History of Kearney, Nebraska (Part 1)
From: Buffalo County, Nebraska and its people
BY: Samuel Clay Bassett
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago 1916


Of the history of the City of Kearney mention is made in various ways in this volume. Because the founding of the city was unique, no other city in the state founded under like conditions, a quite lengthy history is herein given under the title, "Founding the City of Kearney." To the student of history it seems most unfortunate that promoters and boomers should have so largely had control in the development of the city in the years of its early history.

The reaction which followed the boom period was most disastrous in a financial sense and for a considerable period retarded the further growth of the city. The extent to which promoters and speculators boomed the city and the reaction following is perhaps best made plain by the relation of the following bit of history bearing on the point. In the '90s, following the boom period, Capt. L. D. Forehand was employed to take the enumeration of school children in School District No. 7, and in this district is embraced the City of Kearney. It was required that the enumerator visit each dwelling house in the district. Mr. Forehand relates that for his own information he made note of the number of dwelling houses and the number vacant. He found 1,400 dwelling houses in the city and 700 vacant. Of these vacant houses hundreds were moved out on the farms of Buffalo County, some of them quite twenty miles from the city. As a matter of history it might be added that few if any of the promoters remained as citizens of the city. Like birds of prey, when the bones were picked clean (when the bubble burst), they departed for fresh fields, greener pastures.

It is well to state that some of the buildings erected during the boom period have been of lasting benefit. The Opera House Block, built at an expense of about ninety thousand dollars, still remains a landmark, its hall a source of much pleasure and usefulness to the people of the city and surrounding country

The City of Kearney of today (1915), the county seat town of Buffalo county, with a population of 6,202, as recorded in the 1910 United States census, is a substantial city, well supported by the country tributary thereto, assured of future growth and prosperity by reason of its location in the midst of a country having a soil of great fertility and abounding in agricultural resources as yet largely undeveloped. While certain features of the life and activities of the city and its people are treated elsewhere somewhat in detail, it may be said, that it is a city of homes, wide streets bordered with ornamental trees, miles of sidewalks and beginning in the year 1913 its principal streets and avenues are being paved.

Through the center of the city runs the Lincoln Highway, a great national highway extending across the continent from coast to coast and in the year 1915 a "seedling" mile of pavement was laid leading westward from the city.

The city owns a public waterworks system, with direct pressure, the mains extending to all parts of the city and to the cemetery, furnishing pure water for domestic purposes and the best of fire protection.

There is a privately owned gas plant and electric light and power plant, a history of which is elsewhere given. A city sewerage system was installed in the year 1888 at an expense of $70,000, city bonds for that purpose having been voted. The city cemetery is beautitfully located on the bluffs overlooking the city and Platte Valley, title to the Kearney cemetery grounds having been acquired June 28, 1876.

A city library, conveniently located, on valuable lots generously donated by Mrs. C. O. Norton, and under the efficient management of Mrs. Pauline Frank as librarian; is a strong educational force in the city and also reaches out to school districts and smaller towns adjacent to the city. An interesting history of Kearney's public library achievements is elsewhere given by Mrs. C. V. D. Basten.

The public schools of the city are the pride and boast of its people and in the matter of school buildings, school equipment, the educational advantages offered are fully up to date in all particulars. The postoffice of the city is housed in a Government building, beautiful in design and finish, an ornament to the locality. In a beautiful park, conveniently located, there has been maintained a Chautauqua course for several years. There are two hospitals with up to date equipment and managed in accordance with scientific methods. The Buffalo County bar has numbered among its members men eminent in their profession and of recognized ability. The medical profession in the city is represented by men of ability, large experience and extensive practice. In the nature of things, in the history of the city, there have been bank failures, but to relate the history of such failures can serve, in a history way, no good purpose. The banks of the county seat town of 1915 are conservatively managed, fully serve the financial interests of the city and county, and are safe depositories of public and private funds, the last reports for the year 1913 showing a total of capital stock, $125.000; surplus, $108,041; deposits, $1,631,725.

Since the year 1876 there has been maintained, at Kearney. a company of state militia but whether continuously or not history does not disclose. In the beginning the company was known as "The Kearney Guards" with E. C. Calkins as captain, R. A. Julian, first lieutenant, James Jenkins, second lieutenant.

In the year 1915 it was known as Nebraska National Guard, Company L, Fourth Infantry, "Norris Brown Guards." Captain, Lyn J. Butcher; first lieutenant, W. E. Harper; second lieutenant, F. G. Tracy.

A woman's club organized in 1888 was among the first of such clubs organized in the state and has proven a helpful factor in the social and educational life of the city.

