Sunday, March 21, 2021

And Chariton gave birth --- to Aurora, Nebraska

I had a really interesting conversation on Friday with a representative of the Hamilton County, Nebraska, Historical Society --- the organization behind the impressive Plainsman Museum complex in Aurora. It was so interesting that I neglected to write down the name of the person I was talking to, figuring I'd remember it --- and then didn't. I'm sorry.

For the record, Aurora is located in south central Nebraska, 265 miles due west of Chariton astraddle U.S. Highway 34, just as Chariton is. Further, as it turns out, Chariton is Aurora's mother ship. And that was what our conversation was about.

Aurora is preparing to observe it's 150th birthday, or sesquicentennial, and the historical society is co-producing a film to celebrate that event. Chariton can expect honorable mention in it. So I was able to provide a some information about our hometown, including directions about how to pronounce the name. I know that seems unusual to those of us who live here, but others sometimes find it difficult. It's SHARE-a-ton.


Aurora was founded during 1871 by seven young Lucas County men who formed a company in Chariton during March of that year to govern a joint enterprise that involved traveling west to central Nebraska into the newly organized county of Hamilton in order to found a town they hoped would become the county seat, as in 1876 it did. 

Several of the men were fairly recent arrivals in Chariton, part of the westward explosion that commenced when the Civil War ended. David Stone was a grocer on the square. Darius Wilcox was a dealer in grain, hides, farm produce and agricultural implements who had a grocery operation on the side. Robert Miller was a carpenter and builder. James A. Doremus was a grocery man, too. Justinian Ray was a druggist, Nathaniel Thorpe was a fledgling lawyer and Stillman P. Lewis was a tailor who also operated an ice cream saloon, confectionary and bakery.

Why Nebraska? Opportunity --- and there was lots of in what at the time was sparsely settled territory. Iowa was filling up fast.

Why Hamilton County? The closest I've been able to come to an answer was found in a 1917 obituary of Robert Miller, the last surviving Aurora founding father. The Chariton men had heard glowing reports about opportunities in Hamilton County from a railroad surveyor, according to the obituary.

The Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, which had arrived in Chariton during 1867, arrived in Aurora during 1879. Chariton was an aspiring rail hub in 1871 and home and headquarters for Smith H. Mallory, a major contractor for the B.&M.R.R. and other lines. So a surveyor as a source of information, perhaps shared casually in conversation with friends, is entirely plausible.

The fact that the seven men knew the precise tract of land that they wanted to enter increases the likelihood that they had talked to someone familiar with the lay of the land --- perhaps a surveyor who already knew the route of a projected rail line through Nebraska.

I'll have more to say about the seven men credited with founding Aurora in another post. But here's the somewhat abbreviated text of Aurora's creation story as reported in The Aurora Republican-Register of April 3, 1942. The opening paragraphs of that story as well as the headline are shown above. Although the organizing document transcribed into the story refers to eight partners, there apparently were only seven.


Arora had its beginnings in Chariton, Iowa, in 1871, yet grew to prominence in central Nebraska, nearly three hundred miles to the west, in later years. The story behind the planning of seven men is the foundation of our story of Aurora's birth and its first growing pains. This is not a story of modern development, but a story of graphic incidents which made the Aurora of the seventies and eighties.

Aurora is named for Aurora, Ill., as a compliment to David Stone's wife, a native of that community and as it later turned out, the eastern terminus of the railroad soon to contribute so much to the development of Hamilton county and Aurora itself. This David Stone was one of the members of the original townsite company founded in Chariton, Iowa, on March 7, 1871, when seven men agreed to locate a town in Hamilton county, which had been organized the previous year. And it was Stone who had been delegated to go to Hamilton county on a reconnoitering expedition that same month after S.P. Lewis, another original signer of the agreement, had reported favorable. And it was to Stone's credit again that the first building erected for business purposes, located where the Highlander building now stands, was built by himself and opened with the first stock of merchandise.

The town that originated in Iowa grew out of an agreement by seven men who were eying the possibilities of the new territory in central Nebraska that was rapidly being developed. The agreement signed by the men is as follows:


"This agreement made and entered into this 9th day of March, 1871, by and between David Stone, Darius Wilcox, Robert Miller, James Doremus, J. Ray, N.H. Thorpe, S.P. Lewis of Lucas County, Iowa, for the purpose of securing a title to section 4, town 10, range 6 west.

"First: The parties hereto agree and by these presents do hereby form themselves together and organize a company for the purpose of laying out and organizing and locating county seat, town or village in the county of Hamilton and state of Nebraska, upon the following express conditions:

"It is hereby agreed that David Stone be selected as a suitable person to visit Hamilton county, Nebraska, for the purpose of securing land for the location of said county seat, town or village.

