Location, Natural Features, Etc.

Boone County is in the fifth tier west of the Missouri and the third north of the Platte. Its boundaries, as defined by statute, are as follows: “Commencing at the southwest corner of Township 18 north, of Range 8 west; thence east along the northern boundary of the Pawnee Reservation to a point where the dividing line between Ranges 4 and 5 intersects the same; thence north to the northeast corner of Township 22 north, of Range 5 west; thence west to the northwest corner of Township 22 north, of Range 8 west, thence south to place of beginning.”

The county has an area of 634 square miles, or 437,760 acres. Of this, nearly half was chosen by the Burlington & Missouri Railroad as part of the vast grant which it received from the Government. About twelve thousand acres fell to the Union Pacific in its twenty-mile belt of territory through the State. The remainder, except what has been taken up by actual settlers, is still in the hands of the General Government, and is subject to the homestead, pre-emption and timber acts. Over one hundred thousand acres of such land now lies vacant, waiting for occupation. For some years, the Burlington & Missouri lands were withheld from the market, owing to a difficulty with the county which will be explained in the county history; and the result was a severe set-back to the growth of the country. Lately, however, the lands have been offered at extremely low rates, and every inducement extended to actual settlers who would buy. The best of these lands can be had at prices ranging from $1 to $5 per acre, and on credits of from one to ten years. The beneficial effects of this action on the part of the company may be seen in the rapid settlements of the few past years.

Boone County is unexcelled in natural advantages for agricultural pursuits. It is situated in the midst of an agricultural district–on the south, Nance County and the Loup Valley; on the west, Greeley County, with the Cedar and North Loup; on the east, Madison and Platte, with Shell Creek and the “Garden Valley” of the Elkhorn; on the north, Antelope, with a continuation of the same winding stream. Boone itself abounds in fertile valleys. Beaver Creek flows across the entire county in a southeasterly direction, giving forty miles of valley, varying from one to three miles in width. Fox Creek flows ten miles across the southwest corner of the county. Cedar River, farther east, flows in a similar direction for a distance of twenty miles In the northeast, Cedar Creek flows twelve miles, and Plum Creek waters twenty miles of the western and southern portions of the county. Besides these, Timber, Rae, Pleasant Valley, Voorhes, Garner, O’Neill and Bogus Creeks, with numerous branches, intersect and water the country lying between the larger parallel water-courses. Fully 40 per cent of the land in Boone County is valleys and bottoms, the fertility of which cannot be excelled. The soil is loose and porous, and absorbs and retains moisture readily. There is just sufficient sand to make it respond readily, and luxuriant vegetation invariably follows careful cultivation. The uplands lie in long sweeping divides between the valleys, and are very fertile, being, for wheat raising, preferred by many to the valley lands. With the exception of two townships, the entire surface of the county is tillable. In the northwest, the soil becomes too sandy for cultivation, although the grass, which grows there in abundance, is valuable for pasturing purposes. Everywhere throughout the county wild grass grows in abundance, yielding on the bottoms from one to three tons per acre. Tame grass, so far as it has been tried, has yielded abundantly. Grain-raising is the chief occupation of the farmers, and the prosperity which has attended it proves beyond dispute that the country is not unsuited to it Wheat yields on an average from ten to twenty bushels per acre; corn, from twenty to seventy-five; oats, from twenty to eighty; and other grains in proportion. The facilities for stock raising which exist in the abundance of water and wild grass have not been overlooked, and already blooded horses and cattle have been introduced and large sheep ranches opened in the county. It has long been believed that this country was unfitted for fruit raising, but actual experiment has shown that all the varieties suited to this climate can be readily produced. Over five hundred fruit trees are now in thrifty condition in the county, and grapes yield abundantly. Artificial groves are necessary to protect fruit from the sweeping winds, but these are already springing up in every direction. The natural timber supply is not abundant. A few varieties of forest trees are found in the county, and small numbers skirt the streams, but the dependence of the people for wood must soon fall on timber of their own raising.

According to the Assessor’s returns for 1881, there are over 37,000 acres of improved land in the county. Of these, 18,818 were sown with wheat; 3,406 with oats; 1,760 with barley; and 454 with flax. There were 11,885 acres planted with corn, and 500 acres on which tame grass was raised.

