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Kansas Collection Books

Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska
Jefferson County
Produced by members of the Jefferson County Genealogical Society,
Brenda Busing and Diana Busing.

Part 3


The county has never built a court house, but has leased property for county offices on the south side of the square in Fairbury. The square left for the court house has been ornamented with trees that have grown into considerable size. The prospect now is that the county will not build for eleven or twelve years, as the commissioners have just signed a contract with a Lincoln firm agreeing to pay $1,200 per annum rent for ten years for offices in a building to be erected within 1882.

The county jail is no credit to Fairbury nor the county, it being a small frame building with two iron cells. It is exceedingly dangerous. They are discussing the matter, but as yet the county has no poor house.


Jefferson County has two railroads, the St. Joe & Western, owned by the Union Pacific, running from St. Joe, Mo., to Grand Island, where it connects with the main line of the Union Pacific; and the Republican River branch of the Burlington & Missouri, which runs east and west across the southern portion of the county. It was completed in 1881, and will do much in developing the resources of the county. The St. Joe & Western was completed in 1872, and has been most instrumental in populating and developing the county. Since its completion the county has increased from 1,000 to over 8,000 in population. The road in Jefferson County follows up the valley of the Little Blue.


The Jefferson County Agricultural Society was organized in 1874 and held its first fair in 1875 and annually since that time with the exception of 1881. They had fifty acres west of Fairbury on the banks of the river, and in the spring of 1881 the fences and pens were washed away by the high water, the hall moved and injured by floating ice, and great holes washed in the track. This, together with a partial failure of crops, made it useless to have a fair in 1881. In 1879 it became a joint stock company, with forty shares of $25 each. They have never received any aid from the county owing to a disagreement among the commissioners. They have leased sixty acres south of Fairbury and are calculating to have the best fair ever held in the county in the fall. The present officers of the association are: J. B. McDowell, President; Emil Lange, Secretary; H. H. Todt, Treasurer; R. A. Kennedy, W. T. Brawner and A.. W. Aiken, Executive Committee.


Education in most parts of the county is receiving marked attention in the country, but more especially in the towns. Most of the settlers have come here for the purpose of establishing homes, and with equal importance to a covering for their heads and food for their bodies, is educational advantages for their children. The schoolhouses and furniture are good, and they are equally careful to employ competent instructors.

The schools of Steele City are doubtless the best in the county, yet nearly equaled by those of Fairbury, which place has the finest and best arranged school building in Lancaster, Gage, Jefferson or Thayer counties, excepting the city of Lincoln which, however, are only more costly and not more convenient or suitable to the purposes of health and mental training.

Twenty-two districts in the county furnish text-books, eighteen of which recommend the system as beneficial and profitable to the members of the district. Uniformity is secured without difficulty and the books are better taken care of. It is a pleasant fact to note that Jefferson county has made as much progress in education as in population and the development of her resources.

There are seventy-three districts and seventy schoolhouses in the county, valued at about $60,000, including all school property. Excepting Fairbury and Steele City, the school indebtedness of the county is only $8,000. There are over 3,300 children of school age. It cost $31,000 to run the schools in 1881. There are three grades of certificates issued, but very few teachers are employed with the third grade.

Fairbury and Steele City have graded schools.


Acres of land, 318,000; average value per acre, $3; value of town lots, $98,000; money invested in merchandise, $75,463; moneys and credits, $62,418; mortgages, $23,416; horses, 316; value $102,004; cattle, 7,977; value, $67,068; mules and asses, 419, value, $1,800; sheep, 7,903; value, $22,770; hogs, 13,903; value $65,313; carriages and wagons, 1,504; value, $58,278; watches, 932; value $7,575; sewing and knitting machines, 63; value, $11,517; agricultural tools, value, $77,952; furniture, $21,429, libraries, $1,564; merchandise, $72,998; property not enumerated, $61,441; railroads, $131,844; last assessed valuation, $402,084.

There are 67,000 acres of land under cultivation. There are more acres of spring wheat sown than any other crop; corn, oats, barley, rye, millet, winter wheat, flax and potatoes following in the order given.


