Thursday, June 30, 2011


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.

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