FAIRBURY, NE – Fairbury turns 150 years old this year, and the city has already begun to celebrate the landmark birthday.
On Sunday, the Fairbury City Museum hosted “Early Settlements of Jefferson County, Nebraska,” a program focusing on the earliest settlers of Fairbury and the surrounding villages between 1860-1900.
Jefferson County was founded in 1854, and Fairbury was settled 15 years later. In 1868, James B. Mattingly, a freighter originally from Kentucky, established a sawmill on the banks of the Little Blue River. Shortly after, Woodford G. McDowell, a capitalist from Fairbury, Illinois, came to Nebraska to plot a town along the route of the St. Joseph and Denver City Railroad, which followed the Little Blue.
In 1869, Mattingly and McDowell each contributed 80 acres for a new township, which they named Fairbury, after McDowell’s hometown in Illinois.
The railroad first came through in 1872, which accelerated commerce and population growth. By 1880, Fairbury was home to 88 businesses and nearly 1,600 people.
Historian, former genealogy educator and Endicott native Mitch Zabokrtsky gave an hour-long presentation at the city museum Sunday, focusing on the earliest days of Fairbury and of Jefferson County.
Zabokrtsky has spent the last 25 years acquiring old stories and photographs from the area in the late 19th and early 20th century. Now, he aims to share his findings with the public.
“I think I would kind of like to live in the era of the early 1900s,” Zabokrtsky said. “I went to high school and grade school in Steele City, and I think about the leisurely lifestyle of what it was like. The social life and the slow pace of life – what that was like. It was just a different lifestyle to what it is now.”
The City Museum and Fairbury Chamber of Commerce are meeting at the end of the month to discuss further celebrations of the city’s 150th birthday.
One event already planned for late summer is Fairbury City Museum’s annual Car Show. The Museum is also working to open the one-room schoolhouse on their property to the public sometime later this year.
Zabokrtsky encourags those who wish to learn more about the history of Fairbury and the county to go to the Fairbury Public Library.
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