Thursday, June 30, 2011

1923 in Sutton, Nebraska

What was Sutton, Nebraska like in 1923? And why 1923? No reason. It could have been any year.

Our source of information is The Sutton News, one of two Sutton newspapers at the time. The News was published by Simon A. Fischer, a bachelor who lived with his parents August, a one-time preacher and Auguste. His father claimed to have been born in Pomerania and his mother in Brandenburg, again reminding us that Germany is only a few months older than Sutton, both created in 1871.

The paper was a six-page, five-column publication, no photos, a modest number of ads and mainly local news. There is some indication of  a feeling of prosperity we’ve come to think of in the country after World War I and before the depression. Women’s clothing ads give a hint of the styles of the flapper era.

The major local ads were by Yost Auto Company and Phelps Sisters’ clothing store. The banks, Rosenbaum’s Store in Harvard, Hastings businesses and the Lyric Theater were other common advertisers.

1923 Suttonites had an appetite for entertainment. The Lyric Theater featured a steady stream of current movies, as long as 7-reelers but silent and black and white, of course. The Lyric added a new player piano during the summer and not a simple one either. This player had two rollers and mimicked a violin, piano, flute, mandolin and drums; it was a one-person orchestra. The Opera House hosted several traveling vaudeville shows during the year as well as a variety of other performances though owner W. J. Ochsner apologized for the condition of the 40-year old landmark promising forthcoming repairs.

Club membership and civic activities must have occupied a very high percentage of spare time. One issue of the paper included meeting information for The Walking Club, J. U. T., the Bay View Club, the Pennant Club, P. E. O., Stratton-Sutton Club, I. O. O. F and Rebekahs, Farm Bureau, Fortnightly Club and missionary support groups in two churches. The Masons weren’t mentioned as well as a couple of others that could have been.

High school and town team sports added to the entertainment schedule. This was the year following Sutton’s state championship basketball team. The 1923 team did not quite live up to its predecessor but they were playing big-city competition. Omaha Tech made the trip to Sutton and the local team had one three-day trip playing Beatrice, Seward and Hastings, going 2-1 before returning home.

Baseball was a popular sport and the local team was coached by Johnny (Chief) Bender. This was after he had coached football, basketball and baseball at Washington State, Haskell Institute, Saint Louis, Kansas State, Tennessee and if a recent phone caller is to be believed, University of Houston.

Sutton had a golf team of Burke, Lilliedoll, Pscherer and Stenson competing in the South Central Golf Association including York, Friend, Edgar, Clay Center and other towns often to large galleries.

The Sutton swimming pool was three years old and in 1923 claimed its second drowning victim, fifteen-year old Ora Salmon.

City officials elected in the spring included councilmen Henry Bauer and Carl Held, the druggist; city treasurer A. W. Burlingame and engineer Ed J. Griess. The local county commissioners were O. B. Percival and C. A. Anderson.

The look of the north end of downtown changed a little in 1923 as Anderson Studio built a new one-story stucco building and Reger Confectionary shared a new building with the Sutton Barber Shop.  

One item from June, 1923 was especially exciting for historical society members. It described a new radio outfit at Harry Stevens’ Nebraska-Iowa grain elevator that gave Mr. Stevens direct contact with daily market quotations and a jump on his competitors. The Stevens family recently donated several items to our museum including Harry’s radio. For perspective, KDKA in Pittsburg began broadcasting as the first commercial radio station in the world in November 1920, just 2 ½ years earlier.

Two spring stories told of trips west by Sutton folk. The families of Fred J. Griess and Samuel Ullman departed for Lodi, California via a meandering 2,300 mile route of visits with friends. They reported back that the trip consumed 160 gallons of gas and that they found vineyards and fruit orchards priced at $2,000 to $3,000 per acre. Their intention was to become fruit growers. The Sutton – Lodi connection for Germans continues today as does the Saronville – Turlock connection for Swedes.

The same week a party of eight Sutton men left for Cody, Wyoming ranch land where they intended to “prove up” several tracts of Carey Act irrigated land with about 20 acres cultivated on each tract. The eight were W. H. Ebert, Jr., Henry Vauck, J. C. Catterson and son Harry, H. J. Bauer, Frank Levander, Ezra Elwood and S. A. Fischer the Sutton News editor. The Fischer family had a ranch in the area which appears to have been the connection to Cody. Letters back to Sutton during the summer told of the work but mainly about camping trips to Yellowstone and other scenic environs.

The route of the Potash Highway from Spearfish, South Dakota to Wichita, Kansas was announced in the summer showing the highway coming into Hastings from the north, passing through Sutton and south from Fairmont.

The year of 1923 was not an especially memorable year for Sutton, all the more reason to peruse the year’s newspaper for items of possible interest. It’s been fun; we’ll do it again sometime.

This article first appeared in the May, 2011 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For information about the magazine call Jarod Griess at 402-984-4203.


