History of Exeter Nebraska

Exeter became incorporated as a village on April 1, 1879, but, during the early part of its history improved but slowly, being situated on the divide between the south fork of the Blue River and the Turkey Creek, its chances of development seemed meager and precarious.

But those who had the welfare of the town at heart did not hesitate to make the best of its possibilities, for the old Newspapers reveal a persistent effort in boosting the town. To read some of those early statements one would almost think that Exeter was then a large place, and full of opportunities; thus, business men were induced to come because the newspaper said: “an opening presented itself.”

In that way they sang the town’s praises, just as the claim holder sang his alluring song in the hope of winning someone to share his homestead life. It may prove interesting to future generations to place on record with these stories a few of the early “Siren calls.”

First, we have the words inviting people to take up a homestead:

“Come along, come along, make no delay.
Come from every nation, come from every, way.
Our lands they are broad enough, have no alarm
For Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm.”
and, many indeed were the responses to that call,
people came from almost every land and clime.

The lonely homesteader would often sing, “My old Sod Shanty on the Claim,” which went to the tune of “He’s the lily of the valley, the bright and morning star.”

I’m feeling rather lonely now.
While holding down the claim,
And my victuals are not always cooked the best;
And the mice play shyly ’round me,
As I lay me down to rest
In my little old sod shanty on the claim.

The hinges are of leather, the windows have no glass.
And the board roof lets the howling blizzard in.
And I hear the hungry coyote as he sneaks up thru the grass.
In my little old sod shanty on the claim.
How I wish that some kindhearted girl
Would pity on me take.
And relieve me from this mess that I am in,
Oh, the angel how I’d bless her.
If this her home she’d make,
In my little old sod shanty on the claim

and no doubt many a buxom maiden was won by this angelic appeal to share in the joys of pioneer life.

The “Exeter Enterprise” would declare, that: “Prairie schooners, with their freight of humanity, have become so numerous in this neck of woods that they fail to attract attention.”

April 3, 1879, “The demand for houses is on the increase, twenty five could find renters if they were to be had” “Build a house and be in fashion,”.”Fillmore County is one of the best eastern advertised counties in Nebraska. It must be so; else why would so large and steady a stream of immigration constantly pouring in?”

And so “it came to pass,” that the community became more and more populated, and Exeter in spite of apparent difficulties grew in size and importance as a business center.

The “Exeter Enterprise” of February 16, 1889 was devoted especially to business interests, and contained short character sketches of the leading business man, and in some cases gave their photograph, these included. Dr. E. S. Higley; his house and grounds, Mr. W. H. Taylor; his house and grounds, Dr. T. C. McCleery, Mr. A. B. Vennum, Mr. T. H, L. Lee, Mr, George C. Gillan, Mr. Wm. Dyer, Mr. F. M. Ziska, Mr. F. O. Fritz, and a picture of the Exeter National Bank, all of which cuts were lost in an unfortunate fire.

Great have been the changes since the first homestead was taken in America by Daniel Freeman, on Cub Creek in Gage county, Nebraska, or the song of welcome was sung so lustily, for over 100,000 claims have been taken in Nebraska alone, and it is long since the land of every kind in this neighborhood was placed under cultivation.

Exeter, today, has over 1100 inhabitants, and contains some of the finest residences to be found in the county. The whole aspect of the town is very attractive, having an abundance of beautiful shade trees and well kept lawns. The abundant electric lighting arrangement is well known to the travelling public as well as the local residents.

The churches of the town are up to date edifices, these are; Roman Catholic, Congregational, Baptist, Methodist, Christian, and Christian Science. The different ministers are housed in commodious parsonages, the Methodists and Baptists having spent large sums in bringing their parsonages into line with modern needs, while the Catholics and Congregationalists have erected fine houses with every modern convenience.

The C. C. Smith “Adjustable Index Factory” is a great asset to the town, in connection with which is the Electric Light and Power Plant. These give employment on an average to sixty people, and the products of the factory are sent to every part of the world.

