History of the City of Franklin
Archaeological evidence indicates that thousands of years ago, the area around the City of Franklin and the Republican River was frequented by a nomadic people that were probably the forefathers of the Pawnee Indians. The name, "Pawnee" comes from the native word 'pariki; meaning 'a horn'; referring to their scalp-lock. The origin of the Pawnee tribe is a mystery. Pawnees believe their ancestors came from the American Southwest. Evidence suggests that they have been on the Central Plains for at least 500 years. The Pawnee long have been known as the "Wolf People." Wolves were respected for their cunning and courage.
Pawnees were the dominant power on the Central Plains. Their territory included large areas of present-day Kansas and Nebraska. In the early 1800s, Pawnees numbered between 10,000 and 30,000. There were four separate bands, and each functioned independently. One of the four bands is known as the Kitkehahki (pronounced KIT-ka-ha-key), or Republican, which settled in this area in the early 1800s. The Pawnee were known to engage in the farming of corn, squash and beans. They were also extremely skilled bow and arrow hunters of buffalo, deer and other small animals and birds. Although generally peaceful, the Pawnee frequently battled the Kaw, Osage and Sioux Indians, their arch-enemies.
The Pawnee entered into agreements to cede their lands to the United States Government in 1833, 1848, 1857 and1872. In 1875 they were moved from Nebraska to the Pawnee Indian Agency. In the 1840's, with the opening of a trail through their country, European diseases, alcohol, and war with other tribes, their numbers were reduced to around 4,500. The influx of white missionaries contributed to the gradual abandonment of their ancient customs and religious ceremonies. Today the official count of Pawnee is put at just over two thousand, five hundred people, most of them located in Pawnee County, Oklahoma.
The first explorer in the area was probably Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1541. This Spanish explorer was looking for the mythical rich kingdom of Quivira. Coronado became discouraged when he was unable to find the hoard of gold he had been told about, and the Spanish, who claimed the land, eventually gave up exploration of the area. Although historians argue as to whether Coronado made it as far north as Nebraska, it would be hard to explain otherwise how a pair of Spanish stirrups were discovered by George Prather in the area north of present day Riverton on an autumn morning in 1874.
In 1806, American explorer Zebulon Pike was known to be in the area, meeting with the Pawnee Indians somewhere near Red Cloud. He described the area as a "hunter's paradise," thick with game. Mountain men and fur traders began to visit the area, taking advantage of the abundance of fur-bearing creatures and the profits to be made on pelts and hides. By the mid 1800s, as more and more westward migration began to take place, stores were opened, mail and delivery routes were established and pioneers began to settle land along the trails and creeks. The Pre-exemption Act in 1854 combined with the Homestead Act in 1862 enabled a settler to acquire 320 acres of land for a total cost of $200 provided that the land was lived on for five years and improvements were made to the land. This incentive, coupled with the desire of many Civil War veterans to start a new life "out West," created enough population to propel Nebraska from a territory into statehood in 1867.
West of Red Cloud, the earliest attempt to settle the area was in the winter of 1866 and 1867 on Turkey Creek about four miles north of present day Naponee. This settlement was abandoned due to pressure from the Indians. After that, in 1870, several land companies (often referred to as 'colonies') were formed out of Omaha with the intent of identifying good land for settlements and profiting through the establishment of towns and selling lots and land. Several expeditions were arranged, and due to all the glowing reports coming out of these expeditions into the area about a land rich in wildlife, timber, tillable land and water resources, many homesteaders flocked to Beatrice (the location of the U.S. Land Office) to sign up for homesteads on land they had never seen. The Thompson Colony set up shop on Thompson Creek in the spring of 1871 which eventually became Riverton. The Knight Colony began settling Franklin City (founded in 1870 and named after founding father, Benjamin Franklin) in the fall of 1871. The Plattsmouth Town Company laid out a town a mile east of Franklin City and called it Waterloo. The initial post office for Franklin City was moved to Waterloo, but retained the name Franklin City, so Waterloo was never referred to as such, but was also 'Franklin City.' [Today, the City of Franklin resides somewhere in between the original Franklin City and Waterloo.] In 1872, another company out of Brownville, Nebraska was organized and subsequently located and settled the town of Bloomington, about 4 miles west of Franklin City. In just two short years, the population of Franklin County had blossomed from a mere handful to over 2,000 souls.
In 1871, Governor Butler proclaimed Franklin City as the Franklin County seat. In 1874 the county seat was removed to Bloomington (which, importantly, had become the site of the U.S. Land Office) by countywide vote. This was a devastating blow to Franklin City as many of the local businesses then moved to Bloomington as well. Franklin City proved resilient, however, and was eventually able to once again become the county seat in 1920.
The railroad arrived in Franklin City in 1879 and with it, more homesteaders and more growth. Descendants of many of these early pioneers and homesteaders still live in the area today. Franklin City grew steadily with the progressing times. The Franklin Academy was established in 1881, one of six Congregational Church academies in Nebraska, which was a prime contributor to the success of the City. Located in what is now our City Park, the Dupee Music Hall (built in 1902) was part of the Academy and is the only structure from the Academy that remains. Franklin City, known as the City of Franklin today, was incorporated in 1883.
The Lincoln Hotel, that was located on the northwest corner of M Street and 15th Avenue in the downtown business district, was built in 1918 by the Nebraska Hotel Company. The hotel was of the Georgian Revival style of architecture, and was a rare, small town example of the 'Front Light Court' hotel type. Aside from providing pleasant quarters for travelers, these types of new hotels became the symbol of a prospering community with a bright future. It was especially favored by salesmen arriving by train to do business in the area. Unfortunately, due to the deterioration of the building beyond repair, it had to be demolished for safety purposes, the summer of 2015.
Over the years, the City of Franklin has endured and overcome many obstacles, including a disastrous fire wiping out one third of the business district, economic downturns, a diphtheria epidemic, a tornado, droughts, and major floods. However, the resilience, optimism, pride and pioneer spirit still abound in the community, now and for the future.