Precincts                                  Population.
Buckley.........................................   572
Lincoln.........................................   231
Meridian........................................   490
Eureka..........................................   350
Antelope........................................   437
Fairbury........................................ 1,675
Richland........................................   543
Washington......................................   384
Newton.......................................... 1,268
Rose Creek......................................   425
Cub Creek.......................................   635
Gibson..........................................   408
Pleasant........................................   261
Jefferson.......................................   415
Plymouth........................................   446
     Total ..................................... 8,540



Fairbury, the county seat, is a beautiful city of about 1,600 inhabitants, occupying an eligible plateau on the second bottom of the Little Blue, near the geographical center of the county. The location, lay of land, and view of the surrounding country is all that could be desired. The meandering Blue can be traced for many miles up and down the valley, and in the growing months when the bordering hills are dressed in green, the scenery is very picturesque and strikingly beautiful. Scarcely a decade since it was a silent stretch of prairie, and uninhabited save by the deer and jack-rabbit, the hunting ground of the Indian, the rippling of the Little Blue unheard by the white man, and its mighty strength going to waste. Now the place is teeming with the business of civilization, and is filled with hundreds of prosperous and happy homes; the river has a roar now where it only rippled then, and the noise of its toiling as it grinds the grain for thousands can be heard in the distance, and its waters that are not yet supplied with labor seem to say as they rush over the dam, "Give me wheels and spindles to turn for you." Instead of the shifting wigwam, uncomely and uncomfortable, are neat, cheerful, commodious, and even beautiful homes, permanent castles in which every occupant is a sovereign or an heir of sovereignty. Instead of the savage scream of the red man the teeming stroke of industry and the joyous shout of the schoolboy is heard. Spires pointing heavenward, emblematic of man's soul longing for immortality, and a magnificent temple of learning rears its head to the skies, where nature, unsubdued by mind and heart, ruled in her wild supremacy. The evening then was filled with the grating music of the war-dance, but now the serenade, whispers of lovers, and notes by airy fingers touched, sweetest music of the human voice, and hymns of praise float out and upward on the evening air.

Thus here, as all over this great State, the magic touch of civilization has changed a wilderness into a paradise as fair as its wide expanse before was desolate.

The business portion is beginning to assume a solid and attractive appearance. The small frame store buildings that are the commencement of every city, as they have burned down or become too small for the business, have been replaced by large and substantial brick and stone buildings. It is not at a standstill as yet, as during the summer and fall of `82 there will be business blocks erected to the amount of $35,000 or $40,000, including an opera house.

The residence portion of the town is composed of neat, commodious, ornamented, and well kept homes, including a number of pretentious residences that would do credit to large cities.

The town was laid out in 1869 by Messrs. McDowell and Mattingly, but the period of growth commences with `72, the year the St. Joe & Denver, now the St. Joe & Western Railway was completed, since which time, excepting `75, the year succeeding the grasshopper scourge, the growth has been steady and substantial.

Mr. McDowell gave the place its name, choosing the name of his previous residence, Fairbury, Ill. It became a post office in 1869, J. B. Mattingly being the first post master, with a salary of $1 per month. There were two mails weekly from Seneca. It has since become an office of the third class and an International money order office, receiving seventeen mails per week. In 1870 J. R. Brown succeeded Mr. Mattingly, who in `71 was succeeded by George Cross, who has held the position ever since. September 24, 1875, it was organized as a city of the second class, having reached the required number of inhabitants.

Fairbury has always been visited by large numbers of the Otoe Indians, owing to its proximity to their Reservation, but they gave no trouble, save the annoyance of begging, for that with hunting seems to be the Indians natural occupation. In the spring and fall nearly the whole tribe would pass through the town to and from their semi-annual buffalo hunting expeditions.

The great majority of the population are native Americans, although there are a few of many nationalities. Nearly every State in the Union is represented, and yet as a class the people are well educated, intelligent and of refined taste. Entertainments of an intellectual character, considering the population, are exceedingly well attended; yet as in the most cultured community, there are more that enjoy those provoking laughter. They are thoroughly alive to the interests of home education, persistent in the endeavor to establish a thorough and complete common school education as can be secured in even larger towns of the older States.

The citizens subscribed liberally for the erection of a United Brethren College in their place, and the enterprise would have been a success if the denomination had labored according to the pattern of the citizens of Fairbury.


The city has not a very thoroughly organized fire department, although it has taken steps in that direction. It has secured what apparatus it could, and has effected an organization for the prevention and extinction of fires.

