GHOST TOWNS OF NEMAHA COUNTY
by Morris W. Werner
Settlers were few and far between when Nemaha County was organized in 1855, but in the next five years many enterprising pioneers took up claims and established settlements along the existing emigrant and military trails. Some of these settlements became thriving, prosperous communities, but some never contained more than one or two houses, perhaps one of which housed a store and/or post office. Indeed, some were "paper towns," existing only in the imagination of the promoters and on a survey map. Railroads were constructed through the county between 1867-70, but only those towns fortunate enough to secure rail accommodations were able to survive and continue to grow. Within a few years, stores, hotels, saw mills, blacksmith and wagon shops closed their doors, and the owners moved to towns along the railroad or retired to their farms. A few post offices, schools and churches struggled on for a few years, but Rural Free Delivery closed many post offices in the early 1900s.
At least twelve ghost towns exist in Nemaha County. A few contain buildings surviving from the Territorial period, but most physical evidence consists of abandoned cemeteries, root cellars and wells or springs.
It is difficult to visualize the excitement and vitality these settlements once exhibited. Emigrant caravans, stage coach and pony express arrivals and departures, freight trains bound for Denver City or Utah, and droves of livestock headed for Western ranges were common events. Farmers came to town to sell or barter their produce, collect their mail and discuss politics or the weather. Hotels were filled with land seekers and livery stables did a thriving business. Grist mills and sawmills prospered where water power was available; horse or steam powered mills served in other areas. Liquor was a commodity much in demand by freighters and local "members of the legal profession who practiced at the bar." Wives and families soon joined their husbands on the frontier, and schools and churches made their appearance.
Hot political topics included the slavery question and selection of a county seat. Richmond, located two miles north of Seneca on the South Fork of the Nemaha, was designated the first county seat by the Territorial Legislature. It was founded by Cyrus Dolman and other pro-slavery men, but the majority of settlers in the county were free-state in sentiment. In the elections which followed, Seneca won out over Richmond, Central City, Wheatland, and other contenders.
Several settlements were colonized by Easterners, at least partially motivated by free-state sentiments. These colonies were loosely organized groups of related families and neighbors. Galesburg, Illinois, provided the nucleus of settlers at America City and Centralia. Albany, two miles north of Sabetha, was populated by families from Castle Creek and Painted Post, N.Y. They named their town after the capital of their native state. Some of these colonists were professionally trained in medicine, law and education. A few of the first settlers also found leadership opportunities in the Union Army during the Civil War. When these men returned to their homes at the close of the War, they were accompanied by other veterans seeking homesteads and business opportunities in the new state.
Freighters, stage drivers and pony express riders found Nemaha County attractive, and many retired to farms and hamlets along the routes they had traveled during their working days. Many salvaged stage coaches, harness and weapons and maintained them in mint condition.
Two of the ghost towns profiled below were actually located in the western edge of Brown County. They are included because they were colonized by settlers from Nemaha County.
ALBANY 1857, at center of S35 T1S R14E, on Elwood and Marysville
Territorial Road in 1859.
AMERICA CITY 1857; on Parallel Road from Atchison to Denver,
ASH POINT 1857, center of S8 T2S RllE on Ft. Leavenworth and
Laramie Military Road.
CAPIOMA 1856, center of S23 T3S R14E, on Ft. Leavenworth
and Ft. Laramie Military Road. Named for Kickapoo Indian
CENTRAL CITY 1855, S31 T1S R13E, about 2 m. s.e. of
LINCOLN 1860, crossing of S. Fork Nemaha River at mouth of
LOG CHAIN 1860 SW1/4 Sl9 T3S R14E.
MOORESTOWN/URBANA 1854 at Baker's Ford, S. Fork Nemaha
PACIFIC CITY 1856, located at center of S24 T3S R14E.
PLEASANT SPRING/GRANADA 1855, NE1/4 S12 T4S R14E
POWHAT(T)AN 1856, center of S32 T5S R15E about 3 m. n.e. of
RICHMOND 1854, located on Ft. Leavenworth and Ft. Laramie
Road at crossing of S. Fork Nemaha River. First county seat
of Nemaha County.
TYLER'S c1860, located at crossing of Grasshopper (Cedar?)
2 m. s.w. of present Fairview. Perhaps Gilliam Co. campsite,
SABETHA 1858 located on St. Joseph and California Road.
SENECA 1857 located on Ft. Leavenworth/Ft. Laramie Military Road
crossing of S. Fork Nemaha River.