Early Roads were Trails

Early Roads were Trails!
Compiled by Bob Williamson  
Roads and how they came about is an interesting bit of history in southeast Nebraska.  The Baseline between Kansas and Nebraska was surveyed in 1856 on the Fortieth Parallel, north Latitude, straight through to the western end of both States, beginning at the southeast corner of Nebraska.  From that line Section lines were measured, one mile square, each containing 640 acres more of less.  Roads were usually on section lines, sometimes this was not possible and a half section line was more practical.

   When people first began coming into the Territory of Nebraska and prempting land, all was a vast “sea” of prairie grass waving to the wind, “undulating” in the wind would be a better description.  Very few rivers or creeks needed bridges.  They were usually forded at a shallow place and low banks, The Nemaha River did not have the high, steep banks that it has now.  Most towns were along the Missouri River since steamboats were the mode of travel any distance. So inland dwellers just took off across the prairie in as near a straight line as they could determine and by usage a Trail was made for others to use.  As the population grew so did the trails that led to the main Trails. But there came a time when the practice interfered with the farming of the land and the roads had to be made that would not cross the farming land of the pioneers.  Some farms still show where the wagons tracks had made a trail across a piece of still unbroken prairie and owners are proud to have such evidence of the old days.

   When the town of Dawson was laid out and Ridge St. was on the half section line, there being no section line in the town, no road led into town from the north.  People coming from the north drove across the open prairie on one of the three Trails.  From the northwest came the Mullen-Cornelius Trail, from the north the Hill-Smith Trail and from the northeast the Wells, Wilkinson Cunningham Trail.  All met north of what is known today as the Dawson Corner of highway 73-75 and came into town from the north on one Trail.

   In 1875 Jacob G. Heim broke out the south 80 of the farm where Mrs. Viva Heim now lives and sowed it to wheat.  The next June when the wheat was almost ready to harvest Mr. Heim found a man with a wagon and team of mules coming across the field where the Trail had been.  This angered him extremely and he made the man turn around and go back the way he came and go around even though it probably ruined more grain than if he had allowed the man to finish coming through it.

   Mr. Heim thought it was time to stop this going across farmland and with other neighbors petitioned the County Commissioners to open a road on the half section line for two miles north of Dawson.  This petition can be seen at the courthouse in Falls City.
   When the surveyors came to lay out the new road they found a line hedge growing on the half section line for one and a half miles of the distance and not wanting to destroy a man’s fence, Mr. Heim let them put all the road on the west side of the section line, giving all the ground for the road off his own farm land, but at the end of the hedge fence at mid-section there was no hedge growing and thus today there is a jog on the line.  In 1929, the Federal Highway Dept. changed the road into town and came on angle as of today.

(written by Elma Heim Griffith in 1976 for the  Dawson Bicentennial Celebration)