Historic Falls City
Founded in 1857, three years after the opening of the Nebraska Territory, “Falls City” was the Nebraska base on the “Lane Trail” through which free-state emigrants could be funneled into Kansas. At that time, Kansas Territory was in the throes of a bloody struggle between the pro-slave and anti-slave settlers. James Lane, a free-soil leader, was greatly impressed by the beauty of the Nemaha Valley at this point and noted the rich soil drained by the Nemaha. He also took note of the industrial possibilities which the falls of the river seemed to offer. Lane’s expectations for “a city by the falls” has undergone more than a century of change, yet with a strong, sustained growth peaked at 6,200 residents in 1950, with a 1990 population of 4,843.
The first family to build a home were abolitionists, Dave and Anne Dorrington, who came to Nebraska from New York. Mother Dorrington is said to have fed John Brown when he passed through the settlement with some slaves on their journey to the North. A number of the descendants of this family’s six children stayed on in the community, becoming prominent citizens in the development of the town. Many still reside here.
When Richardson County’s first seat, Archer, was found to be within the “Half-Breed Lands,” a new election was required. In April 1857 a vote of the residents favored the town of Salem over Falls City, however the county offices were not moved (presumably since there was not a suitable building yet built). Another election, held to decide on “a permanent site,” resulted in a tie-vote, so the matter was still undecided. Amid “high feelings” a third election was held in 1860, with Falls City declared the winner. The issue had caused such strife and hard-feelings that during the voting, a “personal discussion” ended in a gun battle, killing two men, a Dr. Davis and Thomas Meek.
The arrival of the Atchison & Nebraska Railroad in 1871 signaled the beginning of real growth for the community. The addition of a second railroad — The Missouri Pacific in 1882, for which Falls City was designated as a division point in 1909 — provided the town with good freight rates and excellent passenger service for many years.
Early in 1900 Falls City developed as a poultry packing and dairy processing center. As the center of county business, it developed as a banking and financial hub for the area, and as an educational center.
In 1939 Nebraska’s first producing oil well was drilled just a few miles west of the city. The site is now indicated by an historical marker.
Today Falls City is the hub in a four-state corner — Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa. Included within a radius of approximately 100 miles are the great cities of Omaha, Lincoln, Kansas City, St. Joseph, and Topeka, as well as numerous smaller cities. Ideally located, Falls City serves as a distribution center for this growing region.
The town has thrived on good communications. The “Broadaxe” was established in 1857, even before the town’s incorporation. That newspaper gave way to the “Nemaha Valley Journal,” which in turn became the “Falls City Journal.” It continues to be a daily paper and has influenced the unity of the community. KTNC are the call letters of the radio station which came on the air in 1957. This further cemented a positive relationship between Falls City and the surrounding communities.
A new Richardson County Courthouse was completed in 1925, to replace the initial building after it was destroyed by fire. Falls City has several other significant public buildings.
- The Lydia Bruun Library opened in 1901.
- The Prichard Auditorium, completed in 1938, is used extensively by the community for athletic and social affairs.
- The Falls City Community Hospital, built in 1922, was expanded and modernized in 1978, and is currently being updated. Falls City is a very active community with nearly 100 social and civic organizations. Many of the brotherhood organizations have a long history within this area. There are more than a dozen churches, with many mainstream denominations founded between 1857 and 1900.
Falls Citians are proud of their heritage and are working to make their community a memorial to the past and a guidepost to the future.
From a history written by Harold Prichard, revised and updated by Edna Bangert, 828 E. 17th Street, Falls City, NE 68355. Historical photos courtesy of the Richardson County Historical Society, current photos by Steve Holland.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The History of Richardson County , 1885; and History of Richardson County , Volumes I and II, 1917, By Lewis C. Edwards.