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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Seward -- Seward County

Moffitt's first home was similar to this cabin painted by resident-artist Thomas B. Johnson.
The B&MR depot was in "South Seward" on 2nd street next to the mill. Later, when the CB&Q main line was relocated, a brick depot with tile floors was built on 5th street two blocks south of the Square. ca. 1917.
North side of the Square looking west. Prichard's brick building, in the middle of the block, saved the town from going up in flames.
Seward's historical marker on the courthouse lawn.

Andreas' 1882 history records, "...on a crowning hill, where only prairie grass swayed to the motion of the air...[there] was an ideal location for a town." Our first homesteader, Robert Gale, chose land on the east slope of that hill in 1862, and Lewis Moffitt purchased some of this choice land in 1865. He built a two-room cabin for his family, which then served as a meeting place, lodging for newcomers, and, in 1867, a post office he called "Seward Centre," but was approved as simply "Seward."

Moffitt, who favored a quiet life, was courteous but did not cajole the politicians looking for a state capital site. He also "would not be rushed" when Seward vied for county seat in 1867. But by July 4, 1868, the town was platted, a public well dug, a scattering of shops and homes built, and a mill was turning out lumber on the bend of the Blue River. A celebration was in order -- the first of many!

Seward incorporated in 1870. The next year, with some help from the state legislature, an impromptu election made Seward county seat over Milford's "shiretown" claims, and culminated in a frantic race to Lincoln by those who went into "enemy territory" and confiscated the records. A hastily-built courthouse sealed the deal, and Seward rejoiced by building a three-story brick schoolhouse. The political battle raged on, as bonds to build a railroad to Seward by way of Milford were rejected. Support was found by running the line by way of the northeast part of the county.

The first train arrived on March 1, 1873; the 'hoppers arrived the next summer. Before the plague subsided, people from a wide area had to come to Seward's depot for supplies. With the economy stalled, Seward remained the end-of-the-line for four years, during which time the town doubled and redoubled in size.

A fire in the 1880s and bricks produced at two brickyards helped convert the Square from flimsy wooden buildings into substantial structures with ornate facades. County offices were moved to "temporary space" in one of these buildings, and elegant homes added to the town's prestige. A water tower, additions to Banner Mills, and a German teachers' college helped Seward to weather the money-panic of the 1890s.

Moffitt's sizable estate provided the catalyst needed for building "a proper courthouse" in 1905. During this spree, Seward added a city hall, a larger high school, and many churches and homes. In 1909, after frozen ruts made the streets impassible, George Thomas pushed for brick paving, and the ground-swell of community pride raised matching funds for a Carnegie Library and a YMCA.

In 1913, while almost everyone was at "the big ball game" south of town, a tornado ripped through 16 blocks, injuring many and killing 13. In rebuilding, Seward's population reached 2,000. In 1918 a "modern high school" was completed, and a unique round swimming pool, designed by city engineer John Martz, was built.

Local bank scrip helped keep things going during the 1930s, and the "Independent's" editor Wm. Smith, who invited stories about early pioneer days, put "really hard-times" into perspective.

In the 1940s, with "our boys" on the front lines, their wives and older citizens joined the work-force, building ammunition crates at Hughes Brothers' cross-arms plant. After the war, returning servicemen crowded college rosters, while baby-boomers filled both public and parochial schools to the brim. Reorganization finally resulted in a 250-square mile consolidated district in 1963. The Burlington Railroad, no longer a primary transportation link, moved its mainline track south of the river, and a dike, engineered by Ben Hughes, provided long-needed flood protection for the west side of town.

Seward's 1967 centennial, peaking on July 4th, provided the spark for an all-out community event. Our teenage "Whiz Bang Kids" initiated the on-going involvement of youth and service groups, which led to Seward's title of "Fourth of July City." Promoter Harold Davisson's "world's largest time capsule" enhances this claim-to-fame.

Since then additional industry has broadened Seward's economic base. Just six miles north of I-80, Highway 34 intersects Highway 15 on the Square, and a small airport provides access to the city from all directions. Seward, with a population 5,783, now extending well beyond the "crowning hill" is our town, and we love it.

By Jane Graff, Rte 3, Seward, NE 68434

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Seward County, 1876 , O.T.B.Williams; History of the State of Nebraska , 1882, Andres; History of Seward County, 1888, Cox; History of Seward & Reminiscences 1905, Cox; History of Seward County , 1915, Waterman; Early Days in Seward County , 1937, Smith; On A Bend of the River , 1967, Graff; Seward 1900-1973 Davisson; Seward 1900-1974 , Davisson; The Bicentennial Pictorial , 1976, Davisson; The Fourth of July Book , 1980, Graff; Seward County Nebraska , 1982, and Supplement edition 1983, SCGS, and numerous atlas and pamphlets.