The Banks are three in number, The Exeter State Bank, Wallace and Company Bankers, and the Farmers and Merchants Bank.

The places of amusement are the Auditorium and the Wonderland.

Fraternal Societies and Clubs are: Grand Army of the Republic, Free Masons, Odd Fellows, United Workmen, Woodmen of America, and the K. of P.

There is one Newspaper printed in the town called the “Fillmore County News,” and is edited and owned by Mr. F. A. Robinson, and published every Thursday, keeping the town and district well informed about the doings of the community.

The Library of 1000 volumes is managed by the Exeter Library Association, and is a very popular institution, and the free loan of books is not confined to its subscribing members.

The Burlington and North Western Railroads have depots in the town, which add materially to its business interests, while the travelling men find accommodation at the Commercial and Park Hotels. The small parks connected with the depots are a joy and delight to the travelling community and public at large.

Exeter was the first promoter of the “Good Roads” movement, Mr. T. C. Allen being the leading spirit in that work, and the excellent roads of this community are well known. Many other towns have followed Exeter’s lead, with the prospect of good roads becoming an experienced pleasure throughout the state.

The last, but not the least of Exeter’s improvements, is the erection of a $40,000 School Building, a magnificent, commodious, and well arranged property, well fitted, and equipped to meet the needs of the town and district for many years.

Exeter was located on the east half of Section 20, Township 8, Range 1, west of the sixth principal meridian, most of the ground occupied by the village being a part of the original homestead taken up by Dr. H. G. Smith who settled thereon in the winter of 1871. His was the southeast quarter of section 20, while J. W. Dolan homesteaded the northeast quarter, William Dolan took the northwest quarter and John Dayton and William N. Babcock an eighty each on the southwest quarter and all about the same time. Of course there were no railroads, telegraphs, telephones, schools, churches, or post office here then only a lonely trackless prairie with here and there the solitary cabin of some settler who had preceded them but a little.

Warren W. Woodard had homesteaded the northeast quarter of 28, cornering with 20, in the fall of 1870, which was the first actual settlement in the immediate vicinity.

But soon the iron track was laid, and the iron horse laden with the concomitants of civilization and material pro;: i ess found an easy way across our prairies. The dusky denizens of the plain had to give place to the onward march of civilization, and soon, instead of the camp fire and the war whoop, there arose the farm house and the school. The haunts of wild beasts became the dwelling place of a happy and prosperous people. Instead of the trackless ocean of wild grasses we now have a thousand fertile farms, with their prosperous farmers and their healthy families, with ten thousand acres of cultivated lard within the scope of our vision.

Since those early days Exeter has grown, having added on part of the southwest quarter of section 20, and part of section 29 so as to provide building lots and homes for a population of over 1100 people, many of whom are the pioneer farmers of this district.

The change the years have wrought is the natural result of faithful pioneer activity, and “stick-to-it-ive-ness,” which were destined to bear fruit in after days, and which fruitfulness we are glad to see the pioneers enjoy. The measure of this prosperity I have been well able to gauge through having had, by the kindness of Mr. W. J. Waite, a peep into the first Newspaper ever published in Exeter, from which we have culled the foregoing information.

Exeter’s first newspaper the “Exeter Enterprise” came into this world for the advancement of this community on September 29, 1877, bearing the caption:”With charity for all,” and was edited by William A. Connell; who in his “Salutatory” said: “Newspaper salutatories are usually tame, unattractive and odious. The budding editor wants to say something, but doesn’t know what to say or how to say it. Poor fellow; we’ve been there are there now, and therefore feel qualified to remark that we don’t know whether it is best to commiserate ourselves and congratulate the public, or congratulate the public and commiserate ourselves.

