Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday to the Sutton Commercial Club/Chamber of Commerce

The Articles of Incorporation for the Sutton Commercial Club was dated February 28, 1912.
This notice appeared in the February 29, 1912 issue of The Sutton Register newspaper.

The officers and directors of the new Sutton Commercial Club in 1912 were:

Henry Grosshans, President

Jacob Bender, Vice President
      Implement Dealer

Homer W. Gray, Secretary
      Son of John & Emma Gray, operator of the Gray Lumber Yard at Maple Street & Way Avenue.

Chas. M. Brown, Treasurer
      Son of F. M. Brown, publisher of The Sutton Register until his death in 1919 when Charles Brown became publisher into the 1930's


Hans. M. Hanson
       Real Estate Agent

Wm. J. Roberts
       Grocer with his father John Roberts

John Schwarz
       Retail Merchant (prob. with "Wieland & Schwarz" women's and children's clothing.)

Leon C. Griess
       Retail Merchant (prob. either with Pfeiffer & Griess Hardware or Gemar & Griess Clothing Store - anyone know?)

Simon A. Fischer
       Publisher and Editor, The Sutton News

This 100th Birthday observation is valid assuming that the Sutton Commercial Club operated continuously from 1912 until it became a Chamber of Commerce a few years ago. If not, then it is still 100 years since the business men (men only, it seems) organized themselves to promote Sutton business.

Also, these were generally young fellows, several under the age of 30.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Travel Opportunities in Sutton One Hundred Years Ago

The CB&Q (Chicago, Burlington and Quincy) Railroad Depot in downtown Sutton, just west of Saunders Avenue.

The annual Clay County Field Day was held in Clay Center in 1911 on a rainy Saturday just after the end of the school year. More than 2300 spectators came to watch the day’s athletic events. Fairfield and Sutton were especially well supported by a large fan base. How did they all get to Clay Center that morning? Sutton fans arranged for a special train from Sutton to Clay Center for the day. About half of the Fairfield fans took the regular early morning passenger train to Clay Center, the rest slept in and took the 10 o’clock train.

Also that spring, my grandparents, Cecilia and Fred Johnson and Cecilia’s father, Adolph Aspegren got on one of the east bound trains in Sutton and went to Chicago to visit three of Cecilia’s brothers. Several days later Fred and Cecilia returned to Sutton on a Burlington train. Adolph stayed a few more days before coming back to Lincoln where his wife Emma met him for a day of shopping before returning to Sutton that night.

A couple of years earlier, Melchoir Figi left Sutton by train heading for Switzerland to visit his mother for a few weeks.

One of our visitors to the Sutton Museum told of riding the train from Sutton to Verona for her piano lessons. The fare was a nickel each way.

Papers in the early 1900’s frequently mentioned that local merchants left by train for St. Joseph, Kansas City, Chicago or other destinations to purchase stock for their stores for the upcoming season.

Farmers drove their cattle to the rail side stock yards west of town, loaded the animals on a rail car, climbed aboard and accompanied the cattle to Chicago for sale – “Hotel Beef” they proudly advertised their product.

Weekly Burlington ads in local newspapers told of vacation destinations in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Other adds touted eastern vacation spots.

Five trains a day, in each direction on the main Burlington route, stopped in Sutton for much of the developing years. The local route from McCool Junction to Fairfield was also operated by Burlington for much of its existence but was called, wait for it … “The Pook-Eye.” That would have been the track used in the Field Day story above. A little help here please: (1) Why was it called that? (2) Did we really call it that? And (3) is that the way you’d spell it too?

After reading these and other newspaper accounts about travel by Sutton folks one hundred years ago, it occurs to me that our grandparents and great-grandparents had more flexible travel opportunities than we have today here in Sutton.

That seems like a radical suggestion, but consider how we would replicate the Johnson – Aspegren trip to Chicago. Three people en route to Chicago could easily drive the 500 miles each way but they would probably have to all travel together both ways. Though I very much enjoy driving, many people are not so fond of it and would definitely prefer to sit back on a train.