During its short history Fairbury has had two quite extensive conflagrations. It is an ill wind they say that blows nobody good, and it can be added that it is an ill fire that burns nobody good. These fires, although injuring some of the citizens, to the town were beneficial, for the buildings--being principally of pine--that in a few hours floated away in smoke and heat, or what was left only in the shape of ashes, would perhaps have stood till by decay they become useless, unpleasant to the sight and injurious to the reputation of the city. But where they stood now stand substantial, commodious and ornamental stores of brick and stone pointed to by every citizen with emotions of pride.

The first and largest fire occurred on the night of October 4, 1879, and was supposed to have been the work of an incendiary. It destroyed one-half of the business portion of the town, all the building on the south side of the square excepting the court house building and Showalter's store, both of which were of brick. The loss was estimated at $50,000, with only $8,000 insurance. It has since been rebuilt, and in a style commendable to the owners and creditable to the town.

On the 28th of February, 1880, J. C. Kesterson's warehouse and Dooley's hotel were consumed by fire, also supposed to have been the work of some evil-minded genius, as there had been no fire in the mill that day, where the fire originated. Loss $8,000, with $3,600 insurance. From out their mute ashes more elegant and commodious structures have since arisen. While Messrs. Kesterson and Dooley mourn the loss of vanished riches, the city folk point with pleasure to the solid structures erected on the battle ground where flame and accumulated fortune fought for the supremacy. Tears and laughter, decay and growth, seem to be the order of the world.

But a more general calamity befell the peaceful little city of Fairbury, on the night of June 20, 1881, just as her citizens were retiring to their couches for the night's repose. Presently a little breeze was heard stirring about the streets, then a few gentle raps upon the roofs and the fragile window blinds, but quicker than it takes to tell it, the gentle breeze become a whirlwind and the unsuspected raps, monstrous blows from great rocks of ice driven through the air by the impetuous blast. Blinds and window glass and window frames were no impediments, but gave way as though they were so many straws, and the firmer siding was soon reduced to choicest kindling. The rain came in torrents, flooding the floors by what was driven through the unprotected windows. It is said that five or six inches of water fell in about the space of one hour. The streets were for a time rivers of running water. Besides the damage done to houses the trees were either ruined or greatly disfigured, the vegetables were either cut to pieces by the hail or washed away by the water. We cannot estimate the total damage, but in the single article of window glass there was a loss of $3,000 in Fairbury alone. The hailstones were from one to three inches in diameter. The storm commenced a few miles north of Alexandria, in Thayer County, (which, see for another account), where it did greater damage, and proceeded in a southeasterly direction for about twenty miles, with a varying path from three to six miles in width. It injured the crops more or less for a much larger territory, but along its path they were completely destroyed.


The following named persons have since then filled the various city offices:

1875-Mayor, L. C. Champlin; Clerk, Emil Lange; Treasurer, C. F. Steele; Aldermen, Robert Brock, H. D. Merrill, William Riley and J. H. Smith.

1877-Mayor, L. C. Champlin; City Clerk, L. A. Stevens; Treasurer J. V. Switzer; Police Judge, J. B. Mattingly; Aldermen, J. H. Smith, H. D. Merrill, William Riley and F. Rhodes.

1878-Mayor, E. E. Eldridge; City Clerk, L. A. Stevens; Treasurer D. C. Work; Police Judge, Benjamin L. Purdy; Aldermen, J. R. Nelson, H. L. McClure, J. C. Kesterson and H. F. Hold

1879-Mayor, J. V. Switzer; Clerk, L. A. Stevens; Treasurer, John Exton; Police Judge, Benjamin L. Purdy; Aldermen, H. H. Diller, J. R. Nelson, J. C. Kesterson and H. L. McClure.

In 1880 it was changed to a village organization. Trustees, H. L. McClure, Chairman; L. C. Champlin, S. C. Inglam, C. F. Buchanan and B. F. Hart; Clerk, L. A. Stevens; Treasurer, John Exton; Village Attorney, G. S. Merritt.

1881- Trustees, B. F. Hart, Chairman; H. L. McClure, C. F. Buchanan, W. O. Hambel and J. C. Kesterson; Clerk, C. B. Letton; Treasurer, John Exton; Village Attorney, C. E. Thompson.

In 1831 the trustees granted three liquor licenses of $500 each, but at the election there will be an effort made to elect a temperance board.