“The editor of the Enterprise is noted not so much for his wealth and talents, as for his modesty and beauty; these qualities are sure to find due appreciation among the people of the thriving young city of Exeter, (he evidently forgot to leave his picture, but we take the beauty for granted.) We have chosen the name Enterprise for our little paper, first, because it is an enterprise on our own part; second, because it is the exponent of an enterprising people, and third, because Nebraska contains enterprising people, and we, therefore admire enterprise.

“Politically the Enterprise will stand in the Republican ranks.

“In social and religious matters the Enterprise will labor in accord with its motto: ‘With charity for all.’ “

Such was evidently the heartfelt aspirations of Exeter’s first newspaper, which, however, was destined to the short life of only ten issues; and it may be difficult to say in the final summing up, whether commiseration or congratulation were the most in evidence, and where located.

In looking over these few issues, we discern earnest efforts toward a successful paper, and noticed regret is sometimes expressed as to its size with the added hope for enlargement at some future date. Let me place it on record that Numbers 9 and 10 were enlarged from a four page six column issue, to an eight page five column issue.

For some reason or other the editor and paper soon make a speedy exit, but it is interesting to note that before doing so, No. 9 declared: “We hope to make the Enterprise a ‘fixed fact’ and trust all persons interested in its welfare will step boldly to the front and aid us in our work.” No. 10 announced the name of John T. Fleming as local editor, and in introducing that gentleman said: “We shall endeavor to make the paper as interesting as possible without giving offense to any. It will for the future be printed in Exeter,” then, with an appeal for news; especially from farmers and amongst its other matter a Poem entitled, “The Survival of the Fittest” it breathes its last. That issue is dated December 1, 1877. The foregoing reads almost like a new chapter to “The vanity or human wishes” and reminds us of that old saw, “Blessed are they that expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed.” John T. Flemming never landed in Exeter, a Frank Shickley came and worked on the later staff.

On January 12, 1878 the “Exeter Enterprise” was resurrected, and sent forth as a continuation of its predecessor, being numbered eleven, but this time carried the caption “Devoted to local interests.” The new editor was Wm. J. Waite, who in his ‘salutatory’ said; “Of all mean and detestable things to write, a salutatory is just a little the meanest and most detestable. One has to lay down a plan of action, as it were in the dark, and follow it without regard to unforeseen circumstances, or indulge in glittering generalities meaning nothing. We shall attempt neither and only promise to work at all times, in and out of season, for the best interests of the town, whose generous patronage sustains our ‘Enterprise’ firmly believing the true mission of the country press to be the advancement of local interests and the dissemination of local news.”

“Politically, the position of the Enterprise will be one of ‘armed neutrality’ there being no doubt of the ability of any of the political parties to save the country without help from us.”

“That our future relations may be at once pleasant and profitable is ever our wish.”

The second Enterprise or resurrected Enterprise was destined to a longer life under the able management of Mr. Waite who carried it on for a period of nearly thirty one years.

The following is the list of Exeter business men who advertised in the first number of the Exeter Enterprise.

H. G. Smith Clothing Boots and Shoes, Groceries,, B & M. R. R. Lands.
J. W. Dolan Lumber and Building Material.
J. A. Edney Hardware.
T. B. Farmer Contractor.
Elias Peterman Harness Shop.
S. E. Root Boot & Shoe Maker.
Chas. Hole Plasterer & Chimney Builder,
J. P. Kettlewell Meat Artist.
M. Wiseman Blacksmith.
W. Woodard Centennial Hotel.
Geo. W. Whipple, M. D. Surgeon.
John Barsby Collector.
W. Haines & Co. Groceries, Hardware, Grain.
Dayton Bros. Furniture.
Failing Bros. Groceries & Dry Goods.
T. W. Lowrey & Co. Grain, Flour, Coal & Implements.


Pioneer Stories of the Pioneers of Fillmore and adjoining Counties, by G. R. McKeith, Press of Fillmore County News, Exeter, Nebraska, 1915.

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