We do have a train option today. Our three contemporary travelers could drive to Hastings any night and catch the 1:42 AM eastbound Amtrak train arriving in Chicago at 2:50 PM – not very flexible or convenient.

Most of us would probably drive to the Lincoln Airport or Omaha’s Eppley Airfield and fly to either O’Hare or Midway in Chicago. Again, our three contemporary travelers would likely have to travel together getting to the airport and in Chicago.

So, our contention here is that the 1911 rail system on the plains gave our Sutton ancestors a superior choice in travel than we have today. Assuming for a moment that the contention may be true we can ask if the situation is reparable; that is, could we regain rail service as our ancestors enjoyed a century ago?

First, let’s return to the Amtrak situation. We have a powerful economic ideology in this country that all endeavors must be profit-making. We are selective in applying that ideology, but Amtrak certainly gets hammered in this regard. There are repeated calls to de-fund, close down or otherwise limit Amtrak as it requires “government subsidies.” That call is strengthened by an unwillingness to consider broadly defined cost accounting but we don’t have time/space to go there right now. Suffice it to say, roads, bridges, air traffic controllers, airports, maintenance, etc. need to be included in the equation. In any event, passenger rail service will not likely support itself out here on the plains in the near future.

The depot baggage cart from the Sutton Depot - a prized item of the Sutton
Museum. Two immigrant trunks are on the cart. Is this the same cart as
pictured above? Could be, if the wheels were changed at some point.
If you’ll indulge a couple of personal experiences, I’ll describe what rail travel can look like. After I’d “enjoyed” eleven years of a typical thirty-mile California driving commute, the public sector initiated the ACE (Altamont Commuter Express) train paralleling my drive. (http://www.acerail.comTalk about subsidized! These $14 million trains were given to the system. The revenue from fares was only expected to provide 50% of operating expenses – salaries, fuel, track use fees, etc. Why would the government do such a thing? Answer: to preclude (at least delay) having to build another eight lane road across a mountain range (albeit, a small range, but still…). This was, and continues to be, a cost effective transportation “system.” The more congested that I-580 became, the more passengers rode the rails prompting additional trains. As they say, “Cheap at half the price,” actually far less than half.

The other personal experience comes from sixteen major and several minor train trips in Europe on trains from the Eurostar, to Regional systems to metros. The European rail infrastructure is a legitimate “Wonder of the World. European public transit systems fully meet the needs of a high percentage of residents – owning a car is less common than here and even for a car owner, the train is generally faster, more convenient, comfortable and a whole lot cheaper.

A rail system much like today’s European system seems to have been working well one hundred years ago right here in Nebraska.

This article first appeared in Sutton Life Magazine in July, 2011. For more information about this local Sutton publication visit of contact Jarod Griess at or 402-773-4203.

Ted Wenzlaff Connected Sutton with Distant Places and Events

A military career offers a wide variety of opportunities beyond that of most civilian jobs. The career of Sutton’s Col. Theodore C. Wenzlaff is one illustration. How else could Sutton be linked to a post-WWII dispute between Britain and Russia over coal deliveries, to a girls’ high school in Seoul, Korea and to John F. Kennedy’s funeral procession? 

Captain Theodore C. Wenzlaff on Milly Russell
The historical society acquired a copy of Wenzlaff’s 1967, 24-page Autobiographical Highlights from his son Bill of Wichita. The document concentrates on the colonel’s nearly 33 year military career describing those distant events and many others.

Ted Wenzlaff graduated from Sutton High in 1921 and attended one semester at the University of Nebraska before his father pulled the purse strings shut. He applied for and received an appointment from 5th District Congressman Andrews to West Point where he was commissioned as a cavalry officer in 1926.

