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Nebraska...Our Towns


Dawson County

The beautiful Dawson County Bank is currently restored as the Dan Grafton building.[city of Lexington]
North Washington Street. ca. 1900
A recent picture of North Washington Street.

July 4, 1989, it will be 100 year since "Lexington" became the name of the town known for many years as "Plum Creek." The well-kept lawns, clean streets, and friendly atmosphere says, "this town is proud of its heritage."

While there had been much traffic on the Oregon Trail through this area, the first settlers were the Daniel Freeman family, who built a trading post southeast of the present-day city. Raids by the Sioux Indians, that included the "Plum Creek Massacre" in 1864, caused them to flee to Fort Kearny. When they returned their home and business destroyed. A military post was established in 1865 in hopes of protecting people in this part of the Nebraska Territory.

When the Union Pacific Railroad laid its tracks through the area in 1866, it located a station on Freeman's claim, and named it "Plum Creek." Dawson County was formed in 1871 and Plum Creek was named "the capitol" (county seat). The election, held at Freeman's store, recorded 13 votes, with a total of 40 men, women, and children listed on the census.

A boost in population came in 1872 when the Philadelphia Colony, under the charge of F.J.Pearson, arrived with 65 men, women, and children. These people, whose descendants still live here, witnessed first hand the unpredictability of Nebraska's weather, and the grasshoppers, prairie fires, and blizzards put their courage to the test. Soon Freeman and Pearson established the "Dawson County Pioneer," newspaper.

About this time the railroad company, through some misunderstanding with Freeman, moved the Plum Creek station a short distance down the track and platted a new town site, with streets named for Iroquois Indian Tribes; Cayuga, Seneca, and Onondago. It was incorporated in 1874, and included the post office (located in the depot), a general store built by J.W.Ayres, the Alhambra House (hotel), a courthouse built with hand-made, locally-fired bricks, and several residences. The sidewalks consisted of footpaths with planks in front of the stores.

The 1880 census of 344 quadrupled to 1,392 in 1885, with such additions as the Union Pacific Hotel, a steam mill and elevator, a $16,000 school, numerous shops, warehouses, and 48 new homes. To encourage new residents to come to the city, the "Pioneer" published and sent to all parts of the country 5,000 copies of a "boomer edition" listings social and business interests, with the Bicycle Club being one of the most prominent. By 1888 Plum Creek boasted three newspapers, an opera house seating 600, five churches, and a school with a grading system and six departments.

People felt, however, that the name "Plum Creek" lacked the dignity of a metropolis, and was confused with Elm Creek, Silver Creek, and others along the mainline, so in 1889 they voted for a new name. While "Corning," was highly favored -- this being excellent corn country -- the winning name was "Lexington," which commemorated the Revolutionary War Battle of Lexington. Streets were re-named Washington, Lincoln, Grant, etc. While this brought the town many successes, it did not preclude a share of troubles. A major fire in 1891 destroyed many buildings on the east side of the main street.

In 1913, a new courthouse was built.

Lexington has now grown to include many subdivisions, seven schools, numerous churches, a modern hospital, senior citizen center, a museum, parks, and recreational facilities. The present population of 7,150 is expected to grow with the development of the recently-acquired I.B.P.plant. Johnson Lake, nine miles south of town, draws thousands of tourists annually, and events such as the county fair, antique show, and 4th of July have capitalized on Lexington's location and enterprise.

Lexington's downtown improvement project included the restoration of the brick streets, added parking, benches, water fountains and shrubbery, and new signs featuring the Plum Creek logo. All will be ready for the centennial featuring a parade, melodrama, tour of old homes, an air show, muzzle loader shoot, fashion and beard contests, an air show, and the shenanigans of the Plum Creek Posse.

While some of the early buildings and homes remain, many things have changed. Lexington's founding fathers would be proud to see the level of excellence in our schools, the growth in agriculture, and the expansion of manufacturing which includes world-wide trade in electronics, farm machinery, and foods. Their dreams are being carried on, bigger and better than ever.

By Jo Keim, Box 70, City of Lexington, NE 68850, with the help of the "Lexington Twin Weekly" and "Lexington Clipper" and Ruby Bolen Hollingworth.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: An Early History of Dawson County, pamphlet. (Note: Daniel Freeman, first settler in Plum Creek, is not related to the first homesteader in Nebraska by the same name.)