Towns and Villages in Douglas County, NE (Part 1) Florence to Waterloo
From: Omaha: The Gate City
and Douglas County, Nebraska
Arthur C. Wakeley, Supervising Editor
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago 1917


The City of Florence, situated in the northeastern part of the county, marks the site of the first white settlement within the limits of the present Douglas County. In January, 1846, the Mormons crossed the Missouri River and began building up a settlement there, which they called "Winter Quarters." A full account of the Mormon emigration is given in a former chapter.

Authorities differ as to who really founded the town of Florence after the site was practically vacated by the Mormons. Some state that, in the spring of 1853, James C. Williams, at the suggestion of Peter A. Sarpy, took steps to build a town on the site of the old Winter Quarters and had the town surveyed later in the year. Others, and these are in the majority, say that James C. Mitchell visited the place in the spring of 1853 and came back later in the season with a company of surveyors and a Mrs. Compton to act as housekeeper while the town was being platted. Notice that the first names of these two reputed founders are the same. The town was named Florence, after Florence Kilbourn, a niece of Mrs. Mitchell, and it is possible that the name "Williams" is merely a misprint In the spring of 1854 the Florence Land Company was organized by J. C. Mitchell, J. M. Parker, Philip Chapman, R. B. Pegram, J. B. Stutesman and a few others and in the fall of that year the town was resurveyed by L. F. Wagner, who laid out 270 blocks. About the time the new survey was completed, J. M. Parker started a bank and Florence began to assume metropolitan airs.

The Florence Town Company was organized in 1856, by the organizers of the Land Company and some others, among whom was the bathing house of Cook, Sargent & Parker, of Davenport, Iowa, which was heavily interested Soon after the organization of the company, Florence was_chartered as a city. For a time prospects looked bright and Florence became an active candidate for the territorial capital. An effort was made to secure the terminal of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, which had been surveyed in 1852, but the railroad company decided upon Council Bluffs, Iowa, as the terminus. These failures to secure the railroad terininus and the territorial seat of government had a tendency to retard the growth of Florence, and conditions were made still worse by the failure of Cook, Sargent & Parker in the winter of 1857-58. For several years after that time, Florence remained the starting point of the Mormons for Salt Lake City and most of the business activity was due to their presence.

The first white child born in Florence was a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John H. Bracken. She was born early in the year 1856 and was named Florence, after the town. The first marriage was solemnized in 1856, Adam Bigler and Sarah Compton being the contracting parties. Alexander Piper and a man named Shoe bridge opened the first stores in 1856. They were both Mormons and went to Salt Lake City about 186o. Dr. A. B. Malcolm came from Omaha in 1856 and was the first physician. The first hotel, the Florence House, was built by James C. Mitchell and was opened late in the year 1856, with Captain Kennedy as the first landlord. At the close of that year the town boasted four stores, one physician, one lawyer, a druggist and the hotel. The postoffice was also established in 1856, with R P. Brewster as the postmaster.

In August, 1857, an election was held in the territory for delegate to Congress. Fenner Ferguson and John M. Thayer were the opposing candidates. The people of Florence were almost solidly for Ferguson and, when it was learned that he was elected, they decided to celebrate the victory. An old cannon was called into requisition, but early in the celebration the gun burst and killed Doctor Hardcastle, which brought the demonstration to an untimely end.

When a majority of both houses of the Legislature voted to adjourn to Florence, early in January, 1858, the people of that town were elated. Two vacant store rooms, formerly occupied by the firm of Baugh, Heath & Graeter, were fitted up for the reception of the law makers. These rooms adjoined each other, so one was assigned to the council and the other to the house. Over the entrance was the sign of the old firm, supplemented by the announcement, "Terms Cash," and the story used to be told that this sign frightened away several applicants for ferry charters, or other favors at the hands of the legislators. The two stores were afterward removed to Omaha and were occupied by Dewey & Stone as a furniture store until about 1875, when they were torn down.

