The entire state of Nebraska has endless stories to tell about its history, but only one can lay claim to the title of the oldest continuous settlement in the state. That would be the city of Bellevue in southeastern Nebraska, right along the Missouri River. First settled by fur traders in 1822, the town was officially incorporated in 1855.
With the distinction of being the "Birthplace of Nebraska," Bellevue's identity is deeply rooted in history. The population of the city has swelled to more than 55,000 people, making it the third-largest city in Nebraska. Despite this - and despite being so close to Omaha - most parts of Bellevue manage to retain a small-town feel.
Preservation of the past is important in Bellevue. The First Presbyterian Church, pictured above, was built somewhere around 1856-1858 and is thought to be the oldest extant religious building in the state. Its beautifully maintained interior makes it one of the most popular churches in the area for weddings.
The Sarpy County Historical Museum is located in Bellevue, and although the building looks small it's packed with information about the area's history. Going all the way back to before the first European settlers, the information here is fascinating. The museum is free (suggested donation is $2.00), and it's a must-stop for anyone visiting Bellevue.
Address: 2402 Clay St, Bellevue, NE 68005
Offutt Air Force Base has been a huge part of Bellevue since all the way back in World War I. It has grown into a large installation housing the Air Force Weather Agency, the US Strategic Air Command, and the 55th Wing, the largest wing of the Air Combat Command.
The city's ties to the military don't end there. The Martin Bomber Plant in Bellevue is where Enola Gay and Bockscar (not pictured), the planes which dropped nuclear bombs on Japan at the end of World War II, were built. The war effort brought thousands of new residents to Bellevue who moved there to work as civilians or military personnel.
Today, Bellevue has spread out considerably and offers plenty of dining, entertainment, and cultural opportunities. Fontenelle Forest is one of the city's most popular attractions. The 1,400-acre forest features 26 miles of hiking trails, including some that are wheelchair accessible. The new Woodland Raptor Refuge (also wheelchair accessible) offers the chance to see impressive birds of prey up close.
The city itself also has many miles of paved walking and biking trails that are open year-round. From the 20+ mile Bellevue Loop Trail you can link up with the Keystone Trail, a 27-mile out and back trail that runs between northwest Omaha and the Bellevue area.
Bellevue University is based in Bellevue, not surprisingly. The private college attracts students from all over the world.
Residents enjoy a wide variety of retail shops and restaurants that range from fast food to semi-casual. A movie theater, several public pools, tons of parks and green space, a robust community center, and several golf courses keep everyone busy year-round. Festivals like RiverFest at Haworth Park and the Midlands Pirate Festival at Bellevue Berry Farm keep things exciting.
The area that was once the center of commerce in Bellevue is now known as Old Town (or Olde Towne, depending on how old-timey you want to get) and houses some of the city's most historic buildings. The lovely old building above, built in 1855, was once the Fontanelle Bank, then the Sarpy County Town Hall and the Sarpy County Courthouse. Today it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Revitalization efforts of the Old Town area are ongoing. The city hopes to turn this are into a destination for shoppers and other visitors. Many of the businesses there have been around for years and already draw in considerable business; namely, Moonstruck Meadery (Nebraska's first meadery) and Swine Dining, a popular BBQ restaurant.
Nebraska's first town has grown up nicely into a sweet community full of character. While preserving the past is important in Bellevue, the city is always keeping an eye toward the future and developing new projects.
Another great city right next door to Bellevue is Papillion, which was recently named the #2 place to live in the U.S.
Read all about it here.
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