Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sutton Street Names or "Why Saunders Avenue?"

The first settlers on the Great Plains faced open territory and a blank map. One of their chores as they filled the territory was to also fill the map with names for physical features they found and created. Sutton has about 40 named streets and avenues. Where did those names come from; that is, who or what is a Saunders?

Our east-west thoroughfares are streets and avenues run north and south. We can account for most of the streets very quickly with the “Tree Theme”. From the township line north of the park we have an almost alphabetical list of tree-related names to the south: Ash, Beech, Cedar, Maple (Wrong! Why not Dogwood?), Elm, Forest and Grove (not kinds of trees, but OK), Hickory, Ivy (once was “Joy Street”), Laurel and Myrtle. (No “K”. Can you think of one?).

But why trees? If there was one thing early explorers, Oregon Trail Diarists and settlers all agreed upon, it was that THERE WERE NO TREES. The township southwest of Clay Center is even named “Lone Tree”.

South of the tree section are three streets between Myrtle and Highway 6. A banker by the name of Fowler developed that addition and named Helen, Anna and George streets. Betty and Roger Sheridan gave the historical society several photos collected over the years and one is labeled “Fowler girls, Helen, Anna, Madge, Geo. Fowler” - Madge didn’t get her street.

Crossing back to the north of the park the first little street north of Ash Street is Lake Street. Let’s call names like this a “descriptive name.” Such descriptive names are the second major category and reflect some feature that struck the founder’s fancy. Was there a lake or a pond north of Ash where the little creek comes from the west? Don’t know. Just north of Lake is Ridge Street. Sounds like another descriptive name and barring discovering a Mr. Lake or a Mr. Ridge somewhere in Sutton’s past, let’s picture a ridge over a lake here, or someone’s imagination of them.

Next is Lincoln Street. Perhaps more time and effort would uncover whether this street is officially named for President Lincoln or the state capitol city. A research projects like this is a “work in progress.” Suggestions welcome. The west end of Lincoln Street becomes Crestridge Circle Drive – another descriptive name.

Next is North Street and it is “in the north part of town”, yet another descriptive name. Then we have Ada Street. This section of town was once owned by Hosea Gray and George Bemis. Col. Gray’s daughter Ada was married to George Bemis. Ada was a gracious host and a fine musician with Sutton’s first piano. And with her own street.

North of the school and in line with the entrance to the cemetery is N. Silver Street Richard S. Silver arrived in Sutton in April, 1878 and owned 400 acres on the north edge of town. Silver was an important name in early Sutton but that name disappeared with the death of Cessna Silver in 1966.

That’s the streets; now for the avenues.

To the east of the middle of town are Maltby, Way, Main and French Avenues. Main Avenue was supposed to be the “main” street of Sutton and the first businesses were built on Main Avenue north of the Burlington tracks. Within just a few months, businesses began to migrate three blocks west to build on Saunders Avenue leading to the ambiguity and confusion that we are still dealing with today. Luther French, John Maltby and William Way were the three homesteaders of the three eighties that make up Sutton Original Town and the First Addition (about Ash to Helen and James to French).

Our project here takes an “incomplete” east of Route 6. Calvert, Phillips, Dorr, Owen and Dennis Avenues all appear to be named after people. Thomas Calvert was a Burlington railroad engineer in 1871 who worked on the Crete-Kearney section of track just as it was built. The state historical society has a story about him in its web site. That might be where this name came from – might be.

Dr. Charles Phillips was a dentist in Sutton but only from about 1905 until 1908. He is unlikely to be the source of this name, but possible – raise your hand if you know better.

There were Dorr’s in early Nebraska but none appear to have a any Sutton Connection, likewise Owen’s, though Mr. Owen Miles built the first school house and it was to the east of the main part of town, but that isn’t likely either. We can do better with Dennis Street. The Dennis family owned property to the east of town in the vicinity of Dennis Street (should have been an avenue). There is a Burlington Avenue out on the east edge  of town – did you know that?

Two descriptive names complete the east end of town, Terrace and Crestview Drives and Commercial Avenue is appropriate for its role along the highway to the southeast.

Near the north end of town is the one-block Gray Avenue – clearly named for the Gray family which owned this property. Horseshoe Avenue is recent and someone surely remembers the rationale for it. Was it descriptive of the intended shape or to recognize a horse pasture or something else?

Now, back downtown where we come to the governors. Alvin Saunders was Nebraska’s last territorial Governor serving from 1861-1867 and was later a senator from the state. Our founders saw fit to recognize the gentleman though they did not intend for the honor to be associated with the “main street” of the town. To the west are Butler and James Avenues named for David Christy Butler and William Hartford James, the first two governors of the State of Nebraska.

