Nebraska was settled from east to west, with the oldest towns and settlements being right on the Missouri River. Following in the footsteps of the Lewis and Clark expedition, settlers began putting down roots in this promising new area. Many trading and military posts were established well before the first towns and cities cropped up; Fontenelle’s Post was established in 1806 and Fort Lisa popped up in 1812. Military post Fort Atkinson was founded in 1819 and Fort Kearny in 1848. Many of those first towns have been annexed (Florence, Cutler’s Park, and Saratoga were swallowed up by Omaha, for example) or have faded into nonexistence. Some, however, have stood the test of time and are still standing today.
Although Fort Atkinson was settled before Bellevue, Bellevue is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Nebraska. Starting off as a fur trading center, Bellevue once served as the center of government in Nebraska.
As mentioned above, some of the oldest settlements in the state were swallowed up as Omaha expanded. Settlers were claiming stakes in Omaha well before it was legal to do so, but the actual city was founded in 1854 after the creation of the Nebraska Territory.
Plattsmouth was first known as The Barracks when it was established as a trading post in 1854. It was later renamed due to its location at - you guessed it - the mouth of the Platte River.
4. Fort Calhoun
Located in present-day Washington County, the city of Fort Calhoun includes Fort Atkinson, which was the first town in Nebraska.
In its day, Brownville was an extremely important transport hub right on the Missouri River. It was founded in 1854 and incorporated in 1855. Brownville was once the largest city in Nebraska, but it is now a tiny, sleepy town with around 130 residents.
Fontanelle is technically an unincorporated community, but its history is so interesting that we had to include it here. The town was named for Logan Fontenelle, the Omaha tribe leader (although the name is a misspelling), and was formed with the sole purpose of becoming the home of the future Nebraska University. Fontanelle was founded in 1855 and did, for a while, house Nebraska University (sometimes known as Fontanelle University). It was once the county seat of Dodge County and some people even wanted it to be the capital city of the new territory. Eventually, Omaha was chosen as the territorial capital, Fontanelle ended up part of Washington County, and the University was moved to Crete and renamed Doane College. The town failed to secure a railroad connection which more or less brought about its demise.
7. Nebraska City
This city was once actually comprised of three towns: Nebraska City, South Nebraska City, and Kearney City, which all joined up in 1857 to incorporate as Nebraska City. Its advantageous position right on the Missouri River made Nebraska City an important hub of commerce in early Nebraska. Interestingly, the town was once noted to have the largest number of slaves in the Nebraska Territory, but it would later go on to become the only recognized location of an Underground Railroad stop in Nebraska.
Fremont was in an important location along the Mormon Trail, and a ferry connected the two sides of the Elkhorn River just outside of the town. The town was laid out in 1856 when the railroad was expected to be extended to that location.
(This image shows Lincoln in 1868.) Lincoln was originally known as Lancaster when it was founded in 1856. Its name was changed in spite by Omaha officials who were bitter over losing the state capital to the smaller city. They figured that, since the recently-assassinated Lincoln was an unpopular president at the time in Nebraska, the new name might stop the move. It didn't work, of course, and Lincoln became the capital city.
Incorporated in 1856, Nemaha is named for the river of the same name. Although not officially recognized as such, Nemaha was a station on the Underground Railroad, a bit of history that has always been a point of pride for residents.
A group of people from Peru, Illinois tried to settle the area of present-day Peru in 1853, but at the time it was not legal to lay claims in the region. After relocating to Missouri, the town's settlers eventually found their way back to Nebraska to form Peru in 1857.
Located in the extreme southeastern corner of Nebraska, Rulo was first laid out in 1857 and incorporated in 1858. At one time, it boasted two saw mills and one of the largest flour mills in the state. This sweet town thrived and in the 1930s, a large toll bridge was built across the Missouri River; it became a free bridge in the '60s. Today, Rulo is unfortunately known for a number of cult murders that took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The establishment dates of many towns in Nebraska are hard to determine for a number of reasons, but these 12 are definitely among the oldest. Have you visited these historic places?