Sutton is a young town, barely 140 years old and as a consequence, its early history is quite well documented. Diaries of settlers, the Andreas History of Nebraska and other sources describe how the town started and who pioneered many activities.

The Luther French story as Sutton’s first settler in 1870 is well-known. The “first married white woman” to settle in, or near Sutton was Mrs. W. Cunning who arrived with the Gray party on May 4, 1871. One wonders why the writer qualified her as “married” as though some single woman preceded her. But we’ll ignore that.

Sutton’s first business appeared later in the month of May in Mr. McTyge’s “shanty” store next to the house that Homer Gray had already built. Two gents, Kearney and Kelley started a saloon in a tent followed quickly by the second saloon of P. H. Curran and Mart Higgins in a building constructed by Henry Potter, the town’s first builder. A third saloon popped up next. The first “violence” in Sutton occurred when one saloon keeper, Mr. Flynn shot his partner, Mr. Mullen in the face – though it was not a serious injury. Andreas explained, “These fellows were fascinated by the charms of an Omaha belle.” The saloons were only one month earlier than the town’s first church services held by Rev. Mr. Jones in the “grove”, probably today’s park.

The first businesses were along Main Avenue north of the railroad tracks and on Maple Street. The area picked up the nickname of “Whiskey Row” somehow.

The first craftsman was Andrew Sherwood whose forge was in a sod shop just below the French dugout which would put it along School Creek just south of the bridge on Ash Street though today’s School Creek is not quite where it used to be.

Luther French’s dugout served as the first Post Office starting in the summer of 1871 and until A. Burlingame assumed the duties on New Year’s, 1872 at a salary increased from $12 to $400 annually.

John Maltby arrived in the area in June. He talked Luther French into dividing his homestead into town lots and suggested using the name Sutton after his home town in Massachusetts. The town was laid out on August 12, 1871 the same day the railroad arrived. The first train on a regular run rolled into Sutton six days later. Swedish bride Betsy Swanson was the first woman to arrive by train when she came from Lincoln to join her homesteader husband and becoming the township’s first homemaker in a board house.
The first lumber yard(s) in Sutton provide a favorite story. Thurlow Weed brought a car load of lumber from Lincoln on the new tracks on August 23, 1871 and gets credit for the first lumber yard. John Gray’s lumber arrived one day later making his yard the second in town.

The first town caucus was in the fall of 1871 in French’s dugout and on October 14, 1871 an election at a farmhouse near Harvard named Sutton the first county seat for Clay County. The court house started in the offices of R. G. Brown, Sutton’s first attorney. Brown’s first case, argued before Probate Judge Maltby, involved a well. Plaintiff James Schermerhorn won the suit over defendant David Jayne. Brown received a $10 fee.

Gray (probably Homer) & Bemis (George) started a nursery on November 1, 1871 with fruit trees, shrubs and ornamental trees.

C. M. Turner opened a general merchandise business and took delivery of the first carload of flour in town on December 9th, 1871. Thompson & Young’s implement company appeared around New Year’s, 1872, again, the first in town and the county.

William Weed began the first school around the 20th of January in 1872 with about fourteen students.

The Central Hotel was built in February, 1872 and was located
at the site of today's Cornerstone Bank.
The first hotel was opened in February, 1872 by William Shirley and later expanded into the Central Hotel. It was on the west side of Saunders, north of the depot.

Isaac Newton Clark and his brother Martin Van Buren Clark arrived in Sutton in November, 1871 and purchased all of the unsold town lots from Luther French’s 80 acre homestead for $4000. They built the Clark House, a two-story frame structure on the west side of Saunders Avenue near the north end. Martin Clark was a physician, the county’s first, starting practice on November 1, 1871, and he was a druggist. He and Isaac stocked a drug store and a hardware store in the building in February, 1872; both were the first such enterprises along the Burlington west of Crete.

The Lincoln firm of Houston & Street published the first directory of the town and county in February, 1872 listing three dry goods and grocery stores, two flour and feed stores, a hardware store, a drug store, two lumber yards, a hotel, one implement dealer, a nursery, a livery stable, one store with fur and hides, a meat market, two real estate offices, one doctor, one attorney a Notary Public and one shoemaker. Ten months earlier there had been one wheat farmer in a dugout by the creek.

William Woolman was the shoemaker listed in the directory and was also the first resident minister.

The first birth in Sutton was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. F. A. Gross born on February 15, 1872. The girl died before the 1880 census. The first death was of another little girl, Maude Tracy, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Asa Tracy on April 21, 1872. Accounts of this death indicate that the new, small community was also closely-knit and quite attached to little Maude.

The Sutton Times began publication on Friday, June 20, 1873. L. L. Grimes and J. B. Dinsmore started the Pioneer Bank of Sutton in 1877, both firsts.

I. N. Clark’s Sutton Brick Co. was founded on June 1, 1876 as the town’s first manufacturing endeavor producing 120,000 bricks its first year.

As we’ve mentioned before, Sutton popped up quickly, growing from a single homestead to a thriving community in less than a year. The record of “who got there first” expands our image of those early days in Sutton.

