History of Springfield
by Gertrude Smith
Provided by Springfield Historical Society
As the surge of civilization and building of homes pointed to the west, another town followed in the steps of the newly recognized territory and county. A young farmer-adventurer was responsible for the organization of Springfield, Nebraska. Capt. J. D. Spearman, was born in 1833, near Jacksonville, Ill., of Kentucky parents who moved to Illinois and then to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, before they came to this area. His significant early contribution has formed the major historical background of the town of Springfield.
In the fall of 1862, this young captain was commissioned to raise a company of volunteers. Within five days, he had 105 men, known as Co. H 25th, Iowa. As a captain, he served under Generals Sherman and Grant. In April, 1864, Capt. J. D. Spearman, a wounded, crippled veteran, was honorably discharged, and returned to Iowa.
In 1871, he settled on a farm 1.5 miles south of Springfield, (the Elmer Zeorian farm), later farmed for him by Frank Adair, Sr. and wife. When he learned that the Missouri Pacific railroad would be built through our area, he purchased, in 1873, 160 acres for $822.68, from John and Bridget Cotter, who held a land grant, dated July 7, 1857, and signed by President James Buchanan.
Captain Spearman immediately platted our village, naming it Springfield, because of the numerous springs, one of which has been preserved on the Neitzel property along Highway 50. Sarpy Center was another early town platted by Capt. Spearman, but he was sadly disappointed in his speculations and hopes for Sarpy Center – a town that never materialized. In a sense of word, the town of Sarpy Center was removed to Springfield. With the aid of Frank Adalr, Sr., Solomon Zeorlan (an early settler from Switzerland), Rev. S. J. Stewart, and others, Capt. Spearman transported the buildings from Sarpy Center to the new village of Springfield. The new town began life on October 1, 1881. On its first birthday in 1882, it had a population of 300.
One of Springfield’s early settlers, Jacob Fackler, born in Ohio in 1825, came with his parents to Iowa in 1836. On April 17, 1858, he started to drive to Sarpy County, arriving on May 8th. From the national government, he purchased 120 acres at $1.25 an acre. The next year he bought another 120, but in 1865, he sold these farms to purchase a new 120, not far from the Platte River, and soon added another 120 acres. In 1876, he replaced the old log home with “anelegant stone house”. It you look for it, you can find it, now occupied by the Robert Keyes, Jr. family. He made cattle raising his chief pursuit, and became successful.
Another successful Springfield farmer, was Clarence Keyes, Sr. of Chippewa Falls, Massachusetts. When he came to Sarpy County in 1868, he “had no thoughts of farming, nor could he even harness a horse.” However, with his brother-in-law, he bought a farm in the La-Platte precinct. In 1874, he disposed of it and purchased 160 acres in the Richland precinct from the Union Pacific Railroad. Later, he bought an adjoining 160 acres – all untilled land. Mr. Keyes served as a representative in the 1893 legislature. The farm which has never left family ownership, is now owned and farmed by Chester Keyes son, Donald Keyes.
Among other notable Springfield names, W. H. Peters of Trumbull County, Ohio, came with his parents to Sarpy County in 1856. He followed the wagon and carriage-making trade at his father. In 1879, he purchased 80 acres at $8 per acre, where he built the home now occupied by the William Beck family. That home was finished when Springfield was one year old. A number of business enterprises had sprung up by 1900. Two buildings were the pride of the town – the large hotel owned by the Biakewell family, and the Opera House.
Before automobiles changed the pattern of living, traveling salesmen were numerous, coming by train and staying at the hotel, which had a large dining room, lobby, and parlor, in addition to the bedrooms. When twenty Negro Jubilee Singers made their annual appearances at our Winter Chautauquas, there was no color line for them at the hotel. Our Opera House, situated where Mrs. Anna Armstrong built her home, was truly a community center. It was the place for graduation exercises, for alumni banquets, church bazaars and dinners, home-talent plays, the “Clint and Bessie Robbins” road shows, the Winter Chautauqua, Farmers’ Institute, Lodge meetings, and public dances.
Among the earliest merchants were David Brawner, who opened a general store in December, 1881; the J. D. Spearman and Sons general store; Louis Bates of Xenia and A. V. Rogers, who handled merchandise and drugs; W. E. Miller, a druggist who had transferred from Sarpy County, and much later, in 1891, for $2500, erected the first pressed-brick, two story building, now occupied by Kreifel Brothers.
In February, 1882, in partnership with M. Brown, Charles E. Smith opened the local harness and saddlery shop. All goods was hauled from Omaha by team and wagon. As business grew, he employed two men to assist in the making of harness by hand. His customers came from all parts at the county, for he carried a stock of collars, lap robes, blankets, saddles, buffalo fur coats for men, and stock food. He was the only original business man still operating in 1929, when death called him.
