From the badlands to the lowlands there is plenty of history surrounding the Cornhusker State. But sometimes, the “backstories” don’t quite make it into the mainstream knowledge pool. Here are some of those backstories most people haven’t heard regarding how some of Nebraska’s cities really got their start.
1. Grand Island
Most people don't realize the city of Grand Island got its start way back in 1857 when 35 Germans left the town of Davenport, Iowa and migrated West. For the first nine years the settlement known as Grand Island, or La Grande Isle, was actually on an island formed between the Wood and Platte Rivers. Then, just eleven years later a railroad laid tracks a short distance inland causing the settlement to relocate as well.
Before Kearney moved to its present-day location it was two miles to the east and known as "Dobytown." Virtually all that's left of Dobytown now is this place marker on NE-50A.
Back in the day, Dobytown was known as a place where unsavory travelers could partake in gambling and drinking. It was located very near the entrance to Fort Kearny.
3. North Platte
North Platte was plotted and laid out by the Union Pacific Railroad in anticipation of their arrival in these parts. In fact, the city was laid out in 1866 but wasn't organized as a city until 1875. In between, the railroad brought in some men of ill-repute that ended up darkening the reputation of North Platte for many decades. That stain is now gone and North Platte is a wonderful place to live and raise a family.
We wish we could say it was a simple clerical error that renamed "North Fork, Nebraska" to "Norfolk" way back when. But it was a conscious effort on the part of the Postal Service who thought the paperwork they received requesting a new post office for "North Fork" contained a spelling error. So they issued a post office for "Norfolk" instead of "North Fork." And the rest...is history.
Most people don't know that in 1858 there were only 16 residents here when the Platte County commissioners agreed to issue incorporation papers for Columbus.
The southern Nebraska city of Beatrice was formed when a steamship headed up the Missouri to Nebraska City ran aground enroute. 35 of the 300 passengers decided to create a settlement nearby. The new town was named for the daughter of one of those shipwrecked founders.
A late 1800s marketing wiz decided this town needed a name with only one word and that it should be at the beginning of the alphabet because it would be better for business. His business, by the way, was superintendent of the railroad. So the town changed its name from Grand Lake to Alliance and was incorporated as such in 1891.
Crete was formed around 1870 when two developers, a man and an entire railroad company, both plotted adjacent settlements here. The man, Jesse Bickle, refused to sell out to the big railroad company and the two entities ended up butting heads. They scrapped for a while, each trying to make a go of it developing their own towns. Eventually, they gave up and merged their two towns and so "Crete" was born.
When the Fremont, Elkhorn, and Missouri Valley Railroad finished laying line to Chadron (also called O'Linn at that time) the tracks ended up falling six miles from Chadron. It was an unexpected turn of events but the townspeople responded with resilience: they packed up the entire town, some buildings included, and moved everything six miles over to where the new railroad stop was placed.
Valentine was named in honor of a politician, Congressman E.K. Valentine, who gave hard-working folks the courtesy of transportation to the poll booths so they could vote in the 1884 election, according to
Folks here were so thankful they named the new town after him.
11. St. Paul
When it came time to name this small city in Nebraska in the 1870s, the community decided to let folks put suggested names into a hat and then the first one drawn would become the new town's name. But, the name they drew (Athens) was already taken. So the town was named after the two Paul brothers that were responsible for getting this town started.
Imperial is a story of amazing generosity twice-over. The two gentlemen who first claimed the land that would come to be called Imperial offered free homesites to anyone who would move to Imperial and put a building on their land. Several years later, when the railroad line reached the Imperial area it was the end of the line and it didn't exactly fall where Imperial sat. So...generosity struck again for Imperial residents. The railroad offered anyone who would move their building to the vicinity of their railstop - you guessed it - free land to put it on. As a result the whole town picked up and moved to what is present day "old town" Imperial.
John O'Neill is widely credited with the birth of the Irish Capital of Nebraska. But did you know it was through the generosity of a previous settler, J.T. Prouty, who O'Neill and his wife stayed with that brought O'Neill to the area to begin with? At that time, the settlement now called O'Neill was known as Rockford and Prouty was its first postmaster.
Did you know how any of these cities in Nebraska really got their start? If you know of other interesting “backstories” about how cities or villages in Nebraska got started we’d love to hear them in our comments.