His early army career was a parade of cavalry assignments in Wyoming, Kansas, South Dakota, Fort Robinson, Nebraska, Vermont and Texas until he was assigned to Fort Reno, Oklahoma in the quartermaster corps reporting on November 22, 1941. Military opportunities broadened a few weeks later but he was able to spend several months at Fort Reno.

In June, 1942 Wenzlaff as assigned to a unit near Seattle and moved there with his family. Only when he arrived did he learn that his unit would be going to Europe out of New York City in just a few days. He had to locate and turn around his household goods shipment and get his family back to Sutton.

He worked in logistics and transportation in offices England earning his promotion to “temporary” colonel and “permanent” major. (Don’t ask. It makes sense, but takes a long time to explain. It’s why General Custer was really a Lieutenant Colonel. Again, don’t ask.) In early March, 1944 he became part of the Control Office that planned the Normandy invasion. After the invasion he served as a transportation officer in France working in a wing of the palace of Versailles for a time – that had to be cool.

Col. Wenzlaff was in Berlin after the war and became involved in negotiations between the Russians, British and American occupation forces. He described in detail an episode involving the trading of “brown” coal and anthracite coal between the Russians and British. He was not impressed with Russian negotiating techniques or their trustworthiness.

Col. Wenzlaff found himself in a state of army limbo after the war as he was still technically a cavalry officer though there was no cavalry. He found a home in the quartermaster corps eventually returning to Fort Reno, Oklahoma in 1952 taking command of the Remount Station where he found himself again in the horse business and in charge of finding some 10,500 cavalry riding and artillery draft horses plus 6,000 pack mules for a foreign military aid program to the Turkish Army.

While scrounging around the Southwest finding horses for Turkey, he received a more modest request from Fort Myer, Virginia for a small number of grey artillery draft horses and one grey cavalry riding horse. He went to some length to locate seven grey draft horses and the riding horse shipping them east in 1952 where they were to support funeral details at Arlington Cemetery.
The Kennedy funeral caisson, November 25, 1963. Three of the six horses were acquired by Col. Wenzlaff for this duty
as was the riding horse, tail just barely visible on the left.

During the televised funeral of President John F. Kennedy in November, 1963, Col. Wenzlaff noticed that the caisson bearing the casket was drawn by six grey draft horses and the section chief rode a grey horse. He inquired and learned that three of the draft horses and the riding horse were ones he’d sent several years earlier. He had ridden the cavalry horse several times but found it to be too lazy for his own taste, but as it turned out, that was a perfect trait for funeral duty.

Horse duty completed, Col. Wenzlaff assumed command of the 23rd Quartermaster Group of 100 officers and 2,000 enlisted men in Seoul, Korea for sixteen months beginning in July, 1953 – as that war was ending.

His group was quartered in a girls’ high school building which had been abandoned by the school early in the war as people fled to the south end of the Korean peninsula to evade North Korean troops. When the faculty and students returned they found their school occupied by Col. Wenzlaff and his command. Our hero shuffled his troops around, took over nearby buildings and built temporary structures providing space for the school. School enrollment grew from 750 to 1,250 as the military unit and the school worked closely together.  The school principal became a good friend entertaining Col. Wenzlaff and his officers in her home introducing them to Korean cuisine and customs. The Mayor of Seoul thanked the colonel for his unit’s help for the school in a scroll of appreciation.

Col. Wenzlaff retired from the army on June 30, 1955 returning to Sutton where he taught freshman and junior English at Sutton High for one year (he didn’t care too much for that.) He served on the city council and took up golf.

He began to research the story of the Germans from Russia traveling to Russia and Germany eventually writing “Pioneers on Two Continents: The Ochsner-Griess History and Genealogy” in 1974.

Col. Wenzlaff’s Autobiography was written in 1967 before he was elected to the Nebraska Senate. He died in 1988 at the age of 85 and is buried in the Sutton Cemetery.

