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The town of Aurora in Hamilton County, Nebraska was named after Aurora, Illinois by an early settler, David Stone, whose wife was a native of the Illinois town. The name was also appropriate because the Burlington and Aurora Railroad was expected to go through that area. Another local story or myth associated with the founding says that a particularly bright Aurora Borealis or Northern Light was seen when settlers first arrived. Perhaps these settlers with their feelings of a new dawning on the plains were accompanied by the ancient Roman goddess, Aurora, who "raises night's veil with the rosy finger of morning."
Aurora lies just on the edge of the 90th longitude which, by the conception of some geographers, begins the Great Plains. Many of the eighteenth and nineteenth century travelers created the "Great American Desert" conception of this area because it was seen as a vast emptiness in the center of the country. In 1803, Hamilton County, along with the rest of what was then known as Louisiana, became part of the United States of America. The government soon undertook the exploration of this vast territory; starting with the Lewis and Clark expedition, new perceptions of the Great Plains were formed. The most prevalent one, that of the region as the Great American Desert, then became part of folk belief among large portions of the U.S. population throughout the early 1800s.
The first permanent Anglo settler in the Aurora area was David Millspaw, who came in 1861. Following organization of Hamilton County, the County Commissioners in 1871 pre-empted the site for the first county seat, Orville City, on a plateau overlooking both forks of the Blue River in the most densely populated southeast corner of the county, and a small single-story wood frame courthouse was built to house county records. Orville City, the first town in Hamilton County, experienced a short life because of the competitive forces of a new town named Aurora. Despite the risks involved, due to rivalry between settlements, the business of town development was seen in the early years as an attractive speculation and entrepreneurial adventure. It was this enterprising spirit which stimulated a group of seven Chariton, Iowa men in 1871 to form a town company for the purpose of establishing a town in Hamilton County, which they optimistically believed should become the county seat. However, dissension in the group led to a less organized venture by five members of the original seven-man company, two of whom arrived in April 1871 and camped on the south bank of Lincoln Creek, north of the present business area of Aurora. These men came to the following agreement.
This agreement made and entered
into this 9th day of March, 1871 by and between David Stone, Darius Wilcox,
Robert Miller, James Doremus, J. Ray, N. H. Thorpe, S. P. Lewis, all of Lucas
County, Iowa, for the purpose of securing a title to Section 4, Township 10,
Range 6, west.
First: The parties hereto agree and by these presents do hereby form themselves together and organize a company for the purpose of laying out and organizing and locating a county seat, town or village in the county of Hamilton, State of Nebraska, upon the following express conditions:
It is agreed that David Stone be selected as a suitable person to visit Hamilton County, Nebraska, for the purpose of securing land for the location of the said county seat, town or village, Said Stone hereby agrees to homestead in the name of the eight individual members of the company if title can be secured in that manner; if not, locate in the name of each individual member of this company. It is further agreed that after said Stone secures the land described, being Section four (4); township ten (10); range six (6) west, in Hamilton County, Nebraska each of the above members, named parties, is to execute to each other, a bond for a deed for the individual conveyance of the undivided eighth part of the entire section, or for the conveyance of the lots to each other in any manner they may select to divide the same as soon as title for same can be obtained; that the entire section shall be owned in common by all the parties named to this contract, eight in number, and each shall share and share alike in all the profits and losses, and each be entitled to the one-eighth part in virtue of the section. It is agreed and understood by all the parties that individuals shall be and reside upon said land, by the first day of June 1871, in person or agent, to assist in building up said town; a failure to comply with this stipulation shall work as a forfeiture of all his rights under this contract. The said Stone agrees that during this trip to Nebraska he will keep a true account of all moneys expended by him and the expenses of said Stone shall be equally borne by all parties to this contract.
It is further agreed that each party to this contract will, at the signing of the same, pay said Stone, the sum of Thirty Dollars, to be used by him in the securing of the title to said land by preemption or homestead subject to the laws of the United States in such cases made and provided.
Witness our hands and seal this 7th day of March, 1871.
James O. Doremus
Nathanial H. Thorpe
Stillman P. Lewis
Before the terms of the contract could be carried out, the town company fell apart. Robert Miller and Nathanial Thorpe set out on their own to start a town. As they traveled, they saw two stately cottonwood trees, towering like sentinels on the banks of Lincoln Creek. Otherwise, there was nothing but vast prairie, with smaller trees and bushes following along the creek bank. This was to be the landmark for many years and it was at this location these men were determined to establish their new town. Miller and Thorpe were followed on June 10 by David Stone, Darius Wilcox and S.P. Lewis. Theycamped on Lincoln Creek in the vicinity of the cottonwoods. Shortly after, Mr. Stone platted a town site and on the night of June 19, 1871, the new town was named Aurora.
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