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Nebraska...Our Towns

Johnson -- Nemaha County

The West Elevator and the East Elevator at Johnson, 1905.
Scene along Johnson's Main Street, 1908.
Simpson Hall, as it appears today. [Harris]

The history of Johnson probably begins in 1861, when Julius A. Johnson received a land grant from the federal government for 160 acres of prairie land. Johnson was one of the organizers of the Brownville, Fort Kearny & Pacific Railroad Company, which started to build a line from the river to the fort, but failed a few years later. By February 25, 1873, when the Johnson Post Office was established, most of the farm land had been settled.

In 1881, when a railroad was being built from Tecumseh to Auburn, the Lincoln Land Company chose this as a site for a station. Land was purchased from Johnson and Joseph Miller and a town was laid out on the north side of the tracks. In the original plat, there were four streets running east-west and five streets north-south.

The coming of the railroad was a financial godsend for the settlers. More families arrived as the men worked to build the railroad. In 1882, when the line was completed and the trains started running, a permanent depot was built on the north side of the tracks.

I. H. Clagget built the first store on the corner of Main and 2nd Streets and Mrs. Hoadley opened a drug store. A two-story building -- known as Simpson's Hall -- was built on the southeast corner of that intersection. A flour and seed store was located on the street level and upstairs was a meeting room, which was also used for church services. Before the year was over, Charles Bright opened a blacksmith shop, L. D. Fletcher and Joseph Moren started a feed mill, and the Methodist Society was organized.

A grain elevator was built by John Bousfield in 1884 , and S. T. Paine and his wife operated a two-story hotel on Main. Loren Fletcher started a hardware, furniture, implement, harness, and undertaking business. A few years later this business was purchased by Dan Casey and sons. Dr. Van Camp moved into Johnson and opened an office. In 1886 D. D. Adams moved to Johnson and opened a second drug store. One year later he installed a soda fountain.

Johnson was "put on the map" when the Pioneer Baseball Team won the state championship in 1887. The Johnson community still has a real passion for the game of baseball. Presently we have a popular field where there are games played practically every night through out the summer months. Everyone gets involved: adults, junior-age, and T-ball for the youngest.

"The Johnson News" newspaper began publishing in 1890. By 1892, when Johnson was served by two freight trains and two passenger trains daily, a dray line was established to handle the freight.

Johnson's first bank was also opened in 1892 by Peter Berlet. The First National was organized in 1908, with Daniel Casey, Sr. president.

In 1896 the volunteer fire department was organized, and in 1897 the Farmers' Institute began, helping farmers to learn "up-to-date methods."

By the turn of the century Johnson's population was nearly 400 and has held close to that number throughout the years. An electric generating plant was installed in 1913. Several years later electricity was brought from Auburn.

The Bender-Reese Legion Post was established in 1919. The Chamber of Commerce became an active promotional organization in October 1949.

Johnson has seven churches, mostly Lutheran, due to the large number of German immigrants who settled in this area. They all remain active, which is of great benefit to the community.

A succession of schools over the years have served the community, with a modern schoolhouse built in 1936. In 1957, when ten rural districts consolidated with Johnson, a new building was erected. The Johnson-Brock School district was formed in 1968, using facilities in both towns.

Main Street was paved in 1942 and today all of Johnson's streets are paved.

Johnson, more than a decade into its second century, has a stable population and solid business district. This is due to the fact that concern for the town's existence reaches far beyond the city limits and includes many descendants of the hardy pioneers that laid the foundation for a successful community.

By Madge Casey Broady, Johnson, Nebraska, 68378.