Blair, Nebraska

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Blair is a city in and the county seat of Washington County, Nebraska, United States.[3] The population was 7,512 at the 2000 census. Blair is a part of the Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan Statistical Area.



Blair, county seat and largest city in Washington County, was not one of its earliest towns. It was established when the Sioux City and Pacific Rail Road chose to cross the river at that location, going from Missouri Valley, Iowa, and up along "Carter Hollow" on the Nebraska side. Whether by chance or design, the route missed the existing river towns of DeSoto and Cuming City. An entirely new town was needed.

A 1,075-acre (4.35 km2) tract of land was purchased and platted, with lots to be sold at auction on May 10, 1869. The entire tract was purchased by John I. Blair, an official of the railroad, who announced his plans for the city, which he named for himself.

Front street quickly took shape. Many businesses and several churches were hauled overland from the former town sites to supplement those being built. In a short time there were hardware, implement, and dry goods stores, a hotel, a bank, and a newspaper. A town board was formed in August.

Before the end of the year, the town called for an election to relocate the county seat, which at that time was in Fort Calhoun. Blair won, and a brick courthouse was erected at 19th and Grant.

Construction was also progressing on the rail line. Before a railroad bridge was built across the Missouri, freight cars were pushed onto barges on one side of the river, then pulled off on the other. Since the engines did not cross the river, a roundhouse to service them was built north of town. When the bridge was completed in 1882, that facility was dismantled and servicing was done in Iowa.

Local brickyards turned out 1,500,000 bricks per year to meet the demands of the city's rapid development. In 1884 the community, predominantly Danish, raised $3,000 in matching funds and appropriated several acres of land on which to establish a "folk school." The forerunner of Dana College, Trinity Seminary was housed in a home until the impressive, four-story main building was dedicated in 1886.

By then a city water system was in place, and South Creek, dug out by men with hand shovels, had been straightened to improve the drainage on south side of town. A public high school was constructed before the turn of the century.

Industries that sprang up along the railroad include: a mill which produced Maintop flour and livestock feeds; a foundry manufacturing roller bearings; a laboratory which made patent medicines; a poultry incubator plant employing about 40 men; and a horse collar company which employed up to 125 men, until "horses left the drawbar scene."

A plant, built in 1889 to provide electricity for lights, was not dependable or profitable. In 1914 a new municipal power plant was built and later a city ice plant was added to supply Blair with "safe ice," replacing the system of cutting it from the river.

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