Falls City History
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 weekly 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 (Now KexRX Pharmacy)
- 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. The hospital has since been demolished for a new location in 2009. 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 City Community Hospital changed to Community Medical Center and moved into their current facility in 2009.
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.
The mini-park, one of eight in the parks and recreation system, has three 40-foot murals depicting Falls City’s history from the 1850s to 1984. An all-weather hiking trail around Stanton Lake is to be completed this year. The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is special, celebrating the many accomplishments of native son John P. Falter, who inked so many covers for the Saturday evening Post, including a 1946 cover of Christmas in Falls City. These days feature table upon table of magazines for viewing, including collector swaps or sales of those magazines. (402) 245-4704. The John Falter Museum is at 17th and Stone in Falls City.
Candlelight Cabin at Stanton Lake on West 25th Street has recently been renovated with an event room and screened porch and offers a scenic view of the park and lake, and is in close proximity to a playground. The cabin is available for rental each day, year round. For information or reservations, call (402) 245-2851.
The Falls City Aquatic Park, located at the north entrance of town on Hwy 73. This beautiful community pool, with zero depth entry, sprayground, tube slide, river slide, six-lane fitness lap pool, and diving area, is a wonderful addition to the community. (402) 245-3214.
Falls City Library & Art Center at 1400 Stone Street is home to the Stalder Gallery which hosts traveling art shows. One of the most distinguishing features of the library is the permanent collection of artwork by area artists, including Miss Alice Cleaver and John Philip Falter.
The Historic Grand Weaver Hotel, located in downtown Falls City, is one of premier accommodation facilities in the area. A display case featuring memorabilia from the hotel’s past include a mural of Nebraska roadways prior to Interstate 80 and a telephone system operated by a central switchboard, which was in use as recently as 2008.
Itha-Krumme Memorial Arboretum, located at West 25th Street and Clinton is the only site within the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum system showcasing plants native to Nebraska and surrounding states. The hard surface walking path leads visitors through the wonders of native flora and fauna. The Arboretum is located next to Stanton Lake. For info call (402) 245-2850.
The Richardson Military History Museum – Located inside the National Historic Registered courthouse at 1700 Stone Street, it contains a collection that includes war memorabilia from World War I to present. It is open Monday-Friday 8a.m.-5p.m. for self-guided tours. (402) 245-4228.
The Richardson County Museum is located two blocks west of the junction of Highways 73 and 159 and its collections include an 1855 letter from Abraham Lincoln, a collection of operating antique clocks, pioneer displays, Indian, military, and railroad artifacts. Richardson County memorabilia from surrounding communities, and schools that have closed, are also housed here. It is open Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday from 2-4 p.m., and by appointment. (402)245-3481.
Stanton Lake, located on West 25th Street, is a serene park with a lake, in a beautiful setting that offers fishing, picnic areas, sandlot volleyball courts, playgrounds, trailer hookups, showers, and dumping station. For information, or reservations call (402) 245-2851.
Since its founding in 1857, Falls City has grown and prospered as an important commercial center, serving residents of the four state region of Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri. Its location between the metropolitan areas of Lincoln, Omaha, Kansas City and Topeka also influenced its growth into a distribution center for the Atchinson & Nebraska and Missouri Pacific Railroads. Due to its proximity to the railroads, and other major transportation networks such as US Highway 75, Falls City continued to grow and prosper well into the 1950s.
In the last half century the city has seen a decline in its population as the railroad industry declined in importance. The construction of Interstate 29 in the 1960s and the realignment of US Highway 75 in the 1990s diverted commerce and travelers away from the city. Through this plan Falls City is setting out on a new journey, towards a renewed sense of community pride and prosperity, centered around the revitalization of its central business district. Already, the city has experienced significant reinvestment, with a number of new small businesses being established in the district. At the center of the city’s revitalization efforts has been the renovation and reopening of the eighty year old Grand Weaver Hotel.
Falls City’s downtown has a rich architectural heritage, with a number of historic buildings that are solid examples of late nineteenth and early twentieth century commercial vernacular architecture. While these structures may not be significant on their own accord for listing on the National Register, as a group they tell the story of Falls City’s importance in the development of America’s rural economy and the development of the nation’s transportation networks.