The first school in Fairbury was a private one taught by Dr. R. S. Chapman in 1870. In 1871 a public school was started with about fifteen pupils, a Miss Purdy being the first and a Miss Reyburn the second teacher. The schools have increased in the same ratio with the population of the town, in fact so rapidly that up to 1881 the accommodations were not always sufficient. In 1881 a magnificent, convenient and commodious school building, at a cost of $14,000, including the furniture, was built. It is one of the finest and most complete structures for the purpose for which it was designed it has been our pleasure to examine in Southern Nebraska. It is a handsomely proportioned two-story brick building with a stone basement, occupying the highest point of ground within the limits of the town. It is scientifically constructed as regards lighting, heating, and the most important points in all buildings, ventilation, which is, indeed quite perfect. There are five large, well furnished assembly rooms, with recitation and cloak rooms, heated by the most approved furnaces.

There are about 500 children of school age in the district. The town has generally been noted for good schools, and now that they have one of the finest buildings they propose to have as good schools as any town of its size can produce.

The past year the schools have been fair, but being in new quarters with new teachers and trying to adopt a practical and thorough course of study, they are consequently not at their best. The teachers for the past school year, that is, 1881-82, were George M. Savage, Principal; Miss Mae E. Johnson, Assistant; Miss Maggie Lewis, third Primary; Miss Annie Smith, second Primary; and Miss Alice Griffith first Primary.


The religious element is quite as well represented here as in any new town in the State, and the standard of morality is commendably high. Deep respect for the Sabbath is nearly universal. There is an amount of skepticism, especially as to the virtue of the modern churches, but to our knowledge atheism does not exist. There seems to be no sectarian strife between the denominations represented, but they are a unit in the effort to build up the common cause, or establish the fundamental principles of Christianity, or they unite in the common interest of (a common) humanity.

The First Baptist Church of Fairbury was organized the 3rd of July 1878, by J. N. Webb, then State Missionary. Rev. Mark Noble, who has been pastor ever since the organization, commenced preaching in Fairbury, March 3, 1870. On the 1st of June, 1875, their church building was dedicated by Elder J. N. Webb with impressive ceremonies. The church is not large, but convenient, and sufficient of the ordinary congregations. If it increases in the next five years, as it has in the past, a larger edifice will be necessary. The building cost $1,300. The church is out of debt and self sustaining. There were eleven members when organized, but they number now about seventy, not including a large number that have removed to other places. At the revival in 1877, there were seventeen accessions to the church by baptism. The church has been of great moral, if not financial, aid to the town.

Methodist Episcopal Church--The first class of this church was established in October, 1870, with five members. There are now about sixty-five. The church was organized March, 1871, by Elder T. B. Lemon. In 1871, at a cost of $1,800, the church building was erected, and in 1872 the parsonage at a cost of $800. The first pastor was Rev. G. H. Wehn, succeeded by Revs. C. W. Comstock, David Marquette, E. Wilkinson, B. Reaves, F. A. Burdick, L. W. B. Long, S. D. Roberts and R. Pearson. In 1877, under the preaching of Rev. F. A. Burdick, there was a revival at which time there were thirty four accessions to the church.

Presbyterian Church--The first minister of this denomination that preached in Fairbury was Rev. B. F. McNeil, in January, 1871. In February, 1873, Rev. H. B. Cunningham, D. D., filled appointments at this place, followed in July by Rev. F. X. Miron, who then took the first steps toward organizing a church, which was completed November 13, by Rev. N. C. Robinson. An $800 parsonage was built in 1874. November 24, 1878, a church edifice, costing $3,000, was dedicated. Rev. L. B. W. Shryock became pastor at that time, and was succeeded in April, 1880, by the present pastor, Rev. A. F. Randolph. The present membership is about fifty-five.

Christian Church--Elder T. Johnson organized this church in October, 1871, with about seventeen members. In the summer of 1874 they erected a building at a cost of $1,500, during the pastorate of Elder McGuyer. Rev. Charles Roe succeeded him, who in turn was succeeded by Elder Lobingere.

In 1877 Rev. Charles Blackburn held a revival at this church at which time there were thirty-four members added to the church. The present membership is about eighty. They are now without a pastor.

These four denominations began, you might say, with the commencement of the town, and to their presence and influence is largely due the credit of attracting a large portion of the religious and educational element of the population to the town.

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