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In 1848, a fort was established
to provide protection for travelers
heading west along the Oregon Trail.
Named for Colonel Stephen Watts
Kearny, Fort Kearny afforded a safe
haven for pioneers, pony express
riders, prospectors and others as they
followed the great Platte river road.
According to an official War
Department report, more than
30,000 people bound for California,
Oregon and Utah passed through
Fort Kearny during an 18 month
period during the gold Rush of 1849.
Originally built near Nebraska
City, the fort was later relocated to
its present site, south of Kearney, to
increase military strength in the busy
central Nebraska corridor. In its 23
years as the first U.S. Army Post on
the Oregon Trail, Fort Kearny was
never attacked by Indians.
The city of Kearney derives its
name from the original fort but due
to a postal error an "e" was inadvetently
added and then never changed
Settlement began in the summer
of 1871 when the Rev. and Mrs.
Collins entered a homestead claim.
The couple lived in a dwelling called
Junction House which was also the
site of the first post office, the first
school district, the first marriage ceremony,
and the first church service.
Kearney Junction began a period
of rapid growth increasing from
245 residents in 1873 to well over
10,000 in the late 1880's. Optimistic
residents sought to have the nation's
capitol moved to Kearney from
Washington, DC and others raised a
quarter million dollars to finance the
construction of a huge cotton mill.
The bubble burst in the 1890's.
The cotton mill was closed, real
estate values collapsed, businesses
and people drifted away. In 1900,
only 5,364 people remained.
In the early twentieth century,
Kearney began a steady, if not
dramatic, recovery. By 1930 the
population had increased to over
8,500 and the community was laying
the foundations of its present
The next significant catalyst
for development was the completion
of Interstate 80 in 1964 linking
Kearney to the busiest east-west
superhighway in the country.
Its strategic geographic positioning,
midway between the Atlantic
and Pacific oceans as well as within
Nebraska's borders, catapulted
Kearney into a leading convention
and tourism position.
Kearney, population 27,000+,
now boasts a balanced, evergreen
economy ensuring a brighter
future for its residents.