This article first appeared in the August, 2011 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For more information about this local Sutton publication visit or contact Jarod Griess at or 402-773-4203.

The Story of Early Surveying and Plat Maps

Have you ever been traveling in the eastern United States or in hilly terrain or along rivers on roads that twist and turn, divide at random angles and otherwise wander about kind of aimlessly? Did you miss the well-behaved, simple grid road structure as we are used to here around Sutton?

Did you ever wonder how we came to have a structure of roads in the Midwest which so well respects the cardinal points of the compass? Well, it turns out it was no accident.

The best maps to illustrate the formal layout of the landscape are local Plat Maps. The Sutton Museum’s collection of Clay County Plat Maps is a popular target for genealogists and other local residents researching the “old home place.” These maps not only show rural roads but also the outlines of individual farms and plots of lands with the names of the owners. Our earliest plat map is from 1886 and is a good document to discover or confirm the ownership of farms shortly after this region was settled.

These plat maps illustrate the very structured manner of defining property here in the Midwest, a road every mile (almost) and roads that are “straight with the world.” Not everybody does it this way. Through much of the old world and in the regions of the original colonies there was (is) a system called “metes and bounds” in which property lines are defined by text describing features. A valid property description might read, “From the point on the north bank of Muddy Creek one mile above the junction of Muddy and Indian Creek, north for 400 yards, then northwest to the large standing rock, west to the large oak tree, south to Muddy Creek, then down the center of the creek to the starting point.”

Another fun example comes from the story told by Californian Frances Mayes when she purchased Bramasole, a house on the east slope of the Tuscan hill town of Cortona. Her agent’s translation of the Italian conversation at the closing on the property included the words “oxen” and “two days.” He explained that the property was “the amount of land that could be plowed with two oxen in two days.” It doesn’t take much imagination to think of unpleasant situations that might develop from such ambiguity.

So, where did our system come from?

One of the first colonial era references to George Washington is a copy of a journal the teen-age George kept while working with a surveying crew on the Virginia frontier.

You should not be surprised that Thomas Jefferson had something to do with implementing our widespread formal surveying scheme. Jefferson had a vision of a nation of “yeoman farmers” who would fill up the middle of the continent. The nation had a large debt in its first years with little power to tax. One revenue source was to sell off the lands in the west. The Continental Congress’s Land Ordinance of 1785 was the beginning of the Public Land Survey System to catalogue the western lands for the selloff.

This monument marks the "Beginning Point" of the U. S.
Public Land Survey System on the Ohio-Pennsylvania
border near East Liverpool, Ohio.
The Beginning Point of the U. S. Public Land Survey is a monument at the border between Ohio and Pennsylvania on the north side of the Ohio River. That monument defined a “Meridian” line, a north-south line as a reference line for further surveys. A “Baseline” similarly is an east-west line which, along with the meridian line is used to accurately locate townships.

There are thirty-seven Meridians, many with picturesque names as “Copper River Meridian,” Mount Diablo Meridian” and “Ute.” Others are more mundane; our nearby line is the Sixth Principle (sometimes called “Prime”) Meridian which is the eastern border of Fillmore County.

The marker from which Clay County land was surveyed is at on the Nebraska-Kansas border at the southeast corner of Thayer County. The official designation for counties is by “Township” and “Range.” Sutton Township is designated Township 7 North, Range 5 West of the Sixth Prime Meridian, meaning it is the seventh township north of the marker and the fifth to the west. School Creek is T8N R5W – eighth north and fifth west.

Townships are 36 square mile squares in Clay County and generally in this region. Sections are numbered in a “snaked” pattern beginning in the northeast corner with Section 1, proceeding west to Section 6, then south to 7 and east to 12, etc. with Section 36 in the southeast corner of the township. Individual farms are designated by the fractions of the section so a designation of NW ¼ of Section 23, T7N, R5W legally defines a quarter section of land.