In the line of stock raising, the figures give a like indication of the prosperous condition of the county. There were 2,140 horses; 3,706 cattle; 3,808 hogs, and 4,278 sheep in the county in 1881. The total valuation of property in the county, as assessed, was $592,571, of which $211,114 was on personal property. The estimated value of property in the county is estimated at $1,500,000. The financial condition of the county does not make so good a showing, the bonded indebtedness being $89,000, and the floating indebtedness $1,000. Of a necessity, taxes are rather high at present, but the continued prosperity of the past years has placed the people where they are easily able to lift the burden which has thus settled upon them. The estimated expenses of the county for the year 1882 are $28,190.

The population, which the census of 1880 gave at 4,595, and which is now probably 6,000, is composed largely of settlers who have come from Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Northern States further east. Only a small per cent is foreign. Thrift, sobriety and intelligence are characteristics of the people, and schools, churches and the other attendants of civilization have followed rapidly in the wake of business prosperity. Cheap lands, good neighbors and quick returns are the advantages which Boone County offers to those seeking homes.

Water Powers

No better water-powers can be found than are furnished by many of the streams in the county. Especially does the Beaver excel in advantages for milling. The channel is narrow and the banks high, thus making damming an easy and inexpensive job. Added to this, the current is very swift, and it has been estimated that a large mill can be operated on every two or three miles of its channel throughout the county. These advantages have not been entirely overlooked, and three large mills are in active operation in the county. In 1875, Sackett & Crouch erected their mill at Albion, on the Beaver, and Hannaman & Tollman erected one at Waterville (since changed to St. Edward), also on the Beaver. Since then, a large mill has been erected at Cedar Rapids, on the Cedar, by the Cedar Rapids Improvement Company. Fuller description of each of these important enterprises will be found in the business sketches of the different towns at which they are located.

Means Of Communication

Boone County has been in existence some years before the railroad reached its borders, and its traffic was accomplished entirely by wagon. In order to facilitate this means of shipping, active measures were early taken to establish roads and build bridges. In 1872, a contract was made by the Commissioners for five bridges, and within a year, five more were erected. Roads were laid out in all portions of the county. In 1876, in the settlement with the Burlington & Missouri road, a contract was made with Adam Smith to make a graded road from Albion to the Union Pacific at Silver Creek. This was completed and bridges built over the streams and over the Loup River, and the road was much used by the farmers until the railroad came into the county. Since the bridge over the Loup was washed out by a freshet, the road has been almost entirely abandoned.

In August 1879, an election was called by the Commissioners to vote $33,000 bonds to the Omaha, Niobrara & Black Hills Railroad. The bonds were voted by the people with but little opposition, and the work of building the road from Columbus was begun. The entrance of the cars into Albion was the occasion of great rejoicing. An immense crowd gathered when the tracklayers reached the town limits. The first spike was driven by John Peters, amid the cheers of the spectators. On Wednesday, June 29, 1880, the cars arrived, and in the evening, a large procession, headed by the band, marched to the train. Here the numbers were augmented by the full force of the railroad employees, and together they returned to the Commercial Hotel. After a grand banquet, speeches were made by Messrs. Peters, Connelly, Wilkinson, Kearny, Tiffany, Atwood and others of the citizens, and were responded to by employees of the road. These exercises were followed by a dance, which lasted till the “wee sma’ hours,” and thus the railroad was ushered in. Its value to this country has been great, and especially so to Boone County; for not only does it give the county a ready market for its own products, but, by terminating at Albion, makes it the market for all the vast regions north and west. How long this may continue cannot be foretold, but there is no immediate prospect of an extension of the road.

The present prospects are that Boone will soon have another road crossing its boundaries. Surveys have been made by both the Burlington & Missouri and by the Union Pacific up the Cedar Valley, and in the near future, in all probability, cars will be seen crossing the country through that fertile region.

County Schools

During the eleven years of official existence, Boone County has made rapid strides in the line of establishing and maintaining public schools. Already two new school districts have been created since the last report of the County Superintendent, and new houses are being erected. In the year 1881, five new schools were established, and in that year the county paid out for school expenses $11,994. The report of the Superintendent for that year, closing in April, gives the number of school districts at 42. In these there were 38 schoolhouses, 19 being frame buildings and 19 sod. The total value of the houses was, including the sites, $6,045.80. The total number of teachers engaged was 46–33 female and 13 male. The total amount of wages paid to teachers was $4,041.33, of which the female portion received $2,811.33. The total number of children of school age in the county was 1,422. The average attendance was 709. The total number of days taught was 3,165. The total value of school property was $6,147.25, and the school indebtedness of the county, $14,562.89.