Friday, May 23, 2014

Sutton's Neighbor to the West, Saronville

Early Sutton was surrounded by several neighboring communities, Lushton, Bixby, Stockham, Verona, Grafton, Eldorado, and more just beyond that immediate circle. Our story here is about the closest neighbor, Saronville.

It is understandable why there was a greater density of villages before 1900 than there is now. Homesteads within ten miles of the railroad were only 80 acres and even railroad land was generally sold in quarter sections. As a result sections often had four or five families and families often had five or six or more kids. A section could easily have a population of 15-20 people. There were enough people within five or six miles of a town to support a full suite of businesses.

And think about transportation. A homesteader hitched his team to the wagon, drove to town, conducted his
Beautiful downtown Saronville in1903
business and drove home. If the drive was much over five miles that trip pretty much ate up the whole day. There was a market for, and economic justice to have more towns limiting the distance between towns and villages.

The first settlers in the north half of Clay County were five homesteaders in the spring of 1870. There had been settlers in the southwest corner of the county as early 1857 as James Weston, the Ropers, Metcalf and Bainter who were supporting the Oregon Trail and the Pony Express but they had been driven out by the Indian uprising in 1864. County settlement was on hold while the Civil War ended, the army came west, Indians settled down, and most important, railroads crossed the Missouri River and pushed west.

Sutton’s first fellow was Luther French, one of those five homesteaders. The other four were Swedish immigrants. Louis (or Lewis) Peterson homesteaded in Section 12 of Lewis Township about a mile south of where the Burlington goes through Saronville. Jonas Johnson and Andrew David (A. D.) Peterson took up homesteads two miles west in Section 10.

The fourth Swede evaded me for a time. I learned Peter Norman’s homestead was in School Creek Township and that he had a dugout on the bank of the creek. Then I found his claim in the southeast corner of Section 26 of School Creek Township; his dugout was just over a mile below that of Luther French.

Norman proved up his claim in 1876 but sold it to John Gray before the 1880 census where he, or perhaps another Peter Norman appears in May Township in Kearney County just east of Minden. Today’s village of Norman (pop. 43) is in that township on Highway 74. It could be (likely?) that our local homesteader moved west to farm and gave his name to that settlement.

The four early Swedish homesteaders were among the area Swedes who began meeting in the schoolhouse for District #9 in the fall of 1872 to form a new church. At a December 6, 1872 meeting they chose the name, “The Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Huxley, Clay County, Nebraska.” This was the first church organized in Clay County.
Saronville's District 73 two-room schoolhouse with Marion (Nelson)
Anderson and Arch Leonold teachers. The school operated as a K-10
school for much of its existence. 

Now, about Huxley: Huxley was one of the earliest towns mentioned in Clay County. Burlington Railroad planners had designated an alphabetical list of towns for the route west of Lincoln. The “A” town is lost in the fog of history but the subsequent stops were to be Berks, Crete, Dorchester, Exeter, Fairmont, Grafton, Huxley, Inland and I guess Juniata, Kenesaw and Lowell may trace their origins to this scheme. The Burlington folks weren’t the only railroad planners with this sense of order. We speak less often about Alexandria, Belvidere, Carleton, Davenport, Edgar, Fairfield, Glenvil and Hastings on the Union Pacific’s St. Joe - Grand Island Railroad.

But back to Huxley. Huxley didn’t really happen more than some stakes in a field to outline streets. The new church used District #9, their “East” school and there are references to a “West” school that was southwest of today’s Saronville.

The first minister was Rev. L. P. Alquist who split his time with a Lincoln church in 1874 and 1875. John Torrell was the first resident minister in 1877 who also served a congregation in Fillmore County. Torrell was provided with a new parsonage and a $300 annual salary. His benefit package included two months of vacation per year. The church adopted the name “Saron Lutheran.”

A second group of Swedish immigrants met in the District #16 school house in Section 29 of School Creek on October 30, 1875 to organize a Methodist Church. They purchased land for a cemetery and built a 14X18 foot one-bedroom parsonage on the property. The land cost them $8.00 an acre and the house, a barn and a well was a $166 investment. John Bjurstrum was their first minister. Founders of this church included Jacob Nelson, Fred Bergloff, A. N. Nordohl, Hans Hanson and we again meet P. O. Norman, apparently the local experienced church organizer.

The congregation decided to move a mile west near the Lutheran Church in 1878 when A. P. Israelson donated five acres a bit north of the railroad tracks. They built their church and a parsonage there. In 1948 the congregation purchased the home of Adolph Aspegren to serve as a parsonage. (Pardon the personal note: Andrew Israelson and Adolph Aspegren are both my direct ancestors.)

