On March 1st, 1867 Nebraska officially became a state.
Since that day over 150 years ago, mountains of history have been made by people in every one of the state’s 93 counties.
In an effort to preserve and illuminate some of that history, with the state celebrating its sesquicentennial, Dave Hendee of the Omaha World Herald set out to tell the story of Nebraska county by county.
“We could have told the story any number of ways, we could have had a chapter on famous people, followed by famous places and event,” Hendee said in an interview with the Tribune. “But we decided that the best way to tell it would be to tell it through the stories of 93 counties. Once that was decided everything kind of flowed into place.”
That collection of stories became the book “Nebraska: 150 Years Told Through 93 Counties” which was written by Hendee over a five month period in 2016 and published by Omaha World Herald in October of 2016.
On Thursday, Hendee will be making several stops in Fremont to talk about his experience researching and writing about each of the state’s 93 counties, from Adams to York.
The author will give a presentation about the book at Gallery 92 West/ Fremont Area Art Association’s monthly Third Thursday Luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then will be holding a signing at Keene Memorial Library from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Registration is required to attend Gallery 92 West’s Third Thursday Luncheon, and can be made at http://www.92west.org/3rd-thursday-luncheons/. The cost to attend is $12.
Along with referencing a number of Nebraska history books and newspaper clippings for background information, Hendee also used his work traveling around the state as a reporter to complete the book.
“As I traveled around the state I would kind of combine assignments, if there was something I wanted to cover for the daily paper I made sure I did some reporting and photos for the book project too,” he said. “Even things as simple as state historical markers that you see along the side of the road, I made sure to read the text of all of those just to make sure I didn’t forget important things.”
Even as a reporter who travels around, and writes about, the state, Hendee who grew up in Sidney and attended college at Midland, still found new places and stories while writing the book.
“I always thought I knew a lot about Nebraska, and of course my job in the last many years has been to cover Nebraska, so there really aren’t many places I haven’t been,” Hendee said. “But still there were surprises, I was surprised by how many surprises there were for me.”
A couple of those surprises were the Oak Ballroom in Schuyler, to which Hendee was aware of but had never visited before, along with Charles Morrill’s homestead south of Stromsburg in Polk County.
“Charles Morrill the namesake for Morrill Hall in Lincoln, and Morrill County and Morrill the town had this homestead that is just a beautiful home that has been restored by new owners,” he said. “It was basically his retirement home, and what it amounts to a large log cabin, but just his story and the story of the home was incredible fun to cover.”
In the 190 page book, each county is dedicated two pages that feature stories about historical buildings, happenings, and people along with photos and illustrations.
With so many counties, and history to go along with each, it was impossible to include every little detail about each but Hendee hopes the book gives readers an overarching look at the state.
“By reading through the book, you might not read a complete history of your county, but you will read a complete history of Nebraska,” he said. “If they don’t have it already I hope they get a deeper appreciation of the beauty of Nebraska for one thing, in all four or five corners of the state.”
The pages dedicated to Dodge County tell the story of its development in relation to its placement on the Platte River as well as pathfinders like John C. Fremont. Stories also include an early blizzard in 1885, a poor farm near Nickerson, and the Old Harder Hotel in Scribner.
“Nebraska: 150 Years Told Through 93 Counties” is available for purchase at Barnes and Noble in Lincoln and Omaha, The Bookworm in Omaha, as well as at Gallery 92 West and Yankee Peddler West locally. The cost of the hardcover book is $29.95 plus tax.
“I think it is easy to graze through, you don’t have to read it from front to back you can flip through and find little nuggets to read about,” Hendee said. “You read about the history of where you grew up, or where your grandparents homesteaded, or where your father worked as a young man. Hopefully it might encourage people to dig into the history of their own counties.”