The town of Neligh is situated on the north bank of the Elkhorn River, on a small plateau or tableland, from which there are slight descents to the east and west, and considerably more descent to the south. To the north as a background are the hills, which limit the Elkhorn Valley, rising to a height of fifty or sixty feet.
The land of which the town site of Neligh forms part, was originally granted to Nebraska by the United States Government. Subsequently, the Omaha & Northwestern Railroad Company received it as a portion of its grant of 50,000 acres from the State. In 1872, Hon. John D. Neligh and a few others came up the Elkhorn Valley on a tour of observation. Being well pleased with the locality, they decided to purchase a tract of land here of sufficient extent for a town site, and, as it was near the geographical center of the county, make the prospective town the county seat. Accordingly, Mr. Neligh went down to Omaha without unnecessary delay, and bought of the Omaha & Northwestern Company 520 acres of the land north of and forty south of the Elkhorn at $6, Herman Kountze, then President of the company, signing the deed under a misapprehension as to the identity of the land he was deeding away. This was on Friday preceding the October election. Mr. Neligh then hastened home to West Point, reaching there Saturday night, On Sunday morning; he started a young man, Anton Psota, for Neligh, with the intelligence of his accomplishment and designs. Psota lost his way and so did not reach his destination until noon of Tuesday, the day of election. The electors of the county being generally ignorant of the existence of a design to make Neligh the county seat, cast the majority of their votes for Oakdale, that being the most considerable town within its limits at the time.
The town was started by Hon. John D. Neligh, William B. Lambert and John B. Thomson, in 1873, having been platted in February of that year by Neils Larson, Surveyor of Cuming County. Mr. Thomson built the first house in March, and Mr. Lambert the first store. D. V. Coe built the first hotel, which was opened March 5, 1874, with a dance. H. M. Cox came here as the first physician, in September 1874. The first schoolhouse was completed in January, 1875, and Isaiah B. Miller was the first teacher.
The Congregationalists organized a church in 1875; having held religious services the year previous, Rev. Henry Griffiths being their first minister. Rev. J. M. Wolfe preached the first sermon to the Methodists, who also organized a church in 1875. Rev. John E. Kellogg first preached to the Old School Baptists, who organized a church in 1878, with eleven members. The Episcopalians also have an organization, but no church building as yet.
This is the oldest land office in the State. It was established at Omaha March 1, 1857. It was moved thence to West Point, in April, 1879; thence to Norfolk, in the summer of 1873, and finally to Neligh, July 1, 1881. Hon. William B. Lambert, the present agent, was appointed January 1, 1880. The north half of Antelope County is in the Niobrara District; the south half in the Neligh District. There is considerable Government land yet in the county, subject to homestead and pre-emption, which is rapidly chosen by settlers.
The Columbus Association of Congregational Churches met at Oakdale, in May 1881, and offered to maintain a college in the town that would subscribe most toward its establishment. The largest bids were made by Neligh and Oakdale, the former offering $7,000 the offer including forty acres of land near Neligh, to the northwest. This being the largest offer, secured the college. A board of fifteen Trustees was appointed, which organized by electing M. L. Holt, President; J. J. Roberts, Secretary, and William B. Lambert, Treasurer. The college was named in honor of H. N. Gates, Superintendent of the Congregational Churches of the State. A two-story brick building has been erected on a hill northeast of the town, affording a fine view of the Elkhorn Valley and surrounding country. This building cost $6,000, and is designed for the use of the preparatory school; a larger more costly one is to be erected for the purposes of the college proper.
This mill is located in the south part of town, on the north bank of the Elkhorn, which is here 120 feet wide. It is two and a half stories high, and has four run of stone and one set of rollers, and a capacity of 250 bushels per day, doing first-class work. The brick of which it is build are of excellent quality, and were made by John J. Crawford, of clay found near Neligh. They were the first brick made in the county. The mill stands about 250 feet from the riverbank; the power is supplied by a sixty-four inch Leffel Turbine wheel, and is transmitted to the machinery by a Roebling wire cable. Grinding commenced at this mill October 10, 1874, and during the first two and a half months, amounted to within a fraction of 7,500 bushels of wheat, having at that time but two run of stone.
M. S. Bartlett published the first paper here, moving the Oakdale Journal, which he had established and maintained at Oakdale from twelve to eighteen months, to Neligh October 8, 1875, where it became the Neligh Journal. He continued its publication until November 1877. The second paper started here was the Neligh Independent, by Field Bros., January 1, 1878. At the end of four months it was discontinued. The Neligh Republican was started here Oct. 3, 1879, by C.F. Bayha, he having moved the material of his office here from West Point, Cuming County. Just one year afterward, he sold the paper to S. A. Saunders, who conducted the paper about six months, when he sold it to Beecham & Huxford, the present proprietors, who changed it from a Republican to an Independent paper, with Greenback proclivities.
The Antelope County Eagle was started in Neligh by Wellman & Leake, January 1, 1881, who, after publishing it six months, sold it, July 1, 1881, to Judson Graves, who had chosen Neligh as his new field of newspaper enterprise, after having had his office at Vermillion, Dakota, swept away by the flood in the spring of that year. The name of the paper was changed by him to the Neligh Advocate.
Neligh at the present time contains four general stores, two hardware stores, three groceries, five agricultural implement depots, two blacksmith shops, three hotels, seven lawyers, two newspapers, two banks, two clothing stores, two jewelers, one gunsmith, about 600 inhabitants and 165 children of school age.
The Neligh Lodge, No. 72, I. O. O. F., was organized and chartered April 23, 1879, with twelve charter members. The first officers elected were: L. A. Boyd, N. G.; William Lawrence, V. G.; A. F. Wilgoike, Secretary; V. W. Krise, Treasurer; the lodge now has thirty active members.
Trowel Lodge, No. 71, A., F. &. A. M., was organized January 28, 1878, with thirteen members. The officers were: A. M. Coole, W. M.; Jacob M. Miller, S. W.; J. H. Snider, J. W.; R. C. Eldridge, Secretary, and H. M. Cox Treasurer; the lodge has now thirty-eight members.
Grand Army of the Republic.–John C. Fremont Post, No. 68, G. A. R., was organized here August 18, 1881, with fifteen charter members, whose names with the officers elected, are as follows: E. S. Butler, Post Commander; R. V. Coe, Senior Vice Commander; A. Belmer, Junior Vice Commander; Judson Graves, Adjutant; G. F. Wink, Quartermaster; F. H. Trowbridge, Chaplain; J. L. Lewellyn, Surgeon; I. Howell, Officer of the Day, and M. H. Shobe, Officer of the Guard. The membership is now thirty.
C. Giles settled near where Giles Creek empties into the Elkhorn, in 1869. In April, 1870, W. H. Livingston and Christopher Livingston, brothers, and Ralph Livingston, their cousin, settled where Burnett now stands, and in the same year James Scott and C. A. Olescligle.