A post office with the name of “Saronville” was established on October 3, 1882 triggering the idea that a town might develop. Rev. Haterius of the Saron Church led a group that negotiated with the Burlington Railroad for a depot which was critical for business. Soon there were 20 businesses along the road between the churches and more than 200 people living in homes extending beyond both churches.

Saronville’s business community came to included three grocery stores, a bank, doctor, drug store and druggist, restaurant, hardware store, furniture store, livery barn, wagon shop, blacksmith shop, lumber yard, two grain elevators, a flour mill, a two-room school house, a community hall as well as those two original churches.
The Saronville Methodist Church hosted a three-week revival meeting in 1925 with Rev. Harold O. Anderson of Oakland, California. Church members built the 1000-seat building on the left for the occasion. The Methodist Church is in the background. 

Saronville had a “near-miss” in 1882 that could have taken the village to bigger and better places. The Nebraska Swedish Lutheran community met in Saronville with a goal of founding a college. Saronville, Stromsburg and Wahoo were the contending sites. Rev. Haterius made the local pitch including contact with a Swedish newspaper in Chicago but timing was poor. The congregation had just built their first church and had not completed paying off that debt. Wahoo was further along in development with a strong offer that was accepted on the 17th ballot winning Wahoo the right to host Luther Academy. That school lasted almost until 1960 when it was absorbed by Midland Lutheran College in Fremont.

Farmers expanded their holdings buying out their neighbors, larger families became less common, the automobile made longer trips to larger towns routine and the smaller communities in the area lost their hold on most, sometimes all of their population. Saronville is home to a smaller population today than 100 years ago and much smaller than its unrealized potential may have produced. But many of the other similar communities from a century ago suffered an even greater declines.

Our sources for the story of Saronville’s history come from the directory of the Saron Lutheran Cemetery, several Saronville scrapbooks especially associated with the 1976 national bicentennial celebration and manuscripts or local family and individual accounts. The college story appeared in a Lincoln Journal Star article on December 8, 2013.

As the largest surviving community for some distance around, Sutton has absorbed these one-time thriving villages and they have become important parts of the Sutton Community. 

This article first appeared in the April, 2014 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. Contact Jarod Griess at Mustang, Inc. (402)-984-4203 or for more information.

Monday, May 19, 2014

1914 Sutton Dollar Days Advertisers

The Sutton Commercial Club held their first annual "Dollar Day" on Tuesday, May 26, 1914. The event had been called "Booster Day" in years prior. Businessmen typically formed caravans of early-day autos to visit neighboring towns to publicize their event drawing attendance from the surrounding area.

The Sutton News ran advertising for the event and for individual businesses in its May 22nd issue. The editor of The Sutton Register had a note in his paper for the week that there was a rumor of an upcoming event but he had not received any advertising from any local businesses for the day. Such was the nature of life 100 years ago in the small town.

Page 1 of the Sutton News for May 22, 1914 announcing the town's "Dollar Day."

Individual businesses took out ads in the Sutton News to coincide with "Dollar Day" giving us a nice snapshot of many of the major businesses in Sutton 100 years ago:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

1993 City Park Flooding

The four city blocks of the Sutton City Park have been subject to several major renovations and modifications, usually with good reason.

The original course of School Creek through the park was not a direct route but more of a meander as the creek looped around within the park.The downside of that configuration was that in times of heavy rainfall and runoff the creek just couldn't handle the flow. And as a result:

1993 Flooding in the city park.

This enlargement better shows the height (depth) of the water when compared with the eaves of the pavilion. Also note the extent of the trees at that time. 
Thanks to Dorothy Rabbe for the photo.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

My Blog List - Willa Cather Museum

Do you check out the "My Blog List" section of our blog to see what attractions can be found in the area. We urge you to look into the Willa Cather Museum link part way down the list where you may watch the video of Ken Burns describing his role in creating the National Willa Cather Center.

This project promises to bring a major tourist attraction to south-central Nebraska. They are nearing their fundraising goal for the center - hint, hint.

Check it out at:   Willa Cather Museum

A Tour of the Sutton Cemetery

The Sutton Cemetery has more than 3,600 graves on a pleasant, slightly
rolling site just north of town.
Clues to the history of a town can be found in many places but one of the better places is where towns bury the most important part of their history, the cemetery.

“Dead men tell no tales” was a famous line from the Old West, but it’s not exactly true. There is plenty to learn from a visit to the cemetery or at least there are good clues to pursue to be able to tell those stories that dead men can’t.

