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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Milford -- Seward County

A "better road" commissioned for the "great steam wagon" initiated the move to a ford on the Big Blue River five miles north of "Camden." Davison moved to the new location at Milford as soon as his new ranch-house was built. [SCHS]
Matzke's dream of a "bread & butter, down-to-earth school" for the average guy became a reality with he convinced the Unicameral to establish a state trade school. The S&S Roosevelt Hospital became a dormitory-cafeteria and operated round-the-clock during WW II.
Early warning sirens sent residents to the old S&S Home "tunnel" for safety. This is what they found when they emerged.

Thanks to the ford on the Blue River near the Indian's "healing mineral-springs" and a mill built by J.D. Davison, the town of "Milford" came into being.

Several years earlier Davison built a ranch along the trail that Thomas West blazed from his claim on the west branch of the Big Blue to the Missouri (which became part of the Nebraska City "cut-off.") A settlement called "Camden" developed, and Davison was appointed postmaster, the first in "Greene County."

Davison served in the territorial legislature in 1864 when a new road was commissioned for the wondrous, new steam wagon. Built farther north, the new road fording the Blue River near the Indian's "council tree" The steam wagon itself never got very far out of Nebraska City, the road was a great improvement. From day-one there was a constant stream of freight wagons and travelers on the "Steam Wagon Road."

Davison immediately built a ranch near the ford. Then in 1866, he and William Reed constructed a brush dam and a mill. They also platted and registered the town site of Milford prior to the vote for county seat in November 1867. With the vote split between Milford, Camden, and Seward Centre, Reed (also the county clerk) declared Milford to be the "shire-town" (an English term), and continued to do business from his home. Argued in the courts for several years the matter was let stand. In the mean time, the town continued to grow, since everyone in the county needed to use trails that led to the "primary road" which went down Milford's main street.

In 1871 a surprise election that made Seward county seat shocked and outraged the people. When bonds were proposed, in 1872, to run a railroad from Lincoln to Milford then on to Seward, strong opposition erupted. Led by Gen. Jacob Culver, editor of the "Blue Valley Record," Milford's answer was a resounding "NO!" During the grasshopper plague, 1874-76, the whole area suffered. Many early settlers gladly sold out to Mennonite immigrants, traveling through on the old road and looking for land.

By 1879 when the Atchison & Nebraska Railroad proposed "a rival line" to Milford and on to Columbus, it was supported. A station named "Grover" was built across the river east of town. In 1882 Milford was incorporated.

In 1895, after a sanitarium built near the mineral springs failed to prosper, Culver convinced the state to lease it for a Soldiers & Sailors Home, which increased Milford's economic base.

Problems with the railroad, built on low ground, resulted in the Burlington relocating and raising its grade in 1906, bringing it across the river into Milford. This greatly facilitated the sale of the pure "Shogolithia" spring water in cities in Nebraska, and later shipped to Panama during the building of the canal. The Blue River Power Company's dam brought electricity to the area, and Camp Kiwanis was established along the river north of town.

When the S&S Home closed in 1939, Sen. Stan Matzke persuaded the Unicameral to use the buildings for a state "Trade School," the first in the nation. It opened May 1, 1941, seven months before Pearl Harbor and all-out war. The need for trained mechanics, radio operators, welders, and numerous other skills, put the school on a round-the-clock schedule. Milford "made room" for students, and stores stayed open 24 hours a day. Post-war, army surplus equipment and barracks helped provide for the influx of servicemen wanting civilian skills.

The town and school might have continued along in a small way if an April 1957 tornado had not tried to blow them away. When people emerged from shelter, much of the campus was gone and 150 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. In rebuilding, Milford "turned the corner" and has kept on growing. Completion of I-80, just four miles north, improved the town's accessibility.

In 1964 Milford became a city, second class, in time to celebrate its centennial. Today, with a population of just over 2,100, the Webermeier Library, a swimming pool, a new golf course, and a senior citizen building are just some of the improvements noted. Educational Service Unit 6, Riverside Park, and the state's handicapped facilities add to the employment market. With its good school system, many churches, and a balanced business district, which includes a progressive bank and a newspaper, the people of Milford look to the future with optimism.

By Jane Graff, from material found in Seward County records, early histories, SECC's 50th anniversary book, and a report by Rebecca Hueske and Betty Jones.