In 1868 George Hugg and Jacob Weber built a sawmill at Florence. A grist mill was added in 1874 and this was the beginning of the Florence Mills, that for many years was one of the leading flour mills in Douglas County. It is still doing business, but has lost some of its former reputation through competition of new mills in other places. In 1883 ex-Mayor Deland, of Florence, said in an interview: "Twenty seven years ago I located at Florence. There was a time when that place was a large city, and there was almost as much difference between Florence and Omaha as there is now between Omaha and Florence. The Mormons were at Florence when I came there. Brigham Young had gone West, but his home stood in front of my place and a little tree which he planted has grown to mammoth proportions."

At the time this interview was given, Mr. Deland was about the only one of the pioneers of 1856 left. The tree mentioned by him is still standing and it is probably the largest tree in Douglas County. The Bank of Florence occupies a building the bricks in which were brought up the Missouri River on a steamboat during the Mormon occupation, another tribute to the enterprise of Brigham Young.

Florence is situated on the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River and on the Omaha & Sioux City division of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. It is also connected with Omaha by street railway. The population since 1870, as shown by the United States census, was as follows:
1870 ....... 395
1880 ....... 564
1890 ....... 593
1900 ....... 688
1910 .... 1,526

It has two banks, two hotels, a flour mill, an electric light plant, an ice factory, basket and canning factories, a weekly newspaper (The Tribune), good public schools, Christian, Episcopal, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Swedish Lutheran churches, a commercial dub, several mercantile establishments, lodges of various fraternal orders, and a number of handsome residences. The plant of the Omaha Watenvorks is located at Florence.


Southeast of Omaha, on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, is a small station called Gibson. It was never regularly plotted as a town and has but few business interest outside of its shipping.


Perhaps it is hardly proper to place "Ireland's Mill" in the list of Douglas County towns, but in early days it was the center of a settlement and a place of considerable importance. The mill was located on the Big Papillion Creek, in section 8, township 15, range 12. A schoolhouse, a general store and a blacksmith shop near the mill made a trading and rallying point for the settlers living in the vicinity. The building of railroads and the founding of other towns finally caused Ireland's Mill to lose its prestige and the name is about all that is left.


Irvington is a station on the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, fourteen miles northwest of Omaha. The town was established, however, before the railroad was built and was an important trading center in early days. A Congregational Church was erected here some time in the '70s and a Christian Church was built later. Irvington has a grain elevator, a general store, a feed mill and a public school. The population is less than one hundred.


On that branch of the Union Pacific Railroad known as the "Lane Cut-Off," fourteen miles from Omaha, is a small station called Lane, after C. J. Lane, the Union Pacific general freight agent. It is a shipping point for a considerable farming district and has the usual business enterprises of the wayside railway station.


This is the last station in Douglas County on the Union Pacific Railroad as one goes west from Omaha. It is located in the northwest corner of the county, in the Platte Valley Precinct, not far from the Platte River and is thirty two miles by rail from Omaha. Fremont is the nearest banking town and the postoflice at that point delivers mail to the people of Mercer by rural carrier.


The incorporated Town of Millard is located in the precinct of the same name, on the old line of the Union Pacific Railroad, twenty miles by mil from Omaha. It was laid out in the spring of 1870 by Ezra Millard, after whom it was named. Dr. Harvey Link had come from New Albany, Ind., a short time before that and had taken up a claim of 320 acres, upon part of which the town is situated. George F. and Cyrus Stevens were the first settlers in the village The first school was taught in a building on Doctor Link's farm by George Potwin in the fall of 1870, with only six pupils enrolled. In 1876 a schoolhouse was built. Millard was incorporated on September 26, 1885, with Christ Kaelber, John Lempke, Charles Stetzner, Henry Lomans and Julius Schroeder as the first board of trustees.

