Interesting Historical Facts About Beatrice and Gage County
8 Oct 2018
Founded by the legislature in 1855, Gage County started the way many Western communities did - with a postmaster and schoolhouse in 1857. What happened next set Beatrice apart from the mostly agricultural communities of the area. In 1857, Steam Saw Mill Company became operational in Beatrice and a few years later, Fordyce Roper opened the first flour mill. In 1878, C.B. Dempster opened the Dempster Mill Manufacturing Company followed by the Beatrice Canning Company. Then, in 1882, Beatrice Iron Works was formed. Together, these companies employed many residents, making Beatrice a known manufacturing community, giving it a diverse economy that relied on both manufacturing and agriculture.
The jobs were so plentiful that by 1880, the population of Beatrice had grown to 2,447 while Gage County had 13,164 people. With such a bustling population, Beatrice boasted of a community newspaper (the Blue Valley record), the First National Bank of Beatrice, and the H.P. Webb Company, which later became Gage County Bank. As residents and business owners had access to capital, more investments were made in Beatrice and the county, leading to additional growth. Though the first trains arrived in 1871, this growth was significant enough to make the Beatrice Express a daily in 1884.
Beatrice and Gage County were, and have remained, cultural and entertainment destinations. The first Gage County fair was held in 1872 and the opera house was built in 1878. One year later the Beatrice Chautauqua Park was founded and from here, the Queen of the Blue steamboat (the first in Nebraska) was launched. To meet the demand from tourists and traveling businessmen, the Paddock Hotel was built in 1878. Though it burned down in 1919, it was rebuilt and stands today as the Kensington at 105 N. 6th Street. As time progressed, the demand for local entertainment continued to increase and in 1925, the Riverside Amusement Park opened. Here, residents and visitors could take a ride on the ferris wheel or merry-go-round, take a swim, go skating, try their hand at shooting, rent a boat, or play baseball. The city of Beatrice continues these fun family traditions through our own parks, swimming pools, and sports facilities.
Daniel Freeman of Beatrice, was the first person to file for homestead land after the Free Homestead Act was signed into law by President Lincoln. He filed on January 1st, 1863 and his land is now the site of Beatrice’s Homestead National Monument - the first of its kind in the United States.
Beatrice firemen were the first in the country to set aside a memorial day for deceased comrades.
More than a few things have changed since the first postmaster began delivering letters. Beatrice is a thriving modern community and many of the things we recognize have happened in far more recent history. Still, many of our founding principles remain the same. Beatrice has strong manufacturing roots, as is evident by the presence of companies like Exmark/Toro, Neapco, Worldlawn, Ratigan Schottler, Accuma, Landmark Snacks, and Duonix, among others, but also strong agricultural roots which have been a competitive advantage in recent years.
We continue the community-centric attitude that made Beatrice and Gage County a cultural and entertainment destination in the 1800’s. As a result, our residents have a strong quality of life, good job opportunities, and are part of a longstanding history that would make our founders proud.