Primarily two cemeteries serve the town of Sutton, the Sutton Cemetery north of town and Calvary Cemetery to the south. There are also several rural cemeteries near Sutton. The Sutton Cemetery meets our purposes here so we’ll be concentrating on it.

But before heading north we’ll make one stop to the south where a person special to the Sutton Historical Society is buried. Mary M. Maltby died in Sutton in 1912 and is buried in Calvary Cemetery. She was Matilda Mary Cooke of London and married John Maltby there in 1863. They were Sutton pioneers before moving to Fairfield. Mary returned and was a part of Sutton after John died in 1895. The Sutton Museum displays two of her dresses and other memorabilia from that interesting life.

Now, north of town to the Sutton Cemetery.

The first two things to notice in the Sutton Cemetery are just inside the gate. To the left is a monument in memory of Jack Nolde who coincidently died just 25 years ago in March, 1989. Carl H. “Jack” Nolde was a philanthropist to the city of Sutton and elsewhere. One of his donations was an endowment for the benefit of the Sutton Cemetery leading to improvements and maintenance of the grounds.

Elizabeth Steinmetz and her infant daughter were
the first burials in Sutton Cemetery in 1876. There
is evidence that the infant's name was Ida Elizabeth. 
To the right is one of Jack Nolde’s gifts to the cemetery, a monument to the first burials in the cemetery, Elizabeth Steinmetz and her infant daughter in 1876. Mr. Nolde is buried just to the north behind the Steinmetz marker.

Sutton was a serious settlement in 1871, five years before that date of the “first” burials. So was there an earlier cemetery? I understand that there were burials near to downtown and the creek possibly in the park. Those bodies were moved to the new cemetery, as I have been led to believe.

Cemeteries are designed in a variety of ways, some straightforward, others not so much. Fortunately we have a directory for the Sutton Cemetery located straight in from the gate and near the maintenance building.

The cemetery is laid out in three major sections, north, south and west with the entry road dividing the north and south sections. The west section is, well, to the west. Rows are numbered and clearly marked, for instance, 03N is the third row in the north section.

The full description of a grave location is a four part item formatted as 01N-20-05-12 with each element describing an increasingly specific location, row, block, lot and grave. The directory of burials and a map of the cemetery is on the city web site at:

You’ll note on the map that the sequence of block numbers goes across all rows in a section and that the lots within the blocks are not numbered the way you and I might have done it. Luckily, in a practical sense, knowing just the row that a grave is in with get you close enough to find the grave in short order.

Let’s move into the cemetery and make our first visit. We’ll go to that location above, 01N-20-05-12. Turn north into the North Section on the road between rows 1 and 2. You’ll quickly come to a tall, narrow stone, the grave of Luther French, the founding homesteader on the land that is Sutton. The French homestead was bounded on the north by the old DLD road, the north edge of the city park.

Families, especially the early families can be found buried together. They seem to have captured several adjacent gravesites planning ahead. Later that practice kind of died out, so to speak. Several of the French family members are buried nearby.

A better illustration of a family burial plot is just to the north of the French family where the extended family of Michael Leitner is buried marked by several substantial red stones.
Civil War Veterans made up a large percentage of the early settlers in Clay County.
This modern stone marks the grave of a Pennsylvania soldier who found his
 way to Sutton where he is buried with his second wife Susan, or Suzanna. The memorial lists Phillip with six children by his first wife Catherine
 and seven with Susan, none in Sutton. Note the G.A.R. emblem.
The single largest category of noted burials is that of veterans. Various kinds of markers mounted on small metal stakes identify veterans and the conflict in which they served. Other organizations have copied that tradition and you can spend some time finding and identifying all of those.

For now, move just one row to the west to plot 02N-19-07-05 where one particular veteran is buried, Leonard Jarrett on whose grave flies a small distinctive flag bearing the stars and bars. Leonard Jarrett is one of two Confederate veterans buried in the Sutton Cemetery. And yes, if that name sounds familiar, his daughter was Sibyl Bernice Jarrett, long-time Sutton librarian and buried near her father.

A collage of several of the organizational emblems that mark members graves.
Let’s make one more stop in the north section at 04N-24-05-03, the grave of WWII veteran Paul V. Woller born 100 years ago this May 1st, science teacher to a lot of us and Sutton School Principal for 30 years. And the teacher I most credit for “getting through” to me.

Crossing the entry road to the south section in 04S is the Olinger family buried in a large “vault” reminiscent of the New Orleans cemeteries.

We next visit grave site 05S-35-04-04 to another woman who holds a special place for the Sutton Historical Society, Emma J. Gray. Emma and her husband John built the two houses on North Way Avenue which house our museum. It is not a coincidence that the historic house previously was called Aunt Emma’s Tea House. Emma’s mother, Jane Wolcott is buried in this plot.

