Friday, October 24, 2014

History Along Nebraska’s Highways – Part III

Continuing with our tour of south central Nebraska, we homed in on various historical properties as a means to get a feeling for the area… Our goal is to see a bit of the towns or cities we pass through and not just to drive by on the highway.  We sure do find some interesting buildings and we discover a lot of interesting local history as well!

This is the Hall County Courthouse in Grand Island Nebraska.  It seems that each county must have been trying to outdo the next when these huge edifices were designed and built!  This beautiful Beaux-Arts style structure built with brick and limestone was completed in 1904.  The building has a domed interior rotunda.

Hall County has a population of a bit over 58,000.  It was formed in 1858 and it was named after Augustus Hall, an early judge in this territory.  One unfortunate distinction for the county is that it has the highest density of tornado activity in Nebraska, with 121 tornadoes per 1,000 square miles, about 4 times the state average.

This is the Evangelische Lutherische Dreinenigkeit Kirche (Trinity Lutheran Church) in Grand Island… Construction began on this church in 1894.  Two German-born brothers who were members of the congregation were the primary builders.  This Romanesque Revival style structure is considered to be a great example of Nebraska’s small town church architecture.  The church is still in use…as the “Cristo Cordero De Dios”…moving from one immigrant population to another.

In 1857, 35 German settlers left Davenport, Iowa, and headed west to Nebraska to start a new settlement on an island known by French traders as La Grande Isle, which was formed by the Wood River and the Platte River.  In fall 1865, a surveyor for the Union Pacific Railroad discovered a vast prairie dog village near present-day Grand Island.  He said, "For a distance of ten miles the prairie is one vast prairie-dog village. For miles and miles the ground is completely covered with their holes."  In 1868 the railroad reached the area, bringing increased trade and business. By 1870, 1,057 people lived in the town and in 1872 the town was incorporated as Grand Island.  Today, with a population of a little over 48,500, this city is the 3rd largest in Nebraska…after Omaha and Lincoln.

I was so lucky that this store in downtown Grand Island was closed.  This looks like one of those operations that recovers and repurposes pieces, parts and architectural items from old houses, buildings, businesses and other objects.  Laurie loves this kind of stuff… I would have been in serious trouble but, as they say, timing is everything!

Grand Island Factoids:

On June 3, 1980, Grand Island was hit by a massive supercell storm. Through the course of the evening, the city was ravaged by seven tornadoes, resulting in 5 deaths.

·        Tornado Hill is a local landmark created as a direct result of the tornadoes. Debris that could not be recycled was burnt and buried within Ryder Park, on the west end of town. The base of the hill was a hole 6–8 feet deep and nearly 200 feet across, and the hill is 40 feet high. It’s now used for sledding.  
·        Grand Island is the home of the Nebraska State Fair.

·        Academy Award winning actor Henry Fonda is from Grand Island. 

This is the John Barnd House in Kearney Nebraska.  This big beautiful two-and-one-half-story frame home was built about 1892.  It’s a good example of the Queen Anne style.  Barnd came to Kearney in 1874, established a law practice, and later was elected Buffalo County judge for two terms. In 1888 Barnd established the Mutual Loan and Investment Company of Kearney; the following year he became co-owner of the Commercial and Savings Bank. 

To learn more about John Barnd and the home itself, you can go to

For a totally different look, this is the John J. and Lenora Bartlett House.  Constructed in 1888, this house is a well-preserved but idiosyncratic example of residential Queen Anne architecture.  This style, with variations, was popular from approximately 1880-1910.   It was just beginning to gain popularity in Nebraska during the period in which the house was built.  The house was certainly built with style and attention to detail.  Mr. Bartlett spent $30,000 to build this home… That’s $705,000 in today’s dollars!

This handsome carriage house sits to one side and back a bit from the house.  Bartlett was an early captain of commerce and industry in Kearney.  He was into banking, milling and commercial real estate.  He was hit hard by the economic downturn of 1893.  The businesses failed and the Bartlett’s had a hard time holding onto their home.  In 1903, the house was seized and sold at auction due to the family failing to pay their taxes.

To learn more about this home, its architecture and the Barlett family fortunes, go to

This beautiful home isn’t listed on the National Register of Historic Places!  However, Laurie and I really liked its looks.  Plus the landscaping and flowers really made this home pop!

Kearney Nebraska is the county seat for Buffalo County Nebraska.  It has a population of about 31,000.  Before Kearney was named Kearney, it was called ‘Dobytown’.  Later the city was moved and renamed after the nearby Fort Kearny, a United States Army outpost along the Oregon Trail in the middle of the 19th century.  The fort was named after Colonel and later General Stephen W. Kearny.  Legend has it that the 2nd "e" was added to Kearney by mistake sometime afterwards by postmen who consistently misspelled the town name.  Eventually it just stuck.

That’s it for this chapter of our explorations… There will be more on Kearney in an upcoming posting.  Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. Very nice town and everything seems to be kept well. I'm fond of the Romanesque Revival church and the pretty red carriage house that resembles a barn. I wish my husband was interested in slowing down and taking the scenic route for a change.

  2. You got to see some big, fine, old homes. I like the ones with a wrap around porch.

  3. Evangelische Lutherische Dreinenigkeit Kirche---this church is seriously haunted. I don't mean "boo" scary ghost haunted, but "doorway to hell" poltergeist haunted. I went to church there as a child and I could tell you about the things I saw and heard, as well as heard about. It freaks me out to even think/write about it. On the few occasions I returned to GI, I avoid even driving anywhere close to it