Editor’s note: This story of Blue Vale was written by Mrs. Charles R. Bucy (Blanche Gilmore) whose grandfather Elias Gilmore was one of York County’s earliest settlers.
Blue Valley, later changed to Blue Vale, would not truly come under the title of ghost towns in York County, for it never laid claim to being called a town, but rather a very early community, whose borders east and west ran several miles up and down the wooded banks of the West Blue River and extended many miles north and south on either side of the river. But, no doubt, even though not an incorporated town, perhaps more people lived in the space of distance of one and one-half miles in Blue Vale proper, than in any other rural community at that time, and that same length of country road still boasts of eight farm houses, a church, and one vacant house. The population of these eight farm houses numbers 25 at this time. (It is not known when Mrs. Bucy wrote this).
The first settlers to arrive in this community were my grandfather, Elias Gilmore, his eldest son, Jacob Rush Gilmore, and William H. Taylor, who reached here in the month of December of 1865. They ate their first Christmas dinner on section six on the north side of the river at what is now the entrance to the York Knights of Pythias Lodge Camp, which was established in July, 1909.
The Gilmores and Mr. Taylor came from Livingstone County, Illinois, traveling overland with team and wagon. They expected to reach this section of Nebraska much earlier, but were delayed at Sidney, Iowa, for some weeks waiting for the ice on the Missouri River to freeze sufficiently hard for them to cross it.
Upon journeying west of what is now Lincoln, in Lancaster County, they reached the John Fouse ranch in Seward County. From there they followed a dim wagon track westward, finding the John Anderson family located near the eastern border of what was to be York County, and to be exact, about two miles west of the west line of Seward County. From the Anderson homestead, they came about four miles further west, up the river, and there they stopped. They spent the few remaining days of 1865 choosing and locating their land, and returned to Nebraska City, where on January, 2, 1866, filed on their homesteads. After filing, they returned to their homesteads and began improving them.
The newcomers spent the winter in a small dug-out, dug back in a high bank near the river. Their close neighbors were the (Native Americans) of several different tribes who had their camps in various places up and down the river.
This first winter provided to be very fine until about the 14th of February, when a regular blizzard came, the snow completely covered the dug-out house and the dug-out stab le that they had made for their horses.
After a time, Grandfather Gilmore returned to Illinois, having been transported back to Nebraska City by his son, J.R. He remained in Illinois during that farming season. After returning there, he shipped meat and flour and such farming implements as were needed in the new country, to Nebraska City, and there J. R. and Mr. Taylor picked them up and brought them to their homesteads.
Mr. Taylor’s homestead was located one mile west of the Gilmores’ in section eight, also on the river. These river locations were chosen because of the fuel that the timber produced, the timber being very heavy along the river.
In April of that spring, J.R. drove to Nebraska City to meet his wife, Catherin Barrows Gilmore, and their little daughter, Ella, who had been born in in Livingston County, Ill., while Mr. Gilmore was serving in the Civil War. He served from April 18, 1861, until April 19, 1865, when he received his discharge at North Carolina on account of his wounds. He was with General Sherman’s army on his march from Atlanta to the sea and served in 12 other battles and skirmishes, having received his most serious wound in the charge at Fort Hill in the battle of Kenesaw Mountain.
The family life of the J.R. Gilmores was taken up in the dug-out and on June 3, 1886, a tiny baby girl, Lillie May, was born to them with Mrs. John Anderson acting in the capacity of physician and nurse at the stork’s first visit in this new country.
As soon as arraignments could be made, J.R. began building a log house on his 160-acre homestead in section seven, range one west. The writer cannot say how soon the log house was finished so that the family could move in, but on Nov. 3 of that fall, 1866, Elias Gilmore returned with his family from Illinois, driving overland with teams hitched to covered wagons and herding along behind the wagons 14 head of cattle. Grandmother, knowing the value of eggs in the family menu, also brought several dozen chickens in box-like crates, and this was the beginning of the livestock industry in this section of York County.
The dug-out was made bigger as necessity demanded and was occupied by grandfather’s family until late in 1869 or 1870.
J.R. made trips to Nebraska City whenever necessary, bringing back supplies of all kinds. Being a good neighbor, when other newcomers ran out of the necessities of daily living, they would go to his home and buy or bargain for what he could spare and this was the beginning of the mercantile business in Blue Vale with J.R. being the first merchant.
The nearest post office for these Illinois folks in Nebraska was at Camden, 25 miles to the southeast in Saline County, and to be sure, they did not get there nor did their neighbors. But the new country was progressing and late in 1867, my father, the late Sebastian “Boss” Gilmore began carrying the mail by pony from Lincoln west. This change in the post office system came about when the capital was moved to Lincoln from Omaha in the summer of 1867 and they received permission to establish a post office on the Blue River. His route took in the post offices of Milford, Camden, West Mills, Beaver Crossing, Blue Valley and McFadden. This was a part of the old Star Route mail system. McFadden post office was located in the Fernando McFadden home, with Mr. McFadden as postmaster, on the homestead north of what is now McCool Junction. This was officially the first post office in York County.
The summer of 1869 was a very wet season and the dirt roof of grandfather’s dug-out failed to keep out the rain, so a new house seemed absolutely necessary. They had raised an abundant crop of both barley and buckwheat that season. The buckwheat was first hauled to the Camden Mills and ground into flour, then reloaded and hauled on by wagon to Nebraska City and sold for $11 per hundred.
The barley was hauled directly to Nebraska City and bought $1.75 per bushel on the market. The grain wagons were then loaded with lumber for the new house, which proved to be the first frame house built in York County.
Native trees of ash and cottonwood were hewn down and hauled to Milford to a sawmill and there made into rough lumber for the framework of the structure.
If the old house could talk it could tell many tales of pioneer days.
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