The Grays were Sutton pioneers and John’s father Col. Hosea Gray of the 6th Iowa Infantry in the Civil War is buried in this plot. Hosea was an early Sutton attorney and partnered with his son in the lumber business.

There are a number of distinct gravestones in the Sutton Cemetery and you’ll see those as you drive through. And driving through isn’t a bad idea. A cemetery tour can take the form of a drive in the country. From most parts of town. You’ll barely break a full mile out and back and most names are readable from the road, if not the inscriptions. But it is a better walk, or bike ride.

The West section is to the back of the cemetery and is generally the more recent graves. For the most part, early graves are nearer the road and dates become more recent as you go west.

Jack Nolde's memorial to veterans is on the
left; Mrs. Bender's flagpole dedicated to
Major Johnny Bender on the right. 
Jack Nolde left us another monument located on the border between the North and West Sections where he donated a memorial to all veterans in 1940. The flagpole is nearby with a plaque from Mrs. John R. Bender in honor of The Unknown Soldier and in memory of her husband Major John R. Bender, a veteran of WWI and one of Sutton’s very best known sports figures. Major Bender is buried in plot 10N-30-05-12

To get you started on noticing distinctive stones visit plot 02W-02-05-03 where the Sack family set an attractive family stone that is partially sculptured leaving about ½ with the appearance of raw stone. I like it. Would it be asking too much to suggest that this design was inspired by Michelangelo’s Unfinished Slaves series in Florence, Italy?
Let's hear it for the Sack family - great design.

Some people have taken a lighter approach, even humor when selecting a grave stone. You’ll find a stone with a little boy fishing, some farming scenes, trucks, pictures and a few clever comments. A visit to the cemetery is what you make it. Enjoy yourself.

You can also take a tour of the Sutton Cemetery and nearly every other cemetery from your easy chair. The web site contains memorials for over 112 million people in most of the cemeteries in the country and a growing number overseas. A separate effort has added photographs of many of these gravesites available, as I said, from your easy chair.

The Sutton Cemetery at lists 3,651 memorials and about 95% have been photographed (that project was interrupted by winter – I’ll push that photographed number up in a few weeks though many that remain are unmarked and/or of unknown location.) lists more than 30 cemeteries in Clay County from those with just a handful of burials to the 3,600+ in both Harvard and Sutton. Farmers Valley Cemetery is probably the most famous in the area. The two Verona cemeteries are a good story. The Swedes are buried on the southwest corner of the intersection, the Danes on the northeast. The Saronville Lutherans are ½ mile east of town, the Methodists another ½ mile to the east and a bit north.

Sutton’s Catholic Cemetery is well south of town, the city cemetery to the north. Grafton has one cemetery, Catholics south of the road, Protestants on the north side.

Volunteers are also working to add more information about the deceased at Parents, spouses, children and siblings can be identified as well as a biography. Bios often are obituaries but any form of bio can be added. These volunteers can use help to fill out the memorials and becoming a member of the site is simple enough. Contact Jerry Johnson for information.
A cemetery is a great equalizer. Dr. H. V. Nuss was the primary
source for all medical care and advice in the Sutton community
for many years. He served as mayor, served on or headed
several committees, foundations and other organizations.
He was the first person many of us met in this world. Seems
like his final resting place should tell later generations more.

Cemeteries can often be a feature of your travel plans. New Orleans cemeteries, as I mentioned earlier are all above ground as the high water table… well, it’s a problem.

The military sections of cemeteries can be particularly interesting. The Key West cemetery has a separate section for the seamen killed when the Battleship Maine sunk in Havana Harbor in 1898. The Punchbowl is a cemetery in Honolulu with a common Date of Death for many graves, December 7, 1941. A powerful image.

This article first appeared in the March, 2014 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. Contact Jarod Griess at 402-984-4203 or for more information. Or LIKE Mustang Media, Inc. on Facebook.

Monday, May 5, 2014

1989 Southern Nebraska Conference Track Meet Stories

We made a reference about the 1989 county track meet in the weekly column for the Clay County News issue of May 7, 2014 with a promise to post details, so here goes...

These articles appeared on Page 2B of the May 11, 1989 issue of the Clay County News, though
we need not mention that the issue was the second consecutive weekly issue dated May 4, 1989.
Oops, sorry Don. That is Doug George in bird-imitation mode.

Hebron won both gender divisions of this conference championship.

Girls' results for the meet.

And the county leaders by event:

John Spearman and Amy Ochsner were holding their own