In a newspaper way the city from the beginning has been well and abundantly served. The Kearney Junction Times, L. B. Cunningham editor, was established in October, 1872, before the Town of Kearney Junction was incorporated. Later the name was changed to Buffalo County Journal and enjoyed a county wide circulation and exerted a strong and helpful influence through the county.

In February, 1873, The Central Nebraska Press was established by Webster and Rice H. Eaton, the latter managing editor. It was understood that "Web" Eaton received, as subsidy to induce the publication of a daily at Kearney Junction, lots donated by promoters interested in the sale of city lots. This publication, daily and weekly, served in an efficient manner, the interests of the city and surrounding country, taking rank as one of the leading papers of the state: The Press (weekly) passed into the hands of W. C. Holden and in a large sense became the personal organ of its editor, used too often to "get even," as it might be termed, rather than in the dissemination of news and the upbuilding of the community. In the history of the press of Buffalo County, W. C. Holden, as an editor, is in a class by himself as one given to what in later days was termed "muck raking;" he seemed to take pleasure and delight in personal attacks on individuals, through the columns of his publication, and it would have occasioned little surprise had he been killed by some whom he. thus attacked. It is true, that in some cases the provocation was great, and the parties guilty as publicly charged, but the Press under Mr. Holden's management lost public favor, public influence and public support.

In the year 1888, M. A. Brown, R. H. Eaton and others organized the Hub Printing Company and began the publication of The Daily Hub and also continued the publication of the original Central Nebraska Press, whose publication began in the year 1873. The Press was at first issued as a weekly but later as the Semi-Weekly Hub.

Mr. Eaton soon retired from editorial connection with the Hub, to become postmaster of Kearney, and M. A. Brown became publisher and editor.

The Hub in the twenty five years of it publication has been the leading paper published in the county both in general circulation and as a molder of public opinion. In local news it covers both the city and county. The Hub carries a strong editorial page. As an editorial writer Mr. Brown shows wide reading and acquaintance with the thought of the day; his editorials are brief, timely, never dull or out of date and are widely quoted in the press of the state.

The Kearney Hub and The Kearney Hub Publishing Company represent in large measure the life work of M. A. Brown; a work useful and helpful to mankind.

From the silver anniversary edition of The Kearney Daily Hub, 1913:

"The Hub was founded upon the rather shaky foundations of the old Central Nebraska Press, established in 1873, by Webster and Rice Eaton. In the fall of 1888 the present editor and manager of the Hubs came to Kearney upon the solicitation of a then Kearney citizen who had been visiting in Beatrice. The writer had a few months before disposed of the Beatrice Express, was comfortably situated in Beatrice and was not looking for a new location; but lie visited Kearney, was pleased with what he saw, and impressed with the possibilities of the newspaper field in Central Nebraska. Rice Eaton and J. P. Johnson owned the plant of the Central Nebraska Press, which they had just revived. The writer bought the Johnson interest, retained Mr. Eaton, and organized the Hub Pub lishing Company. The writer was business manager and managing editor. Mr. Eaton for• a short time conducted the editorial column. The name was changed to the Hub at the writer's suggestion, in harmony with the then greatly advertised fact that Kearney was the 'hub' of the continent, 1,733 miles from Boston and 1,733 miles from San Francisco.

"Then trouble began. Immediately followed the Kearney Daily Enterprise, subsidized with money and land by the 'boom' interests rampant at that time. The Kearney Journal was then printed as a daily but ceased publication long ago. The New Era was a weekly printed by Rhone Brothers, who disposed of the plant; it became the New Era Standard, and the last publishers dropped the name and substituted the Times. Other newspapers have started up meantime. The Democrat, weekly, survives. But no other newspaper printed in Kearney twenty five years ago, except the Hub, is now living. The boom went up the flume and caused many wrecks. Drouth came and the country was poverty stricken. Came also the panic and widespread insolvency. Nothing, barring pestilence, was lacking. The experience of those years, looked back upon, seems now like a frightful dream.

"So far as the Hub was concerned it had ceased to hope. There was nothing left except 'grit' and the determination to hang on. In 1896 the Hub was down in the lowest financial depths. In 1897 the writer effected a turn by means of which he secured entire personal control. The editor, his wife, and two daughters, went to work to rebuild the paper's fallen fortunes."


In the year 1891, The Kearney Democrat was established with F. L. Wheedon as editor and publisher. The Democrat has steadily grown in excellence and influence and its editor has achieved much in experience and wisdom. The Democrat has been a helpful factor in the development of our civilization towards higher ideals and has been the leading newspaper in the county in support of temperance legislation, the abolition of the open saloon.