This article first appeared in the April 2011 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For more information about the magazine contact Jarod Griess at 402-984-4203.

It's Not Just an Old World War I Helmet

William Zimbelman's WWI helmet and the Clay County
book of 1917 registrations for the selective service.

The mission of the Sutton Historical Society is to collect and preserve the artifacts and the information about the history of the Sutton community. A substantial collection of items has been contributed to the museum. It is a challenge to catalogue, analyze and display the collected material. How can we add to information we know about Sutton’s history?

The great source of information about the Sutton community is the newspaper archives of the Clay County News. This series of Sutton Life articles and the society’s weekly newspaper column have been the rationale, maybe excuse for a nearly systematic study of those old yellowed newspapers.

The fastest growing resource for historical study is the online world. Huge databases are indexed and easily located which recently were only in libraries and other remote repositories.

Let’s look at a couple of donated items and see how we learn more about them.

One item in our Veteran’s Room is a World War I doughboy’s helmet donated by Sarah Easterly with the name “Zimbleman” painted under the brim. First question: “Doughboy?” We know that was the common name for a U.S. WWI soldier, but where did the name come from? (Your assignment: check out:

Did you ever hear the little ditty that was popular at the time?
Kaiser Bill went up the hill to take a look at France;
Kaiser Bill came down the hill with bullets in his pants.

O.K., back to the topic. Another donated item was a small booklet entitled “Complete List of Clay County men Registered for Military Draft” printed in Clay Center on August 17, 1917 containing the names 1237 county men. A little research discloses that there were three registrations efforts, one in 1917 on June 5th for all men between the ages of 21 and 31. Our little book gives the name and home town of each. The 363rd name is “Wm. Zimbelman, Sutton.” A little hiccup here; the registration is for “Zimbelman” with an “el” and the name painted in the helmet is “le.” Same guy? Probably, but we can look further.

The genealogy web site, “” (sponsor of the NBC program, “Who do You Think You Are?”) is a worthwhile resource. One of the literally thousands of sections of the site contains the scanned images of those millions of WWI draft registration cards where we find the handwriting of Mr. William Zimbelman, age 23 of Sutton, Nebraska, a farmer in School Creek Precinct. He described himself as a single Caucasian of medium height and medium build with blue eyes and light brown hair. The form is dated 6/5/17.

A quick check of census records finds eight-year old William in Bennett Township of Fillmore County in 1900 with his parents John and Christina and sister Edna. Both parents listed Russia as place of birth. Later censuses show the family in School Creek in 1910 and 1920 and in 1930, William and his bride of six years, Vera were renting a farm in Grafton Township in Fillmore County. Fun fact: In 1910 he was Zimblemann, later Zimbelman.

John, Christina and William are all buried in the Sutton Cemetery, William with a date of death of April 13, 1943.

So, with a little curiosity, a wee bit of know-how and a small effort, we’ve found some background of our helmet. Aren’t you just a little curious about the places where William wore his hat and what he was doing there? I have a suggestion: Give us a call at the Sutton Historical Society (402-773-0222) and help us look for that story and the background stories of other Sutton artifacts and information. Do you enjoy solving puzzles? Are detective stories intriguing? Dig into real puzzles and mysteries with us.

How could we learn more? Among the Clay County News archives is The Sutton News of 1918. Almost weekly, Editor S. A. Fischer printed a letter he’d received from a soldier. On January 4th, George Barnell described working with the Red Cross and Y.M.C.A. at the Great Lakes training center near Chicago. Niles Miles wrote to his sister in Grafton describing, without telling where, the countryside around him, and that Charlie Chaplin was the American most admired by a local barber.

Zimbelman's draft card completed in 1917
A letter in February described the trip from New York to France with an account of escort ships dropping depth charges nearby as U-boats stalked the convoy and torpedoed a nearby English vessel. John Stertz wrote home about air raids and the wooden shoes he was buying in town to send home to friends. In March, Fischer’s brother Ralph wrote of enjoying letters from home and that he really missed eggs. He later compared an artillery barrage to a Nebraska thunderstorm.

The Sutton News printed the names of local men as they left for service. A late June list was 62 names long and included Suttonites Arthur Hornbacher, Henry Pope, John Peterson, Ernest Salmen, Leo Hughes, Clarence Dahlgren, Jake Kissler, George Stenggle, Frank Ryan, Jacob Roemich, Fred Heinz, Geo. Ioby and William Fleming.

Is that all we know? Not at all, but you get the idea. Now, how should we organize this information and present it so that visitors to the museum can enjoy it and appreciate the service of William Zimbelman and others? We would greatly appreciate your thoughts and assistance. It just might even be fun. (402-773-0222)

This article first appeared in Sutton Life Magazine in the March 2011 issue. Call 402-984-4203 for information about the magazine.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

1986 article on Deweese centennial

This article appeared in the June 26, 1986 issue of the Clay County News in observance of the centennial of the village of Deweese.