Skip Navigation

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  • Virtual Nebraska Logo

Virtual Nebraska

Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Gresham -- York County

Our sign says WELCOME, and we mean it!
An early view of Gresham's main street.
Main street after brick and block buildings were added and cars were the mode of transportation.
An aerial view of Gresham in the early 1900s. The building in the foreground is a cement block factory.
Gresham's main street in 1986, sprucing up for the centennial.

Death lay at Gresham's door many times, but was turned back. Pioneers withstood the fear of Indians, disease, the loss of crops to the elements, and 'hoppers. People were tested by the Depression and drought of the 1930s, the loss of the railroad in the '40s, and the notorious bank embezzlement in 1962. These are just a few of the events that occurred during Gresham's first century, 1887-1987.

Situated in the northeast corner of York County, Gresham had a population of nearly 500 at one time. Today just over 320 people reside here, who -- like the homesteaders before -- are of hardy and determined stock.

Three churches -- Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist -- were established early in our history. The first church was organized in 1871 at "Palo," and today the names of our earliest homesteaders may be read on the tombstones in its cemetery.

The village was founded in 1887 by the Pioneer Town Site Company in anticipation of the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad being built through York County. The station was given the name "Poston" in honor of Judge George Post of the Fourth Judicial District of York. When that name was not approved by postal authorities, the name was changed to "Gresham" for Walter Quinton Gresham, secretary of state in President Grover Cleveland's cabinet.

When the surveyors for the railroad came through the area in the winter of 1886-87, the line went directly through Ezra Felton's farm. Felton did not take kindly to the invasion and stood his ground with a shot gun in-hand, because as he said, "I was here first." Consequently, they were obliged to find an alternate route around the farm. In 1903 the FE&MVR merged into the Chicago & North Western, and in 1942 the line was abandoned and the rails removed, having by then brought prosperity to the cattle and grain industry of the area.

Settlers were mainly of German origin, but there was also a sizable Scandinavian group. From dugouts and sod houses to white-frame houses and businesses, there grew a deep feeling of pride in the community they established. Today in modern homes, Greshamites, with continued pride, enjoy well-kept places of business and a comfortable residential area.

Just as religious freedom was important to the founding fathers, education was also a high priority. Gresham's first schoolhouse was built in 1888, with larger, more substantial buildings added over the years. In 1986 Gresham merged with the Centennial District, retaining K-6 classes in local facilities.

The transition from a thriving business center into a residential town occurred over a period of years. As large corporations withdrew franchises and licensing from smaller communities, Gresham lost its resident rural mail carrier, its independent bank, and the co-op merged with one headquartered in Shelby. One church closed its doors and another shares a nonresident minister.

Each change has had an impact on the community, and drawn the residents of the village and trade area closer together. Evidence of this is the change-over of Gresham's Commercial Club to a "Community Club." The village, active in the NCIP, has received placement awards each year since 1964. Ten community leaders and two groups have been awarded the Ak-Sar-Ben Good Neighbor Award for their efforts. Improvement projects include the activation of our community building in the old high school and the establishment of a new park. The Gresham Public Library, from its humble beginnings in 1900 by the Woman's Club, currently houses more than 8,500 completely indexed and filed volumes. It has always been staffed entirely by volunteers.

Gresham has updated the village ordinances and promoted the foreclosure and sale of tax-delinquent properties, thereby improving the community appearance which was recognized and given the "Lawn Award."

Our town, Gresham, will continue to cope, believing that "small towns don't die...they commit suicide." People can either help facilitate change, or give up. In a way, the old town is long-gone, but in a much broader sense, the community of Gresham lives on, and will continue to do so far into its second century.

Oh yes, among our memoirs is the note..."Jessie James once slept here."

By Ruth S. Zersen, Gresham, NE 68367.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: "The Gresham Gazette;" The Nebraska State Gazetteer & Business Directory, 1888-89 and 1893; Old Settlers History of York County , 1913; York County and Its People Clarke Co; Cradle Days in York County, by the "York Republican"; Memorial and Biographical Record, Ogle & Co. 1899; Let the Record Be Made , 1962, by Donald and Ruth Zersen; and Gresham Nebraska 1887-1987 Vol I, Gresham Centennial History Committee.