at his own expense and interviewed the chief officers of the road. He found that they were, or claimed they were, entirely ignorant of the action of the Town Site Company in relation to this place and promised him they would investigate the whole trouble.

Later in the fall, another proposition was made to the company by the land-owners, similar to the first, except that reservations were made for public parks.

Toward Christmas, Marthis & Robbins, dealer in groceries at Grafton, indicated their desire to move to Sutton, with their building and goods.

In accord with the enterprising and liberal spirit, characteristic of the early men of the town, the Clark Bros. donated them a lot, and W. Cunning and G. W. Bemis took their teams, and, with other public-spirited citizens, went up to Grafton and moved the building and goods to Sutton, free of charge.

The resolute determination of the people to keep up the warfare at whatever cost, had then grown to be a settled fact. It was the all-absorbing theme in the stores, on the street and at the fireside. Nothing else was scarcely thought of.

In those days of trial, and before the people had the luxury of a county paper, the Good Templars Lodge, then in full blast, issued occasionally a manuscript paper for amusement. In one of these papers there appeared a poem, written by G. W. Bemis, now an attorney; the poem is here given to show the burden of thought. It was published by the Daily State Journal, a paper which uniformly stood by Sutton through its dark days:

               GRAFTON TO SUTTON.

"What a clanking of hammers and ringing of saws;
 How they sound through the valleys and ring in the draws;
 Oh! Sutton is growing, in the midst of the fray,
 With the city of Grafton only four miles away.

"How the B. & M. engines shriek, whistle and squall,
 And send forth the order that Sutton must fall;
 How they thunder and mutter and groan night and day,
 With the city of Grafton only three miles away.

"Then came Mr. Marthis, and thus he did say,
 'I am tried of Grafton; if only I may,
 I'll come down to Sutton, without delay.'
 Soon Grafton will be only two miles away.

"Then started the wagons and horses and men,
 The steeds, how they foamed, as a whip now and then,
 Came down on their sides, near the close of the day,
 With the city of Grafton only one mile away.

"Then rushed down the hill the black and the gray,
 Close followed the crowd to have sport on the way,
 And the shout that went up at the end of the fray,
 Said 'The city of Grafton is in Sutton to-day.'"

In July, 1872, I. N. Clark & Co. shipped a carload of heavy hardware, the first one into the county, over the St. Joe & Denver City Railroad, to the station now known as Edgar, and teamed it to Sutton. This company being a rival line gave a low rate on freight and it had a great influence in re-establishing the station at Sutton. Our merchants, learning self-reliance, were now shipping a large portion of their goods over this route, and by this means Chicago to-day has lost thousands of dollars in trade that now goes to St. Joseph and will continue to go there.

Early in April, 1873, the last effort was made to secure a station. I. N. and M. Clark and H. W. Gray, at their own expense, made a journey to Lincoln and Plattsmouth to treat directly with the officers of the road, and laid the matter for the last time before the company. There had, however, been some changes in the officers of the company--Col. Doane was supplanted by C. F. Morse as Superintendent. and D. N. Smith by Arthur Gorham, as President of the Town Site Company.

The new Superintendent was quite bashful and seemed ill at ease. These men showed him by freight receipts of the St. Joe & Denver Railroad that it would be easy to throw $20,000 a year out of their hands and into the hands of their rivals. No argument had been so attentively listened to as this. The Superintendent promised to lay the matter before Mr. Perkins, President of the road, and gave substantial encouragement that there would be a station at Sutton.

About the 20th of April, 1873, President Gorham came up to see about the equalization of taxes, and repeated the provisional promise of the Superintendent.

About the 1st of May, 1873, Arthur Gorham and D. N. Smith came to Sutton to negotiate with the citizens and make, if possible, final arrangements for the establishment of a depot. The first day's session was in the court-room, at which time Messrs. Gorham and Smith were the principal speakers. The next day's session was in the Treasurer's room. Everything went swimmingly on until they came to the Clark eighty, of which they wanted one-half. That was refused and one-third offered. To this D. N. Smith, after considerable parley, remarked that "there may be equities in this case that would allow these young men to get off with donating one-third," and called on Messrs. Weed, Gray, Tracy and others, who expressed themselves to the end that one-third was enough for Clark Bros. to give. The company exacted a donation of forty acres from J. M. Gray; forty acres with consideration from G. W. Bemis, which was refused and accepted by W. Cunning; also a donation of forty acres each from Henry Beale and J. R. Maltby; one-half of the Maltby and Way eighties, and twenty acres from F. A. Gross. In addition, the citizens were to grade the switch, and vote for Harvard for the county seat.

The company afterward paid the land-owners in bulk $5 per acre, as a consideration to make their title good. Instead of twenty acres, as formerly offered, they accepted 100 feet additional south of their right of way for depot grounds.

In the fall of 1873, the depot was built, since which time the company and our citizens have had intimate and pleasant relations.

Nowhere between the Blue and Platte Rivers have the company such a pure and inexhaustible water supply as in the large well at the water-tank in Sutton. The first station agent at Sutton was R. M. Grimes, now Postmaster at Kearney; L. S. Sage is the present agent. William Irving, the present Superintendent of the company, furnishes the following statistics:

During 1873, Sutton Station in freight received 2,483 tons; forwarded 1,154 tons. During 1875, freights received, 4,239 tons; forwarded, 5,255 tons. During 1875, from Sutton were shipped 120,681 pounds of merchandise and 528 carloads of grain. The same year were received 1,389,716 pounds of merchandise; 414 barrels of salt; 94 barrels of lime; 54 barrels of coal oil; 101 barrels of apples; 11 carloads of emigrants' movables; 26 cars of corn for seed; 209 cars of lumber and 183 cars of coal, etc.

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