"Said Stone hereby agrees to homestead in the name of the eight individual members of the company if title can be procured in that manner; if not, locate in the name of each individual member of the company. It is further agreed that after said Stone secures the land described, being section four (4); township ten (10); range six (6) west, in Hamilton county, Nebraska, each of the above members, named parties, is to execute to each other, a bond for a deed for the individual conveyance of the undivided eight part of the entire section, or for the conveyance of the lots to each other in any manner they may select to divide the same as soon as title to same can be obtained; that the entire section shall be owned by common by all the parties named to this contract, eight in number, and each shall share and share alike in all the profits and losses, and each be entitled to the one-eighth part in virtue of the section.

"It is agreed and understood by all the parties that individuals shall be and reside upon said land, by the 1st of June, 1871, in person or agent, to assist in building up said town; a failure to comply with this stipulation shall work as a forfeiture of all his rights under this contract.

"The said Stone agrees that during this extended trip to Nebraska he will keep a true account of all moneys expended by him and the expenses of said Stone shall be equally borne by all  parties to this contract.

"It is further agreed that each party of this contract will, at the signing of the same, pay to said Stone the sum of thirty dollars, to be used by him in the securing of the title of said land by pre-emption or homestead subject to the laws of the United States in such case made and provided.

"Witness our hands and seal this 7th day of March, 1871. (signed) David Stone, Darius Wilcox, Robert Miller, James O. Doremus, Justinian Ray, Nathaniel Thorpe, Stillman P. Lewis"


Shortly after the signing of this historical document David Stone left Iowa and arrived at the S.W. Spafford place on Lincoln Creek. He made an examination of the county and the proposed site and returned to Iowa. About this time, disunion arose in the members of the company and the plans at first appeared to come to a standstill. On April 6, 1871, Nathan  Thorpe and Robert Miller came to Hamilton county and first sighted the Twin Cottonwoods which because they were the only trees of consequence located in the broad expanses of the prairie made the location an easy one to identify, and around those trees tradition has been built for through all the early days those trees were permitted to remain symbols of the pioneers.

Those two men, the first of the original company to arrive, settled in northeast and northwest quarter of section 4, town ten, range six, now part of Aurora. Shortly after, David Stone, Darius Wilcox and S.P. Lewis left Iowa and arrived June 10, 1871. They camped on Lincoln Creek, in the northeast corner of Section 4. David Stone soon platted a townsite on the northeast quarter of section 4 and at a meeting on the night of June 19, 1871, a suitable name for the new town was subject of considerable debate. However Stone, who wanted the town named Aurora (for Aurora, Ill.) and he held two proxies besides his own vote, finally persuaded Miller, who held one proxy besides his own vote, to cast his votes with him. Thorpe and Wilcox held but their own votes and were thus outnumbered and to Miller's votes must go credit for the naming of Aurora.

Mr. Wilcox soon pre-empted the northeast quarter of section 4. Stone homesteaded eighty acres on the west half of section 4, township 11, range 5, and E.D. Preston, who arrived during this time with a R.W. Graybill, took a "claim" on the southeast quarter, section 4, and Robert Miller, on the northwest quarter of the same section.

Darius Wilcox and Mary A.E. Stone surveyed and platted the original town site and it was entered for record December 20, 1872. The original site comprised the south half of the northeast quarter and the south half of the north half of the northeast quarter, a tract of 120 acres....

The southeast corner of Block 11, original town, where the Fidelity building now stands, was the site of the first building in the new town of Aurora, (not yet incorporated, but slyly contemplated for some time as seen in the original agreement, to be the county seat). On this site David Stone built a frame building in August and moved in with the first stock of general merchandise and provisions.

The first building in the community's newly platted original town was a dug-out built on the southwest corner of Block 12, where the Woodbine Apartment building now stands. Built in June, 1871, it was located there several years before it was replaced by an implement building.

Stone's first frame building was for some time the only building of any consequence in the location of the townsite and after no longer serviceable for a merchandise store was used by Chapman for a livery stable but in 1890 was torn down to make room for the pretentious building we see on the corner today --- the Highlander building.

Darius Wilcox built the third building on the northwest corner of Block 17, south of the Woodbine building today. Wilcox occupied the building for about a year and he then sold it to the Bromestedt and Kleinschmidt general merchandise store. Mr. Thorpe added his bit to the progress of the townsite when he erected an office building just south of the Wilcox building.

In 1872, the Spafford's Grove post office, which was located about a mile and a half northeast of Aurora and had been in operation about a year on Lincoln creek, was moved to Aurora and David Stone, who was the properitor of the general merchandise store became the first postmaster.

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