A Pristine Landscape

Seward is home to 6,752 residents, mostly bipeds, yet evidence suggests earlier area inhabitants swam. The rich lime deposits and fertile soil that made the area so appealing to the pioneers lead scientists to believe it was once a huge sea. On the eastern fringe of Seward County, the hillocks and rolling terrain are the result of a prehistoric glacier, which lumbered through the area depositing pink granite rocks and boulders from regions farther north.

Much later, the pristine land was home to Pawnee, Omaha, Otoe and Sioux — who cohabitated with the bison, antelope and prairie chickens.

In 1854, Nebraska became a territory. It covered the areas from the 40th parallel to the Rocky Mountains, north to Canada then down to the Missouri River. The territory was divided into a dozen or so counties, and Seward County was originally Greene County.

In 1859, the discovery of gold created a great exodus across the plains. Two brothers, Thomas and James West, didn’t get much farther than the banks of the West Blue River. They pitched their tents, and — although menaced by the natives — didn’t budge. Evidence suggests Tom West possessed great diplomatic skills and chose pacifism over pandemonium. He set up the trading post West Mills, Greene County’s first permanent settlement.

Although the exact identity of the county’s namesake is not known, it is generally acknowledged that “Mr. Greene” was someone sympathetic with the confederate cause. After the Civil War broke out, Greene County became Seward County in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State and freedom advocate, William H. Seward.

The end of the Civil War brought another wave of pioneers across the plains seeking new lives and fresh starts. The west fork of the Big Blue River proved to be a popular spot for people to congregate. Good water and black soil were abundant.

The settlers began to think about formally organizing, and called upon the nearby Lancaster County commissioners to order an election of Seward County officials. The population grew from about 25 in1864 to nearly 300 in 1867.

When Lewis Moffitt officially registered the city’s plats in May 1868, Seward was already a busy community with its own mill. Seward incorporated in April 1870. It won a contentious debate with two other towns about where the county seat should be located.

Roads were developed, and the first Midland Pacific Railroad train rolled into town in 1873. The town has survived floods, blizzards, train wrecks and the grasshopper plague. A 1913 tornado killed eight and leveled an area 16 blocks long and three blocks wide.

Seward’s backbone is strong and its citizens are of sturdy stock. Downtown’s brick streets still resonate with its pioneer heritage.

 


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