The Millard of 1912 has a bank, a weekly edition of the Waterloo Gazette called the Courier, two hotels, a large water power grist mill on the Papillion Creek, grain elevators, electric light, an auditorium, and it is the principal shipping and trading point for a prosperous fanning community. The population in 1916 was 260, a decrease of seventy three since the census of 1900.


The Town of Parkvale, now within the corporate limits of the City of Omaha, was incorporated on November 24, 1886, in response to a petition signed by a majority of the residents. It included the south half of section 28, the north half of section 33, the southeast quarter of section 29, and the northeast quarter of section 32, all in township 15, range 13. P. J. Quealy, Gilbert Fraser, Peter Justeson, C. A. Potter and James G. Megeath constituted the first board of trustees. Parkvale included the territory lying between the south line of the City of Omaha and the north line of South Omaha, the northern boundary of the incorporated district passing through Hanscom Park a little south of the center.


In the southern part of Douglas Precinct on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, seven miles from Omaha, is the incorporated town of Ralston. It was incorporated on June 24, 1912, when C. M. Skinner, Harry B. Wiig, Howard E. Said, Arthur Pflug and J. L. Howard were chosen as the first board of trustees. During its palmy days Ralston could boast a varnish factory, a stove foundry, a cement silo factory, a furniture factory and some other manufacturing establishments, but the great tornado of March 23, 1913, almost wiped the town off the map and some of these industries have not been rebuilt. The Ralston of the present day has a flour mill, a bank, a weekly newspaper (The Industrial), hotels, a public school building, a Methodist Episcopal Church, and an estimated population of 500.


An old map of Nebraska, published soon after the territory was organized in 1854, shows the town of Saratoga as being situated on the Missouri River, about half way between Omaha and Florence. From its appearance on the map one might judge it to be larger than either of its neighbors. The Precinct of Saratoga still bears the name, but the town has long since disappeared


This is a small way station on the Union Pacific Railroad, eleven miles west of Omaha. It is a new town, having grown up since the "Lane Cut-off" of the Union Pacific was opened to traffic in 1908. Aside from its shipping it has no business interests of importance.


Six miles from Omaha, on the Union Pacific Railroad, is the little station of Seymour. It is situated near the site of Dr. George L. Miller's country home, "Seymour Park," from which it takes its name. In character it is a typical rural railroad station, so small that the census reports do not give its population.


In the east side of Union Precinct, north of Omaha, is a station on the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad called South Cut, though on recent time tables published by the railroad company the name does not appear, which would indicate that its use as a station has been abandoned.


The City of South Omaha, now a part of Omaha, was the outgrowth of the Union Stock Yards, a history of which is given in another chapter of this work. Contemporary with the Stock Yards Company, the South Omaha Land Company was organized with A. H. Swan, president; Thomas Swobe, secretary; Frank Murphy, treasurer_ These three officers, with Peter E. Iler, W. A. Paxton, Charles W. Hamilton and James M. Woolworth, constituted the first board of directors. The establishment of the stock yards and packing houses gave South Omaha a boom and in 1890, when only about six years old, it reported a population of 8,062.

On July 18, 1884, the plat of the town was filled and on July 8, 1886, a petition was filed with the county commissioners asking for the incorporation of South Omaha, but the act of incorporation was not completed until October 16, 1886, when C. M. Hunt, E. P. Savage, W. G. Sloane, I. A. Brayton and F. J. Sleter were chosen trustees. The population in 1900 was 26,001. On June to, 1915, South Omaha was annexed to and made a part of the City of Omaha.

South Omaha, or the district once known by that name, has a city hall, a $50,000 public library building, a $150,000 high school, fourteen district schools, twenty one churches, a city hospital, a large tannery, an electric light plant, gas works, large grain elevators, a brewery, an electric railway line to Ralston and Fort Crook, a number of well stocked mercantile establishments, a city hospital, an alfalfa mill and an estimated population of 30,000.


