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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 diversified economy.

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.

Fort Kearny State Historical Park

Trails & Rails Museum

Cottonmill Park

© 2000 I.S.D.N.
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