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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nemaha -- Nemaha County

The reason for the large gathering on Nemaha's main street is not known, but the date is 1904. [Sweenie]

Our town was originally named "Nemaha City" because the founders believed it would one day be a great city. The village is located near a river by that name, an Otoe Indian word meaning "miry or swampy waters."

According to available records, the town site was selected in 1854. It is built on "second bottom land" and faces two river fronts -- the Nemaha on the south and the Missouri on the east. Allen Coatt surveyed and platted the town parallel to the bluffs and river, instead of straight with the world, which makes our town unique, and also somewhat confusing. A Dr. Hyatt staked a claim on 160 acres of land nearby, but Dr. Jerome Hoover, who purchased the claim, was credited with being the "town founder." Nemaha City was incorporated by the territorial legislature in 1855-56.

In addition to Hyatt and Hoover, early settlers who crossed the Missouri River and settled in this area include Skeen, Russell, Weddle, and Myers. Alec Weddle was the first child born in Nemaha City.

A public square was donated to the town by Hoover and a big celebration was held to dedicate it as a park. Speeches were made and trees were planted. The park is still used today for such events as the annual "Nemaha Old Settlers' Picnic." The 100th anniversary of this event was held in 1991.

By 1857 Nemaha City boasted two hotels, the Strong and the Hiatt House, both with attractive rooms and a reception room for public meetings. There was a two-story opera house with a large stage where plays were performed. A store was on the first floor.

During the Civil War years, Nemaha was a station of the underground railroad which smuggled slaves to the North. While not many slaves escaped to Canada through the Nebraska Territory, some were ferried across the Missouri River and hidden in attics and caves, then sent on their way to Nebraska City by night. It was a "dangerous business" to be in, but is considered a point of pride for the community to have been on the side of freedom.

Nemaha has two active churches. The Christian Church, serving the community for over 125 years, and the United Methodist, built from locally made brick, is also more than a century old.

Nemaha schools began in 1857 and continued until the year 1966, when they merged with Stella to form the Southeast Consolidated Schools. The bus picks up all students, K-12, and transports them to and from school.

Nemaha's current population is 190. It is, for the most part, a "bedroom community" as the majority of the people who live in Nemaha work in nearby Auburn, at the Cooper Nuclear Power Plant, or at the Excel Beef Packing Plant in Rock Port, Missouri.

The area around Nemaha is mainly agricultural. Much of the prosperity in this fertile valley is the result of the unselfish sacrifices of the pioneers who developed the land and built homes on the raw prairie. There were still people "pioneering" as recently as the 1950s. Over a 1,000-acre tract of timberland was cleared along the Missouri bottom ground and is now in crop production.

Much hard work and planning have gone into making this a better community.

By Bruce Sweenie, Box 98, Nemaha, NE 68414.