Frontier Trails Across Gage CountyFamous Gage County People
History of Gage County Town and VillagesUnincorporated Towns in Gage CountyHistoric Buildings in Gage County
History of Beatrice Historic Business in BeatriceHistoric Buildings in Beatrice

We invite you to explore the county's rich historical heritage. If you have any historical information, photographs, maps or other material suitable for inclusion on this site, please contact the Gage County Historical Society.

Gage County is located in south central Nebraska. It was founded in 1856 and named in honor of the Reverend William Gage, a Methodist minister, who was chaplain of the first territorial assembly. The southern half of the county was set aside for the Otoe-Missouri Indian Reservation between 1855 and 1882.

(See 1906 Outline Map of Gage County HERE.)

History of Gage County Towns and Villages

Adams was named in honor of John Adams, one of the first settlers in the Nemaha Valley, in 1857. In the 1870's John Adams offered the Atchinson and Northern Railway Company interest in all the lots of the town if they agreed that no saloon should be permitted to do business in the town of Adams.

Barneston is located on the site of the former Otoe-Missiouria Indian Reservation. The reservation was located here from 1855-1882 when the Oto Nation moved to Oklahoma and the land was sold to settlers. Frances Barnes and his half-blood Oto wife Mary Jane, were merchants and farmers on the reservation since 1859, remained and the land was developed into a townsite. Although not on its original site, the Indian Mission School still stands in the village.

Beatrice (see right) (See Beatrice website.)

Blue Springs was named for the natural springs along the Big Blue River. Prior to becoming a town this land was part of the Otoe and Pawnee hunting grounds. The cabin in Blue Springs City Park was build in 1855 along the banks of the Blue Blue River by Rev. J. H. Johnson for his family of six. Rev. Johnson preached to the Indians living on the reservation in southern Gage County. His eight year old son, who drowned in the Big Blue River, was the first white death recorded in Gage County. The Blue Springs Cemetery where he is buried is the oldest recorded cemetery in Nebraska. (See Wymore & Blue Springs website.)

Clatonia was incorporated as a village in 1893 after the land was donated by the Steinmeyer family. It was named for the Claytonia Creek which flows nearby.
Cortland Nebraska Old Postcard
Cortland was founded in 1884 along the Union Pacific route. The town was first called Galesburg in honor of the man who owned the ground where the town is located, but in view of the fact that there were so many towns by that name, it was changed to Cortland. The name was suggested by one of the men connected with the railroad town site committee, it is said that it was named after Cortland, New York. (See Cortland website.)

Filley was named in honor of Elijah Filley who donated the land in 1882. The stone barn, built in 1874, is still standing two miles southwest of Filley and is part of the Gage County Historical Society's properties.

Liberty was nicknamed "Stringtown" because of the way the town grew up around the railroad. Although this area was settled as early as 1855, the town was not developed until the railroad came through in the 1880's. During the building of the railroad there were at times 400-500 railroad workers besides the residents in the town.

Odell was founded in 1880 and named in honor of LeGrand Odell, an early settler. Mr. Odell sold part of his land to the Burlington Railroad to supply them with a place for a depot, tracks and other buildings. (See Odell website.)

Pickrell was originally known as Austin and was located a little further east of the present site. Two early settlers, John Pickrell and Edward Austin operated a mill at this location. In 1884 when the town site was laid out, higher on the hill, the name was changed to Pickrell. (See Pickrell website.)

Virginia was named in honor of Virginia Lewis Dalby whose father, Mr. Lewis, was a large land owner in Gage and Pawnee counties.

Wymore was founded when the Burlington Railroad was turned down by Blue Springs to build their railway center there. The railroad offered Blue Springs a deal in which the town would provide the land for a depot, business buildings, tracks and a round house. In return, the railroad would help the growth of the town by providing good transportation in both directions. In 1881 Wymore was established when Samuel Wymore donated the southeast section of his land to the Burlington Railroad. Wymore experienced rapid growth and became the headquarters for the Wymore division of Burlington. (See Wymore & Blue Springs website.)

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Unincorporated Towns in Gage County

Ellis was named in honor of Beatrice banker John Ellis. It was established along the Rock Island Railroad line.

Holmesville was named in honor of the first postmaster Morgan Holmes in 1880

Lanham is located on the Nebraska-Kansas state line and was named after an official of the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad in the 1880's.

Rockford was founded by William Girl in 1858 and is named for the rock quarries near Mud Greek.