Before 1900, we had two barber shops, each with three chairs; a jewelry, watch repair, and gift shop, owned by Mr. Frank Comte, a native of Switzerland, who was our only mortician; two drug stores; a hardware store; two implement houses; two butcher shops; two banks; a post office; three rooming and boarding houses; a creamery; a bakery; a large flour mill; a millinery shop; a green-house; a hospital started by Dr. A. G. Hamilton in 1898; a boot shop where Mr. Mumford made boots and repaired shoes; two blacksmith shops; two livery and feed stables; two elevators where coal was also sold; two lumber yards; two general stores and one grocery; one dray service, owned by Mr. Wick Ellis, our Confederate veteran from Mississippi; one “ice-house”, owned by John Schaal, who delivered ice to homes and stores; one small jail, referred to as the cooler, a print shop, where J. C. Miller first published the Springfield Monitor in 1882; two saloons, whose licenses had to be voted upon each year since the license money of $1000 each went into the school funds; a pool hail; a restaurant. There were carpenters, painters, and masons to do the building.
Rivalry existed between Papillion and Springfield as to which should have the County Fair. Dwindling finances forced the fair to be given up for a time, but 4-H clubs and exhibits renewed interest and lead the way to our present Fair Grounds. The Fair was returned to Springfield, September 3-4, 1937. Rodeo facilities and fine new buildings now make up our attractive Fair Grounds.
Considering the history of our churches, we find a great change. The Methodist and the Congregational Churches had completed wooden structures and were holding services by August 1882, The Baptists erected a church home (now the Masonic Temple) and the Christian Advents built their church, later converted into a home by Lester Ball, and now occupied by Otto Nielsen. In 1927, the Methodists built their new brick church. The Baptists now meet in the old Congregational building, and the Lutherans in the Community Hall. The Community Building was built in the thirties by a W.P.A. labor project.
Springfield’s early school was on the outskirts of town. In 1884, a brick building on the hilltop was erected for ten grades. Because of Mr. J. M. Elwell’s leadership, an eleventh grade was added, and soon we became an accredited 12-grade school. We have a new modern elementary school building, constructed in 1964, for kindergarten Through third, and high school students are transported by bus to the consolidated Platteview Junior – Senior High School, built in 1960.
Every business house and home had its own deep well or cistern. All sidewalks were wooden; street lamps were lighted by a caretaker, who carried his step-ladder from post to post. The streets were lined with hitching posts for the horse and wagon days. To dampen the deep dust, a horse-drawn sprinkling wagon was used. After the destructive fire of 1904 the “town fathers” realized the village should have a water system. At first, Springfield had several trains a day, one passenger train with a pullman car. Mr.J.C.Geib, the station agent for so many years, had relief telegraphers for the day, as well as a night operator. Special passenger service was provided to the Ak-Sar-Ben night parades in downtown Omaha. By the time the train from Falls City had reached Springfield, there was usually “standing room only”.
Memories bring back recollections on the Memorial Day parades that ended at the City Park, where orations were delivered and patriotic music was sung. Active in heading up this parade was the Kirkwood Post of the G.A.R., organized by Captain Spearman. Carrying the flag proudly and wearing his blue G.A.R. uniform, Mr. Jim Johnson (a settler along the Platte in 1858) led the procession, year after year. Another G.A.R. member always present at this celebration was I. V. Cornish, who was one of the village Mayors after he retired from farming.
The first citizens of Springfield managed many years without telephones and electricity. Oil lamps were replaced by gasoline burners and a few homes had their own acetylene plants. Telephone switchboards and office were installed in the rear rooms of the old brick bank building (now the Grell apartments) with Miss Ethel Saling as head operator for many years.
As the years passed, garages and filling stations supplanted the livery stables; mechanized farm machinery drove the blacksmiths and wagon-makers out of business.
Through a generous legacy left to the town by Mr. Taylor Jar man, in 1965, a brick concrete building, in the city park, now houses the fire department and rescue equipment. There is space for a new library and a meeting room for the town board and Woman’s Club. The Taylor Jarman Memorial building has been well planned for future growth and is attractively furnished.
Another legacy was given to the town of Springfield, an every day gift, handed down through the years. The pioneer-settler bequest of determination, hope and faith that these men had when they built Springfield, has been turned over to the people of the town. Proof of this same spirit are the fine new homes in the two new additions Springfield has built for her growing “today”. This gift of spirit will give Springfield her courage, enthusiasm and growth in the future.
Reference for Biographies: Biographical Record, Saunders and Sarpy Counties, 1900.
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