HENDERSON — YORK COUNTY
Henderson, just inside the west county line, is approximately 60 miles west of Lincoln and 30 miles east of Grand Island. The town was named for David Henderson who, along with his son John and friends Randolph Fairbank and Daniel George, settled along the west fork of the Big Blue River on July 2, 1866. This was several miles south of present-day Henderson.
A school was organized in the summer of 1868 in a log hut owned by Edward Copsey and taught by Mrs. Jarvis Chaffee. From 1870-76 the residence of Thomas Bearse was utilized for school purposes.
Rev. Colwell is said to have preached the first sermon in Henderson Precinct in 1868, journeying all the way from Saline County. Other “missionaries” worked in the area until 1876, when a Congregational Church was organized at the District 11 schoolhouse.
In 1874 the first of 35 German Mennonite families from Prussia arrived and settled in the Henderson area. While this event is not noted in the 1882 History of Nebraska , it was perhaps the most significant single event to occur, since their descendants make up the majority of the population of present-day Henderson.
— First, the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad built a branch line from Fremont to Hastings, going through Henderson Precinct.
— Second, the Pioneer Town Site Company purchased land from the railroad, platted streets, and established the town of “Henderson” in Section 6.
— Third, our town was born, with the building of three houses, several businesses, a lumber yard, and a depot, and incorporated on October 14, 1887.
Henderson’s post office was established February 21, 1888. It is interesting to note that the town was incorporated, even before it had a post office.
A school was organized and opened in 1876. In 1922 a high school was established extending the system to include all 12 grades. School consolidation in 1952 and a new school, built in 1954, greatly expanded the community’s educational facilities. Two other additions have been completed since then, making Henderson Public School one of the finest in the state.
After prohibition was repealed, Henderson again became a “dry” town in 1938. Prior to that, taverns and saloons were very prominent. Henderson’s cafes, known far and wide for their ethnic dishes, do a good business.
After the Depression of the ’30s and the loss of the railroad in 1942, it was said that our town would die. However, due to the character and strong Christian attitude of its people, the leadership of the community, and the rich top soil with an abundance of underground water, Henderson did not die, but began to grow again. Downtown businesses, industries, and manufacturing became stronger and more active.
Much of the local economy remains agriculturally based, with corn the chief crop. Population figures show 485 residents were living in Henderson in 1920, with 536 by 1950. Today’s population stands at 999.
The first community hospital was built in 1949. In 1974 it was replaced by a newer, more modern hospital, built by donations from the community. In 2002, a new clinic was built, and a Wellness Center added. Independent living and assisted living units are located near the hospital/nursing home campus. In addition to our hospital and school, other community assets include: three Mennonite churches, Midtown Manor for low income families built in 1966.
Public facilities have also kept pace. An ambulance district was created in 1976 with 17 EMT’s, and a new fire barn was built in 1980. A new sewer system was installed in 1977, and a 200,000-gallon water tower added in 1980. Henderson is governed by a mayor-council form of government, with a city clerk functioning in the capacity of administrator. Henderson Township was incorporated October 14, 1887.
While we owe much to those who settled this land and started our town, we continue to look forward. The future is the target of Henderson today.
By William Bamesberger, 705 Highland Rd., Henderson, NE 68371
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Impressions of Henderson, Nebraska , 1973; Henderson Mennonites, From Holland to Henderson, 1974; and a story in the York County History, published recently. Pictures courtesy of Deana Schmidt.