In 1864 the town of Valley was laid out on a tract of land belonging to the Union Pacific Railroad Company and situated in section 31, township 16, range 10, in the Platte Valley Precinct, thirty five miles by the old "Ox-bow Route" from Omaha. A railroad station was built by the Union Pacific Company and soon afterward Richard Selsor put up a small store building south of the station. He was the first resident in the new town. Thomas & Short opened a general store in 1870; A. D. Butler established a blacksmith shop about the same time; Benjamin White built a hotel in 1874, and the Union Hotel was erected by a man named Hudsmith in 1880. The first school was taught by Miss Lizzie Graham in 1872 and the next year a frame schoolhouse was built at a cost of $1,500.

Valley was incorporated on February 28, 1890, with J. W. Hempstead, H. M. Puffer, J. J. Miller, Alexander Gardiner and L. P. Byers as the first board of trustees. Being situated at the junction of two divisions of the Union Pacific Railway and in the heart of a rich farming country, Valley is and important shipping point and business center for the people of the Platte and Elkhorn valleys. It has a bank, two grain elevators, a hotel, an opera house, feeding yards for live stock, Baptist, Methodist Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, a modem public school building, a weekly newspaper (The Enterprise), a number of well stocked mercantile establishments, and the sand deposits near the town are extensively worked. The population in 1910 was 810, a gain of 276 during the preceding decade.


Waterloo, situated on the west bank of the Elkhorn River and the Union Pacific Railroad, in the precinct of the same name, is thirty one miles from Omaha by the old Ox-bow Route and twenty two miles by the Lane Cut-off. Its was laid out in 1871 by J. H. Logan and G. A. Kelsey, who gave the Union Pacific Railroad Company a half interest in the town site in consideration of the location of a station there. A settlement had grown up there, however, some years before. In 1864 a postoffice was established for the neighborhood and J. H. Logan was appointed postmaster. The first school was taught in 1869 by Miss H. H. Adams in the sod house of one of the settlers. W. A. Denton opened the first store in 1869 and in 1871 a public schoolhouse was built. The same year J. H. Logan built the Waterloo Hotel; C. H. Clark opened a drug store in 1876, and in 1881 John Flood built the South Side Hotel. Elam Clark & Sons erected a mill in 1872. A Presbyterian Church was organized in 1875 and a few years later the Christian Church was established. The first physician was Dr. J. W. Agee, who was practicing in that locality as early as 1864. He was succeeded by Drs. J. McLaughlin, C. H. Clark and A. B. Elwood. The Waterloo brass band was organized in 1881 and a Masonic Lodge was instituted in 1882. The Women's Library Association was also founded in 1882, with Miss Lou McLaughlin, president; Mrs. Purchase, secretary; and Mrs. Hagenbuck, librarian.

On January 2, 1883, Waterloo was incorporated, with George Johnson, J. G. Herrington, Frank Clark, John Hopper and A. H. Lee as the first board of trustees. The town nowv has a bank, a grain elevator, a hotel, an opera house, a weekly newspaper (The Gazette), a creamery, a flour mill, several good stores, etc. There is a good bridge icross the Elkhorn here. As the town is located in a fertile territory considerable attention is given to the seed industry and it is said that more fine seeds are shipped from Waterloo than from any other town in the Missouri Valley. The population in 1910 was 402, a gain of 57 during the preceding decade.


The following list of Douglas County postoffices is taken from the United States Postal Guide for July, 1916. With the introduction of the rural free delivery system, a number of small offices throughout the county were discontinued. The figures in parentheses after the names of several of the present offices show the number of rural delivery routes emanating therefrom: Bennington (1), Benson (2), Elk City, Elkhorn (1), Florence (2), Irvington (1), Millard (1), Omaha (7), Ralston, Valley (2), Waterloo (1). The Omaha office has substations at Ames Avenue, South Side, Stock Yards, Union Station and Walnut Hill. These eleven offices, With their eighteen rural routes, afford ample mail accommodations to all parts of the county.

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