The Sweet Spring Still Flows

February 2003 Feature Story

“The Sweet Spring Still Flows”

(Reprinted from the Omaha World Herald, Magazine of the Midlands, Sept. 15, 1974) photos and story by Harold CowanOne Hundred Years of Heims…
The sweet spring still flows it’s crystal waters after all these years – and what a benediction it must have been that day in 1874!
As he stooped to drink, young Jacob G. Heim must have felt in his bones that it would be an everlasting source. It was to be a summer of drought in ’74, you know, and in the new raw land water was everything.
The ninth son Benjamin, they’d left under the sod in Pennsylvania and two more, Solomon and Mary, were to die that fall of ’74 of diphtheria and be buried in the little cemetery down the road. During the next dozen years, other individuals and families from Pennsylvania, all of them related to each other, moved into the vicinity and came to be known as the Pennsylvania Colony of Nebraska.

And now, one hundred years later, old Jacob himself and Regina, as well as many of their progeny and others among the Pennsylvanians, lie buried in what is called the “Heim Cemetery.”

Old Jacob died in 1914, Regina six years later, and it was in that year, 1920, that the “colony” met for a family picnic and reunion that was to be the first of such events held each year since that time. The 1974 reunion marked the centennial of the arrival of Jacob, Regina, et al. The day’s registry listed 265 souls from 17 states, plus Manitoba, Canada, including 14 from Pennsylvania, 11 from Montana, others from Michigan, Maryland, Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon, California, New York, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.
They came to the very spot where Jacob had cast his family’s lot, hard by the sweet spring, and picnicked under the towering trees on the slope fronting the house he built there. It was Sunday, bright and pleasant, save for the aridity, itself a centennial reminder of the drought young Jacob knew. The summer of 1974 knew drought, too. The sear native grass crumbled underfoot.

Arthur and Lucile Heim live there now; having added somewhat to the 10-room frame house Jacob built, and harnessed the spring for their daily needs. But the place retains much of its original character, including the stonewalls of the basement where the original family first lived. Arthur, is the son of Jonathan, who in 1883 married Louisa Shafer. This couple raised a family of six children. After Jacob and Regina moved to a house in nearby Dawson in about 1910, Jonathan’s family remained on the home place. Jonathan died in 1934, Louisa in 1937.
Arthur still farms the original cropland and honoring his forebears, keeps the house, barns, sheds and grounds clean and spiffy. Inside a freshly painted red barn are old wooden plows his grandfather wrestled. Bunches of onions hang in a shed to dry. Racks of sawn wood are neatly stacked. An old dinner bell has new paint.
The spring’s overflow is piped into a ditch at the foot of the slope. Cups hang there for the thirsty. The water is cold.

The centennial reunion, as all reunions, was mostly for visiting, reminiscing, identifying individuals as belonging to this or that family, and heavy eating. This was the largest of all the family affairs, other reunions at other locations in the vicinity in past years having averaged about 125 persons.

The kids were fascinated by an old player piano, brought over by Bob Williamson of nearby Humboldt, and pumped out “It’s Three O’clock in the Morning” and kindred tunes throughout the afternoon.
With much coaxing, master of ceremonies Ron Heim of Dawson, Arthur’s cousin, finally got the satiated diners lined up in front of the house for a group photograph.

The business meeting followed. Families were asked to identify themselves. The secretary read the ‘statistics” – the families’ record of births, marriages and deaths during the past year. It was determined that the oldest person on hand was 89, the youngest 23 days. Frances Heim Whited, a Dawson native, came the longest distance – 2000 miles from Newport, Oregon, where she is a high school teacher.

The Pennsylvania group presented a painting of the old meetinghouse at Blooming, Grove, Pa. It was in Lycoming County, Pa., that Jacob G Heim, third child of Gottlieb and Margaret Staiger Heim, was born June 15, 1832. His parents had come from Germany in 1804, Gottleib to avoid conscription into foreign military service.

Not much is known of young Jacob’s childhood, but when he was 8 he helped his father build a log cabin on a new land near Loyalsock Creek, Pa. They were the first family to move away from the original settlement of Blooming Grove when land there was all taken. In 1840, the family moved to a new home seven miles away.

Jacob and Regina Gross were married in 1856 and lived with his parents a year until he could build a house of their own about 60 rods up stream. Here, their first nine children were born. As the children grew, Jacob knew there was not enough land in the vicinity for them to have farms of their own and it worried him. In 1870, one David Vetter returned home, Jacob came with him to Nebraska to see for himself and fell in love with the land.

Returning east, he wanted to sell out and move west immediately, but it was four years before he could do so. Finally, in early 1874, the family, including Jacob’s parents came west by train to Atchison, Kansas, thence to Rulo, Nebraska where Jacob rented a house. He bought a team and wagon in Falls City and set out with Vetter to find land to buy.
A mile north of Dawson, they came on an 80-acre farm for sale by Thomas Fenton. The house was small and poorly built, but there was that spring and it caught Jacob’s eye. A deal was made. He began building the 10-room house in August and the family moved into the basement.
The drought limited the first corn crop to half a wagon box of nubbins, but the first wheat crop was good. The family grew up with the years and so…

Joseph married Rosa Heim; Sarah married Emanuel Ulmer; Samuel married Elizabeth Heim; Jonathan married Louisa Shafer; Rebecca married Jacob S. Heim; Sophia married Martin D. Ulmer; Maggie (born in Nebraska) married Thomas Wuster….etc…etc…etc.

Which brings us down to the centennial reunion and 265 persons posing for a photograph. No. 264. One lad about 7 who said his name is Kent Knudson – how’d a Knudtson get in there? – was down on his all fours at the bottom of the slope at the time drinking from old Jacob’s spring.