The west end of Sutton was developed by a very early businessman, I. N. Clark and his brother Dr. Martin V. B. Clark, the first doctor in town. Immediately west of James Avenue is …. Clark Avenue – no mystery there. Next is Glen Avenue. Clark’s Pond was first named Glen Lake, hence the name Glen Avenue. O.K., that begs the question of where did “Glen” come from? There doesn’t seem to have been anyone in the Clark family by that name. Perhaps the area of the lake/pond reminded someone of a little glen, suppose?

The rest of the avenues to the west are Park, Myra, Grand, Roy and Euclid. Park Avenue is on the west side of the Clark’s Pond and looks like a park even today. And the Clark’s must have thought that the town should have a Grand Avenue. Myra and Roy were two of I. N. Clark’s children so we only have Euclid left.

Why is an avenue in Sutton named after a Greek mathematician from 300 BCE? This is my favorite guess in the project. Euclid Avenue is in the Clark Additions so one of the brothers probably named it avenue. Isaac named two avenues after his kids so Euclid may be brother Martin’s contribution.

The Clark’s grew up in Parma, Ohio, now a south suburb of Cleveland. Off to the east is another suburb, Euclid. But what would be the connection? Dr. Martin Clark went to medical school at Western Reserve University, now Case Western. The main street of the Case Western University campus is also the major street that connects downtown Cleveland to the distant suburb of Euclid and is called ... Euclid Avenue. This guess is that Dr. Clark must have had some fond memories of that street that bisected his medical college. Maybe he lived on that street, or someone special did.

Dr. Clark also had a reputation as a serious student of science. He organized a local science club and once engaged in early “C.S.I.-type” work in a criminal investigation. It fits that he might recognize a man of science from over 2,000 years ago given the chance.

That concludes our mental trip across town north and south, east and west. There may be some literature buried about town where someone indentified all of the sources of street and avenue names and they may have found better answers that these. But until that literature surfaces we’ll declare this a first draft of a continuing effort. We’ll continue to look for Dorr and Phillips and the rest. Suggestions welcome.

This article appeared in the March and April issues of Sutton Life Magazine. For information about the magazine contact or Mustang Inc., 510 West Cedar, Sutton, NE 68979.

Sutton in the Census

From the U. S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2: “The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” That is the only specific tasking the founders gave us and it is time for the Twenty-Third Census of the United States.

The purpose of the census is to provide population statistics to adjust the boundaries of Congressional districts but data collection has grown as has the usefulness of the information.

Sutton’s first appeared in the 1880 census having just missed the prior edition. Enumerator James E. Marsh found 1631 people in Sutton Township. Mr. Jacob Steinmetz counted noses in School Creek Township.

Each census has asked a different set of questions beginning with early years when little more than the name of the head of the household and the number of persons was asked. By the beginning of the twentieth century the census bureau was collecting a wealth of information including age, place of birth, immigration date, number of years married, parents’ birthplace, literacy, occupation, etc. Recent forms have shrunk. The 2010 form has only 10 questions asking for name, sex, age, date of birth, racial and home ownership information.

Analysts use census data to learn how the country has grown and developed but no group has benefited from this resource more than genealogists. Great-grandparents seem to come to life as you see their family listed in the census and imagine the interview with the local enumerator. There are surprises lurking in these records: children who died young and were not remembered, in-laws who lived in the house, servants, boarders and gaps – people who should be there but aren’t.

We can’t fully trust everything found in the census. My great-grandparent’s family appears on the first page of the 1880 School Creek census where we’re led to believe that Anna Johnson gave birth to twins in Sweden at the age of 14. Possible, but her achievement probably would have been part of our family folklore. Family records indicate Anna was born in 1841 and would have been 38 years old when she met with the census taker, not 28 as he recorded. Curiously, he also listed his own wife as being 28 years old that year with 18 and 13 year old daughters. He might have had trouble with arithmetic, or maybe he was married twice – the census provides clues, not always complete answers.

Mr. Steinmetz illustrated another point in his own entry. He tried to record his wife’s birthplace and that of her parents but he re-wrote it a couple of times making a mess of the page. It appears he wrote “Prussia” and he clearly wrote “Hesser Castle”, probably meaning the Prussian province of Hesse-Kassel. Again, clues, not always complete answers.