As a local, county seat newspaper it has won an enviable rank.

While its editorial page shows study, investigation and a deep interest in matters relating to conditions affecting the City of Kearney, the state and the nation, its editor has seemed to have little interest in the development of the agricultural resources of the county the most vital of our interests in a material way.

One feature in the history of the Democrat is of special interest to a historian, and possibly has a bearing on both the success and influence of the Democrat as a newspaper and that is, that payments of subscription are acknowledged in its columns by a notice so skillfully and diplomatically worded as to give pleasure and, as The saying is, "leave a pleasant taste in the mouth."


During the "boom" period there was started a daily known as The Kearney Enterprise. It was a subsidized publication, advertised to publish dispatches of the press association, and as a disseminator of world wide news of the day, to equal dailies published in the metropolitan cities.

As a newspaper publication it might appropriately be described as a "hummer" a "sky rocket." It was short lived.


About the year 1884 was established The New Era Standard, Rhone Brothers editors and publishers. It was understood it was established in the interests of George W. E. Dorsey, who was a candidate for Congress in the then "Big Third District, and later elected. The Rhone Brothers were job printers by trade and by preference, and the Standard was, with them, a secondary consideration.

For a time it enjoyed a considerable circulation, but did not win favor as a disseminator of local news or a strong, convincing force in the shaping of public opinion.

The Kearney Morning Times was established in 1906. Its publisher, T. B., Garrison, Sr.; editor, Martin F. Blank. The several changes which have occurred in both the ownership and editorial management of the Times, have not had a tendency to establish a fixed policy or to develop force and strength as a molder of public opinion, which should be the ideal, the goal, striven for by every newspaper publication and in the realization of which time is an important factor. The editor of the Times in 1915 was F. W. Brown.


During the boom period in the life of the city, there was established, within the incorporated limits of the city what was known as The Watson Ranch. It embraced several hundred acres of land devoted to farming, along certain lines, on an extensive scale. The ranch was largely a promotion scheme and was featured extensively in advertising sent out from Kearney. It attracted more than state wide notice and was given much space in not only the daily press but in agricultural journals. The value and importance of the alfalfa plant was just beginning to be recognized in the state and on the Watson Ranch, about one thousand acres were devoted to alfalfa growing and with marked success. Unusual efforts were being put forth to encourage and develop the dairy business in the state and on the Watson Ranch, was kept one. hundred or more dairy cows, a large dairy barn built, a creamery established, and R. K. Emily, an experienced creamery man who had won high honors in a national competition of butter exhibited was employed to manage the creamery. The poultry yards were extensive. As recalled, some two thousand cherry trees were planted and for years furnished fruit in 'great abundance.

While the Watson Ranch is, in 1915, but a memory, it served, in its day a useful purpose, demonstrating, as Secretary R. W. Furnas used to say of exhibits at a state fair or exposition, "possibilities in agriculture." Of H. D. Watson's activities at Watson Ranch, one remains to bless his memory and for long years to come will stand as a living monument to his foresight and wisdom: along the right of way of the Union Pacific Railway running through Watson Ranch, and along the public highway leading to the city he planted trees and cared for them, and a century hence these trees which Mr. Watson planted and cared for will still add to the beauty of the landscape, and give pleasure to those who travel the great Overland Trail across the continent.

In recognition of Mr. Watson's worth and worthiness, the Commercial Club of Kearney adopted a set of resolutions asking that the seedling mile on the Lincoln Highway be named the II. D. Watson Boulevard. The city council acted on the request on November 16, 1915, and passed a city ordinance whereby the west part of Twenty fourth Street was named "The H. D. Watson Boulevard," as a token in appreciation of the public services of Mr. Watson. Mr. Watson has planted or caused to be planted ten miles of trees in and adjacent to the City of Kearney, nine miles of which are still (1915) living. The H. D. Watson Boulevard is that part of Twenty fourth Street lying west of the Kearney Canal tail race and extending to the southeast corner of the State Industrial School grounds.


Of citizens of Kearney who have gained recognition as state officials the following named are recalled: Joseph Scott, commissioner of public lands and buildings; E. C. Calkins, Supreme Court Commissioner and regent of the university; W. D. Oldham, deputy attorney general and Supreme Court Commissioner; Norris Brown, deputy attorney general, attorney general, United States senator; L. B. Fifield and John T. Mallalieu, regents of the university; R. R. Greer, president of the State Board of Agriculture; Francis G. Hamer, justice of the Supreme Court; John T. Shahan, deputy state auditor; A. O. Thomas, state superintendent; C. H. Gregg, N. P. McDonald and Dan Morris, members of the board of education, state normal schools; I. N. Dryden. trustee of Nebraska Wesleyan University and president of Nebraska State Bar Association, 1916.

