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History of Dawson County

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Dawson County was named for Nebraska pioneer Jacob Dawson by proclamation of Governor William James in 1871. Three major communities were settled in the county in the mid-to-late 1800s.


While traveling across the Nebraska plains on the Union Pacific Railroad, John J. Cozad spotted a sign that read: 100th Meridian. He could foresee the future buildings, envisioning a street named Meridian Avenue. Pursuing his dream, he purchased 40,000 acres of land from the railroad in the fall of 1873 to found the town of Cozad.

Mr. Cozad was an accomplished gambler with a temper, haughty pride and little tact. He shot and killed a local man during an argument and fled town during the night. His family soon followed. Later, it was discovered that they had changed their names and moved to New Jersey. The youngest son would become Robert Henri, a famous artist and art teacher in New York. In 1983, the Robert Henri Foundation purchased the family home and restored it. It is now known as the Robert Henri Museum and Historical Walkway.


Olof Bergstrom, a native of Sweden, founded Gothenburg in 1882, naming it after the city of Goteborg, Sweden. Bergstrom initially laid out two additions. Then to ensure its growth, he made several trips to Sweden to recruit residents to the area, assuring them they would not have to learn the English language.


Reverend William Ehmen also pioneered the area by plotting his own addition to the town and recruiting German immigrants. Names of businesses, mailboxes and school rosters show that these Swedish and German influences are still prevalent today. The population of Gothenburg is 3,700. Gothenburg was named an All-American City in 1991 and again in 1993 and was also recognized Nebraska Community of the Century in 1999.


What began as a frontier trading post established by Daniel Freeman in 1860 is the county seat today. Although hostile relations with Native Americans caused the Freemans to flee to Fort Kearny and leave behind their business, the location was too prime to abandon for long. After the Union Pacific Railroad tracks were laid, the area attracted many new settlers, who soon called their town Plum Creek.

The Olives, a prominent Texas family, introduced cattle ranching to the hills. This economic base remains strong in the area today, through cattle feeding and corn and alfalfa fields.

Based on 2002 figures, Dawson County has a population density of less than 24 persons per square mile. Of Dawson County’s total 648,269 acres, 622,805 acres (96.1 percent) of land is farms. Of that 96.1 percent figure, 53 percent is cropland with corn and soybeans as the leading grain commodities in the county.


For Dawson County to continue to grow and prosper, it needs to capitalize on its resources and assets and leverage them into long-term successes. Open spaces, water, grain, grasslands and hard-working people are our areas of strength. Economic viability for producers of all sizes enhances rural economic development. Looking for ways to diversify and receive more return on their investments, Dawson County producers are into specialty markets such as grapes, buffalo, popcorn and food-grade corn, just to name a few items. The transportation, financing, warehousing and processing of these products all create additional investment in the economy of the county.

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