You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.
That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Nebraska? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if your Nebraska city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Cornhusker State according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Lincoln (Photos)
- Fremont (Photos)
- Columbus (Photos)
- Omaha (Photos)
- Wayne (Photos)
- Chadron (Photos)
- Schuyler (Photos)
- Plattsmouth (Photos)
- Sidney (Photos)
- Crete (Photos)
For being 162 years old, Lincoln doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Nebraska? That would be Gretna — a brand spanking 113 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Nebraska… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in Nebraska, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 31 out of 34 in Nebraska with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 91.2% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Lincoln turning out to be the matriarch of Nebraska at the ripe old age of 162.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
Prior to the expansion westward of settlers, the prairie was covered with buffalo grass. Plains Indians, descendants of indigenous peoples who occupied the area for thousands of years, lived in and hunted along Salt Creek. The Pawnee, which included four tribes, lived in villages along the Platte River. The Great Sioux Nation, including the Ihanktowan-Ihanktowana and the Lakota located to the north and west, used Nebraska as a hunting and skirmish ground, although they did not have any long-term settlements in the state. An occasional buffalo could still be seen in the plat of Lincoln in the 1860s.
Lincoln was founded in 1856 as the village of Lancaster and became the county seat of the newly created Lancaster County in 1859. The village was sited on the east bank of Salt Creek. The first settlers were attracted to the area due to the abundance of salt. Once J. Sterling Morton developed his salt mines in Kansas, salt in the village was no longer a viable commodity. Captain W. T. Donovan, a former steamer captain, and his family settled on Salt Creek in 1856. In the fall of 1859, the village settlers met to form a county. A caucus was formed and the committee, which included Captain Donovan, selected the village of Lancaster to be the county seat. The county was named Lancaster. After the passage of the 1862 Homestead Act, homesteaders began to inhabit the area. The first plat was dated August 6, 1864.
From the 1830s to the 1860s, the area saw a great deal of traffic due to the Mormon Trail, which passed along the north bank of the Platte River. A ferry connected the two banks of the Elkhorn River near Fremont. It was a major overland route for emigrant settlers going to the West, the military and hunters.
In the 18th century, the area around the confluence of the Platte and the Loup Rivers was used by a variety of Native American tribes, including Pawnee, Otoe, Ponca, and Omaha. The Pawnee are thought to have descended from the Protohistoric Lower Loup Culture; the Otoe had moved from central Iowa into the lower Platte Valley in the early 18th century; and the closely related Omaha and Ponca had moved from the vicinity of the Ohio River mouth, settling along the Missouri by the mid-18th century. In 1720, Pawnee and Otoe allied with the French massacred the Spanish force led by Pedro de Villasur just south of the present site of Columbus.
Various Native American tribes had lived in the land that became Omaha, including since the 17th century, the Omaha and Ponca, Dhegian-Siouan-language people who had originated in the lower Ohio River valley and migrated west by the early 17th century; Pawnee, Otoe, Missouri, and Ioway. The word Omaha (actually Umoho or Umaha) means ‘Dwellers on the bluff’.
In 1804 the Lewis and Clark Expedition passed by the riverbanks where the city of Omaha would be built. Between July 30 and August 3, 1804, members of the expedition, including Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, met with Oto and Missouria tribal leaders at the Council Bluff at a point about 20 miles (30 km) north of present-day Omaha. Immediately south of that area, Americans built several fur trading outposts in succeeding years, including Fort Lisa in 1812; Fort Atkinson in 1819; Cabanné’s Trading Post, built in 1822, and Fontenelle’s Post in 1823, in what became Bellevue. There was fierce competition among fur traders until John Jacob Astor created the monopoly of the American Fur Company. The Mormons built a town called Cutler’s Park in the area in 1846. While it was temporary, the settlement provided the basis for further development in the future.
Wayne was founded in 1881 when the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad was extended to that point. It was named from Wayne County.
Succeeding cultures of indigenous peoples lived in the area for thousands of years. In historic times, tribes such as the Oglala Lakota (Oglala Sioux Tribe), Cheyenne and others lived in the area. The Sioux used this territory as a hunting ground after pushing other tribes to the west.
In 1866, the Union Pacific Railroad reached present-day Schuyler, at the time known as Shell Creek Station. Three years later, the Nebraska State Legislature divided large Platte County into three smaller counties, including Colfax County. In 1870, Shell Creek Station was renamed Schuyler.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition passed the mouth of the Platte River, just north of what is now Main Street Plattsmouth, on July 21, 1804.
The city was named for Sidney Dillon, president of the Union Pacific Railroad. It was founded in 1867 by the Union Pacific and grew up around the military base of Fort Sidney (also known as Sidney Barracks), where soldiers were stationed to guard the transcontinental railroad from potential Indian attacks.
The railroad was extended to the area in 1870, bringing settlers. In 1871, two rival towns merged to form a new town, which was named after Crete, Illinois, the former hometown of an early settler. Crete was once a contender for county seat.
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Nebraska
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Nebraska. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Nebraska.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Cornhusker State.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Nebraska:
- Gretna (Founded in 1905)
- Gering (Founded in 1905)
- Grand Island (Founded in 1905)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Nebraska
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