My good friend and neighbor, Rev. G. R. McKeith, has asked me (W. J. Waite) for a few lines regarding my recollections of the early days of Exeter. I have gotten somehow out of the writing habit and my first recollection of Exeter is somewhat vague. The first time I saw it, I didn’t see it because it wasn’t there (or should I say here?) In the early days of the summer of 1871, the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad in Nebraska, (for such was its legal and official name at that time), was in operation from Plattsmouth to Crete, with a short stub from Oreapolis to Omaha. West of Crete construction work was going on at different points between Crete and, as we always said in those days. Ft. Kearney. From Crete Westward we could have the choice of walking or negotiate with the fellows running the construction train. We negotiated and got to the end of the track and I have often wondered what that redheaded brakeman did with the money. Anyhow he was a good fellow and shared his lunch with us.
The end of the track at that time was but a short distance east of where Exeter now is, a mile perhaps, for it was not a long walk to the home of Warren Woodard where we were told we could get a conveyance to take us to School Creek, as the present city of Sutton was then generally called.
In our party was Jim Kelly, (not our Jim, but a Lincoln saloon keeper arranging to start a branch at School Creek,) and W. A. Way “Billy” who I think is still living at Lincoln, and who homesteaded the eighty on which part of Sutton now stands and afterwards run a hardware store there.
Arriving at the Woodard home we found the “Boss” away locating land seekers but were told that Charley Boyce, who was the original homesteader of the farm now owned by George Craven, might get us through and from the Woodard house we wended our way to his shack and were driven to School Creek, following the railroad grade and camps pretty closely.
The Nebraska of 1871 hardly looks like that of 1914. If one could have stood on a little elevation, say like Cemetery Hill, he would only see a broad expanse, over which for unrecorded centuries the shadows had chased the sunshine and but little to relieve the monotony of the view except, perhaps a fringes of blue haze hanging over the Valleys of the Blue to the north and Turkey Creek on the south. With a good glass he might have seen an occasional homestead shack or a prairie schooner plowing its way westward always westward.
If necessity required an eastern trip for supplies, the schooner top was left behind for shelter for family and supplies and the “schooner” became a common everyday wagon.
This was my first introduction to Exeter. I located in Clay County, first at Sutton in the drug business and if anybody ever sold a box of pills in the country west of the east line of Clay County in Nebraska, south of the Platte River before I did I have never succeeded in identifying him. From that to 1877, my recollection of Exeter is extremely hazy, as I only rarely passed through it on the train and my Exeter acquaintances were J. W. Dolan and J. W. Ellis.
Traveling for a Lincoln Newspaper, I was here twice in 1877 and by a series of events, unfortunate both to myself and the community, I came here in January 1878 to engage in the newspaper business, and the way it happened was this:
Up in Clay County, I had been postmaster at Edgar, and in the course of politics had come into possession of a newspaper and printing office or the office came into possession of me, maybe would be putting it better. I had leased it to a party by the name of K. A. Connell, who had started the Exeter Enterprise in October, 1877, and after running it three months, went broke and abandoned the plant. Desiring to remove it to Fairbury, I came down to get possession of it. I found that the people, what few of them there were, rather strongly in favor of keeping the paper alive and so I resurrected it and to that fact is due many of the woes which have since come upon Exeter, in 1878.
The following is a fairly complete business directory of Exeter:
J. W. Dolan, grain and lumber.
H. G. Smith, W. H. Taylor and P. W. McCauley, general merchandise.
Failing Bros., general merchandise and drugs.
J H. Edney, hardware and implements.
Hannes & Stilley, hardware and grain.
Dayton Bros., furniture.
Dr. G. W. Whipple, physician.
R. Beecher, physician.
Job Hathaway, livery
Centennial Hotel by Warren Woodard.
J. P. Kettlewell, meat artist, (that’s the way he used to advertise.)
Elias Peterman, harness shop.
That was about the whole push in olden, golden days of ’78, but things started pretty lively with settlement of the alternate section of railroad land, which was mostly sold that year. A Catholic church was built in 1877 and Congregational in 1878, Methodist and Baptist churches in 1879, and during those and succeeding years various new enterprises were started, which I may mention later if this don’t kill the reading population of this neighborhood.
Source: Pioneer Stories of the Pioneers of Fillmore and adjoining Counties, by G. R. McKeith, Press of Fillmore County News, Exeter, Nebraska, 1915