I learned two things about my great-grandmother in the 1900 census. It reports that she had seven children but only six were living. My grandfather must have had a brother or sister who likely died in Sweden before the family emigrated. Also, the enumerator recorded that Anna could read and write, but did not speak English. Quite a number of older people, especially women were getting along just fine in their native language according to the 1900 and 1910 census.

Did you notice that I skipped over the 1890 census? If you research census records, you will too. That census was lost in a fire. So our Sutton research begins in 1880, then skips twenty whole years to the 1900 records followed by 1910, 1920 and you are finished at 1930, for now. Census records are “closed” for 72 years as a privacy consideration. The 1940 census will become public in just a couple more years. I am anticipating that one as my father was the School Creek enumerator starting the task on April 2nd and finishing on April 17th. It will be in his handwriting – and a good hand it was. That was not always the case.

Just a few years ago census records were available on microfilm at Mormon libraries at temples and in the largest stakes. Many of us spent hours and hours in darkened rooms at the library just west of Temple Square in Salt Lake City poring over film after film. Now, it is almost too easy. Census records are online and indexed. What used to take multiple sessions can be done in minutes. The genealogy web site is a robust and easily accessible repository. There is a modest subscription fee, but when compared to traveling to spend hours or days in a library, it’s a fair price.

This article appeared in the February, 2010 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For information about Sutton Life contact or Mustang, Inc., 510 West Cedar, Sutton, NE 68979. 

Betsy Swanson - A Little Story Behind a Small Gravestone

Her name was Betsy and a gravestone in the Saronville Lutheran Cemetery tells us she died in 1944 at the age of 90. Odds are that few people today know anything of this woman. Oh, there may be a relative or two who lists her in their family tree, or maybe her name would trigger a long lost memory for someone. But for the most part, Betsy, like so many others left few tracks as clues to lives lived, either well or ill.

For many of us History is the story of people and a small item stumbled upon, a little perseverance and some luck just might uncover a story worth telling.

A photo of Betsy and her spinning wheel appeared in the Hastings Tribune and Sutton Register in 1935 with an article about her demonstration of spinning skills at a Hastings College craft exhibit. Fortunately for us, the author saw fit to tell some of Betsy’s story.

Many of the immigrants to Sutton came as groups who shared a common story. Others arrived as the main character in their own little story. Betsy was in the second category. She remembered her childhood home in Sweden and leaving with her parents and others to seek the land of Zion described by an agent of Brigham Young.

They crossed the Atlantic and a third of the continent to St. Louis. A riverboat took them up the Missouri River to the village of Florence just north of Omaha. They left Florence by ox cart in June, 1863 concluding this long trek in the desert village of Salt Lake City in October. But life in Zion did not match the promises made in Sweden.

Betsy began as a “nurse girl” and at age 13 was earning $1.50 a week carding wool and spinning from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. Four years of autocratic life wore thin on the Hakanson family. They joined a wagon train bound east to Julesburg, Colorado at the west end of the Union Pacific railroad. This wagon train was attacked by Indians with one man in their party killed and another injured. A much safer train ride brought Betsy and her parents to Council Bluffs, Iowa where her father became a railroad section foreman and Betsy a domestic servant in a private home.

Betsy married Oscar Swanson in 1870 and the newly-weds moved to their eighty acre homestead on School Creek. The 17-year-old bride found herself the Lady of the House in the first lumber dwelling built in the Sutton precinct. There were few settlers in the area and the town at the time featured three saloons but no stores.

This young lady had packed a lot of living into her first 17 years. The very next year she became a small footnote to our local history when she boarded the Burlington train in Lincoln at 6 a.m. one October morning in 1871 and became the first woman to ride the train from Lincoln to Sutton – a ten-hour trip.

Oscar and Betsy lived on the homestead until 1900 when they moved to Sutton for four years before building a new home in Saronville. They raised two sons, Charles and John who farmed in the Sutton area. A short biography of Oscar appeared in the History of Hamilton and Clay Counties published in 1921.

Betsy’s spinning wheel traveled with her on this adventure that was her life. She resurrected it out of her attic after Oscar died as she became active in reviving interest in handcraft work. That interest led to the small item in the paper preserving her story for us.

Betsy Hakanson Swanson is only one of the thousands of pioneers and settlers whose stories are steadily dimming as time goes by. Is it critically important that we save each and every one of these stories? Probably not critically important, but our lives seem much richer if we include them in our collective memory. And Betsy, like so many others, deserves no less.

This article appeared in the January, 2010 Sutton Life Magazine. Information about the magazine is available at or Mustang, Inc., 510 West Cedar, Sutton, NE 68979.