Skip Navigation

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  • Virtual Nebraska Logo

Virtual Nebraska

Nebraska...Our Towns


An agreement in 1871 by seven Iowa men, led by David Stone, resulted in the acquisition of a town site. Named for Aurora, IL., it was located near the twin cottonwood trees towering over Lincoln Creek, a landmark on the vast prairie.

Stone "dug" the first home. By fall he had built a general store-residence, which was followed by Wilcox's implement store, and Nat Thorpe's construction office. By 1872 the post office was moved from Spafford's Grove. Come spring, there was a schoolhouse and 18 buildings, including the Aurora House, a hotel known as the "sample rooms." The town was "a GO!"

The county seat was moved from Orville City to Aurora in 1876 and the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad arrived in 1879. The population, already over 400, increased when the other contenders for the county seat, Orville and Hamilton, succumbed and merged with Aurora.

The first courthouse, completed in 1877, was used for church, social, and political gatherings. A much grander building was completed in 1895. The spired structure of red limestone still stands on courthouse square.

The year 1879 was a great one and the most progressive in the town's history. Telegraph service arrived in October, regular train service in November, and mail delivery in December. E.W. Hastings built a two-story plant for his newspaper, "The Aurora Republican." Later purchased by the Hamilton County Register, a merger in 1942 gave our news coverage the title, "Aurora News-Register." Banks erected substantial buildings in 1879, 1881, 1813, and 1909. Banking was "a popular business," with as many as four operating at one time. Aurora presently has two.

H.T. Jensen established a machine shop in 1884 with a patent to manufacture "feed steamers," and Curry & Grover built a roller mill using "first class modern machinery" for the production of flour. In 1886 F.W. Wilson built a foundry, and a brickyard started in 1904. Production rose to five million bricks per year, but a financial bust in 1921 left great piles on hand and operation ceased.

Aurora was well-supplied with rail facilities. In addition to the Lincoln-Billings mainline, the town served as a terminal for branch lines southwest to Hastings and northwest to Burwell, Sargent, and Ericson. An engine house to service steam locomotives was located here, and a substantial brick depot was built in 1912.

An agricultural association was organized in 1871 with fairs held in Orville City until 1876 when it was moved to the Square in Aurora. In 1879 a 40-acre tract of land southwest of town was purchased so "a proper race track could be built." Permanent stalls, cattle sheds, and an amphitheatre with seating for 500 were built in 1889.

Education for Hamilton County's children was organized in 1872. By 1885 there were 95 districts in the county, and before the turn of the century, Aurora had a 12-grade institution. The town boasts many famous individuals, among them Dr. Harold Edgerton, inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1986.

The first church was organized in 1872. Spiritual growth and development have played an important role in the community. Today local churches represent nearly every major denomination.

Aurora, population 1,175 by 1885, had wide streets, miles of good sidewalks, and trees on the courthouse square. Present population 3,717, Aurora is billed as "a city of promise, progress, and productivity." Its central business district has a full range of products and services.

Still very much at the crossroads, it is served by highways 14 and 34, and is less than three miles north of I-80. The Burlington Northern Railroad and a lighted municipal airport keep the city "on the map." With one of the larger consolidated school systems, it has a well balanced curriculum and an exceptional sports facilities for K-12 students. The Nebraska Youth Leadership Development Center just east of town serves young people from the entire state.

Aurora has a fully accredited hospital, two industrial parks for various manufacturers, a modern fire station and volunteer fire department, a good library, a fine arts theatre, three parks, a golf course, a community center, and care facilities for elderly and handicapped citizens. The Plainsman Museum holds historic and educational artifacts from the area and exhibits that tell of life at this location for the last 120 years.

By Gwen Allen, 210 16th, Aurora, NE 68818.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: History of the State of Nebraska, 1882; Biographical & Historical Memoirs of Nebraska, Adams, Clay, Hall, & Hamilton Counties, 1890; Hamilton & Clay Counties, 1921; "The Light of South Central Nebraska", by Aurora Chamber of Commerce; Centennial History of Hamilton County 1867-1967 , by Bremer and Kirk; and Aurora & Hamilton County, Nebraska , 1979, NCH Bradford, chairman.