The churches of the city, its schools, public and sectarian, its lodges, social, fraternal, beneficial, are treated elsewhere somewhat in detail.

The activities of the city are best represented by its commercial club, composed of the business men of the city. The commercial club of the city, organized at an early date, has been a strong and directing force in the upbuilding of the city's business interests. At this date and for some years previous the club has maintained a salaried secretary with rooms in the city ball.

Located at Kearney are three state institutions: The State Industrial School for Boys, established in 1881; the State Normal School, established in 1905; the State Tuberculosis Hospital, established in 1911.

The City of Kearney, for its municipal government, is divided into four wards, electing two councilmen from each ward, these with the mayor constitute the city council.

The officers of the city in 1915 were: Mayor, C. W. Kibler; city clerk, T. N. Hartzell; city treasurer, H. A. Webbert; police judge, John Wilson; city attorney, Warren Pratt; chief of police, T. A. Pickrell; night police, ____________; merchants police, V. V. Smith; chief of fire department, H. H. Porter; assistant chief, Elmer Rhoades; street commissioner and building inspector, E. H. Morey; water commissioner and sewer inspector, J. A. Cleary; janitor city hall, driver auto fire truck, D. H. Sitorius; sexton of cemetery, Hampton S. Bell; city teamster, T. J. Waller; city engineer, E. H. Morey; city librarian, Mrs. Pauline Frank; city physician, Dr. L. M. Stearns; president of council, J. D. Loewenstein.

Councilmen - S. E. Hawley, J. C. Mercer, First Ward; J. D. Loewenstein, R. M. Barney, Second Ward; T. H. Bolted, A. J. Mercer, Third Ward; F. M. Arbuckle, E. A. Miller, Fourth Ward.


The conditions which led to the founding of the City of Kearney were unusual; the methods employed are a matter of history.

Both the Union Pacific and Burlington and Missouri River railways were land grant roads, the charter of the latter, from the general government, requiring that it make junction with the Union Pacific at a point cast of the one hundredth meridian.


April 11, 1871, D. N. Smith, agent for the town site department of the Burlington Railway, in company with Moses Syndenham and Rev. Ashbury Collins, visited Buffalo County and located the junction point of the two roads. The records disclose that on May 3, 1871, D. N. Smith purchased of the Union Pacific Railway Company all of section one (1) and part of eleven (11), township 8, range 16 in Buffalo County - in all 993.10 acres for the sum of $2,979.30, an average price of $3 per acre. On April 21, 1871, friendly parties filed preemption claims on the north one half of section two (2) town 8, range r6 and at the earliest possible date preemption proof was made on these claims and on November 21, 1871, D. N. Smith purchased these two claims, 300 acres in all, for the sum of $500 each. In February, 1871, another quarter section of Section No. 2 was purchased by Mr. Smith, agent for the South Platte Land Company. Thus it will be seen that nearly a year before the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad made junction with the Union Pacific, the South Platte Land Company, by its agent, D. N. Smith, had secured in a body, covering the junction point, 1,473.10 acres of land at a total expense of approximately $4,419.00.


It was doubtless the intention of the South Platte Land Company to secure possession of school section No. 36, adjoining, on the north, the town site, the minimum price for such lands being $7 per acre, some $4,480 for the section. At that date school lands were in charge of the county board and the county commissioners of Buffalo County would not permit the sale. C. Putnam was employed to survey this section into lots and acreage property. In June, 1873, the county board appointed F. S. Trew, D. Allen Crowell and J. Marsh Grant to appraise the value of these lots; the appraised value as reported was $49,108.00.

At a later date - 1874 - these lots were sold at public auction by the treasurer of Buffalo County, the state realizing, from this sale, approximately $67,000 for the lots in school section No. 36.


During the summer of 1871 Anselmo B. Smith surveyed, into city lots, the original town site of Kearney Junction and the original plat was filed for record in the county clerk's office October 27, 1871.

This survey and plat comprised all of section one (i) as aforesaid.


The Burlington was completed and made junction with the Union Pacific at Kearney, September 1, 1872. The Burlington built a union station at the junction point but the Union Pacific refused to stop its trains at the union station and continued to make its stop at the Junction Ilouse station on section No. 2, about a mile to the west; the Union Pacific demanded an interest in the town site, and on September 14, 1872, title to one half of the lots in the original town site of Kearney Junction was conveyed to John Duff, trustee for the Union Pacific Railway Company, the consideration being $1,075.18.

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