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Historic Buildings in Gage County

The Filley Stone Barn, part of the Gage County Historical Society's properties, is located two miles southwest of Filley, Nebraska (12 miles east of Beatrice on US Highway 136). Built in 1874, this four-story barn is the oldest limestone barn in Nebraska. The barn was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

Palmer-Epard CabinPalmer-Epard Cabin, located on Homestead National Monument, was built in 1867 on a nearby homestead. The dwelling was constructed of mixed hardwoods (oak, hackberry, ash, locust, walnut, and elm) and homemade bricks set in lime mortar. It was occupied consecutively by the Palmer and Epard families, then moved to Homestead National Monument in 1950. Today, the cabin is furnished to depict life in the 1880's.

Freeman School, also located on Homestead National Monument, was the oldest operating one-room schoolhouse in Nebraska until it was closed in 1967. Some of Daniel and Agnes Freeman's children were educated here. It has been restored to its appearance in 1890.

History of Beatrice

Court Street, circa 1884

Beatrice, the largest city in Gage County, is also the county seat.

The town of Beatrice was founded in 1857 by a group of pioneers from St. Louis, traveling by the steamer "Hannibal" up the Missouri River to the new territory of Nebraska. While aboard the steamer they organized an association and selected a committee to "explore Nebraska for the purpose of selecting a town site." This committee left the boat at Nebraska City, divided themselves into two groups and set out to find a suitable location for the town site. One group proceeded directly west from Nebraska City. The other group traveled in a southwesterly direction and made camp one night on the banks of Indian Creek at its junction with the Big Blue River. This site was selected and the first building built, known as Pap Towle's cabin, in about the same location as the Gage County Museum.

The city was named in honor of the eldest daughter of Judge J.F. Kinney, first president of the Nebraska Association. The town's name is pronounced Be-a-trice instead of the common pronunciation.

Beatrice's main street, was known as the DeRoin Trail in the 1840's through 1860's. The trail crossed the Big Blue River at Beatrice and continued west until it joined the Oregon Trail. The rock bottom ford can be seen looking south from the Court Street bridge.

Beatrice's Downtown Business District features some fine examples of cornice detailed storefronts. Many dates of original construction are still visible. The oldest building in its original condition stands at the corner of 5th & Court. It was build as the Gage County Bank in 1874 of native limestone. Located at the corner of 6th & Court is the Paddock Kensington. It was formally the Paddock Hotel which was rebuilt in 1924 by interested citizens after the original Paddock Hotel burned. It is an example of early 20th century Renaissance Revival architecture and is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. (See Beatrice website.)

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Historic Businesses in Beatrice

Dempster, 2nd & Court

In 1878, C.B. Dempster started Dempster Miller Manufacturing, a retail pump and windmill store in downtown Beatrice. Dempster began manufacturing its own windmills and pumps in 1885. Later, they began the manufacture of Dempster gasoline engines. Their windmills are still being manufactured today. A exhibit on Dempster can be seen at the Gage County Museum.

Beatrice Foods, founded in Beatrice in 1894, began when partners Haskell and Bosworth began producing creamery butter provided by local farmers. They incorporated in 1905 as the Beatrice Creamery Company. On November 12, 1901 they adopted the "Meadow Gold" trademark. A exhibit on Beatrice Foods can be seen at the Gage County Museum.

Kees Manufacturing Company, the oldest metal manufacturing company in Nebraska was founded in 1874. F.D. Kees started as a gunsmith and later operated a hardware store. In 1892 he began manufacturing corn husking hooks, roller and ice skates, lawn tools and trellises. An exhibit on Kees can be seen at the Gage County Museum.

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Historic Buildings in Beatrice

Chautauqua Park

Chautauqua Park, located south on US Highway 77 across the Big Blue River bridge. This was the site of Chautauqua assemblies from 1889 until the 1920's. These assemblies were based on high moral standards and offered secular and religious education. The original Tabernacle, first used in 1889 is still standing and is used for Homestead Days and family reunions. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Gage County Court House, 6th & Grant, was built in 1892. It is a Richardsonian Romanesque limestone structure with a clock tower. Laura Ingalls Wilder was making her move from South Dakota to Missouri, the Gage County Court House was mentioned in her diary on Sunday, August 5, 1894. The courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Carnegie Library building, built in 1904, is located at 218 N. 5th St. In 1991, it was no longer used as a library. Noted for its Beaux Arts architectural style, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Beatrice Public Library and Arboretum, located at the corner of 16th and Court streets, was built in 1991 on the site of the former Sonderegger Nurseries. A exhibit on nurseries can be seen at the Gage County Museum.

Gage County Historical Society and Museum is located in Beatrice on the corner of 2nd and Court streets. It is housed in the Burlington Railroad Depot built in 1906. The depot was presented to the Gage County Historical Society by the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1973. The Museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

(See Nebraska Government website of Nebraska National Register Sites in Gage County)