Surveyors buried and continue to bury metal markers at regular intervals providing later members of their club a "stake in the ground" when they were assigned to mark nearby legal boundaries. These markers are far enough below ground level that you may have been walking across them all your life and until you observe a surveying team begin digging, have no idea that one is there. They tend to be on legal boundaries: out in the country they will be right in the exact center of the intersections several inches down. The one near our home in town is in the middle of the alley behind the lot.

People have one of two kinds of relationships with this kind of information. Either they know it well enough to know that the preceding was a trivial explanation, or they don’t know what I’ve been talking about and now know only that there is some complicated way of describing land. Either way, we’re good.

The historical society has the following Clay County Plat Maps. You are welcome to visit us and take a look.

The earliest map is from 1886 by Davy & Dunlap of Lincoln. Our copy has the signature of I. N. Clark, Sutton’s early developer on the inside cover. This set of maps is also online at NE Gen Web Project

We have other maps sets from 1908 (Geo. A. Ogle & Co.); 1925 (Farmers State Bank, Saronville); 1937 (Franklin Map Co.); 1956 (Clay County News); 1963, 1974 and 1986 (Midwest Atlas Co.); and 2001 and 2008 (R. C. Booth Enterprises). The 1925 plat maps from the Saronville bank are posted on this blog under the label for 1925 Clay County Plat Maps.

Growing up in the structured physical environment may have influenced us in ways we are not aware of. We tend to give directions using the names of the directions much more than folks who did not grow up in these circumstances. We say things like, “Go two miles north and three miles east” when others will give directions calling for left and right turns and generally less precise distances.

I personally seem to have a good sense of direction but no matter where I am, I am not comfortable until I’ve established “North” in my head. I often found myself on business trips arriving in an unfamiliar airport after dark, driving the rental car out of the lot and being near-panicky as I drove off in an unknown direction. My internal bearings would sometimes assign its own “North” and I would settle down. Too many times, the sun came up the next morning in the south or the west and I had to reset. If the sky was overcast for my entire visit and I never located the sun, I never did get comfortable. I still get queasy when someone mentions Dayton, Ohio.

I found two other consequences of this geographic system. One article on the PLSS speculated that the U.S. surveying system is one of the key impediments to the adoption of the metric system in this country. Another reference came from Wichita State University where a major project is called “Meridian 6” named after the Sixth Prime Meridian that goes through the city of Wichita.

This article first appeared in the February, 2012 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For information about this local Sutton publication see or contact Jarod Griess at or at 402-984-4203.  

Clay County, Nebraska - 1925

Clay County, Nebraska
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of School Creek Township, Clay County

School Creek Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 8 N - Range 5 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of Eldorado Township, Clay County

Eldorado Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 8 N - Range 6 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of Harvard Township, Clay County

Harvard Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 8 N - Range 7 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of Leicester Township, Clay County

Leicester Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 8 N - Range 8 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of Inland Township, Clay County

Inland Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 7 N - Range 8 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of Lynn Township, Clay County

Lynn Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 7 N - Range 7 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of Lewis Township, Clay County

Lewis Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 7 N - Range 6 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of Sutton Township, Clay County

Sutton Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 7 N - Range 5 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of Sheridan Township, Clay County

Sheridan Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 6 N - Range 5 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of Marshall Township, Clay County

Marshall Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 6 N - Range 6 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of Lone Tree Township, Clay County

Lone Tree Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 6 N - Range 7 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of Glenvil Township, Clay County

Glenvil Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 6 N - Range 8 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of Spring Ranch Township, Clay County

Spring Ranch Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 5 N, Range 8 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of Fairfield Township, Clay County

Fairfield Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 5 N - Range 7 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of Edgar Township, Clay County

Edgar Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 5 N - Range 6 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank of Saronville in 1925

1925 Plat Map of Logan Township, Clay County

Logan Township, Clay County, Nebraska - Township 5 N - Range 5 W
From a wall poster produced by The Farmers State Bank in Saronville in 1925