Arago, a town of 1,500 persons in its heyday!!

 Arago, which has since returned to farmland, was located in Richardson County, NE.

The following article is from the Falls City Journal - January 19, 2001

(This article in part is from the words written by Gust Duerfeldt Sr., as published in a June 4, 1909 newspaper)

This Page added 06-08-01 Modified 04-20-03

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It was 1857, James Buchanan was President and we enjoyed free trade with other countries, which closed large factories and shops.  It hit hard, particularly in Buffalo, N.Y. Hundreds of good workmen were walking the streets hunting for work for 50 cents per day without board.  There was no strike for higher wages or less hours, money was scarce.

Louis Allegewahr, Jacob Wirtner, George Seyfang, Mike Soloman, Henry Sommerland and Gust C. Duerfeldt Sr., with about 100 men, were employed at the largest and finest furniture establishment of Cutler & DeForest in Buffalo N.Y., and they were expecting most any time to join the street parade concluded to organize a German colonization society for the purpose of buying land on a western river for a new home.

A meeting was called at the Lorenc Gilling's hall at Genesee Street in Buffalo to organize for said purpose.  After the third call in July 1857, about 25 men came.  A company was organized, and officers pro tem were elected: Louis Allegewahr, president; G. T. Nessler, vice president; Henry Sommerland, secretary, and Gust C. Duerfeldt Sr., treasurer.  There also was a committee elected to draw a constitution and by-laws.  After one week there were over 100 members.  No change of officers was made.  The company sold the shares for $15 each and promised three building lots or a garden lot of one acre near the new town.  Three trustees were elected: Jacob Beyer, George Hollerith and Jacob Shaw.  In September 1857, a convention was called to elect a land commission of three to buy land for the company.  Louis Allegewahr, Dr. Dellenbough from Buffalo and a farmer from Cheektowage Town were elected.  The commission went some 100 miles along the lower Mississippi River and came home without buying any land.  They were badly used up by the mosquitoes, which were plentiful and very large, not singing high C like home, but like a humble bee.  In early March 1858, another convention was called to elect a new land commission.  Louis Allegewahr, Dr. Dellenbough of Buffalo and William Krebs from Chicago, Ill., were chosen; also a levy of $5 on each share was voted.  At this convention the name for the new city was voted on.  A French traveler and explorer was agreed upon and the town of Arago was named for Dominique Francois Arago.  The commission went along the Missouri River up to Nebraska territory and bought the Stephen Story, Heaston Nucolls, Fred Nucolls and Mr. Hoak's land.  There were 1,600 acres in the St. Stephen Precinct with a sawmill near the river, a few small houses, six yoke of oxen and log wagons for $14,000 for one year with 10 percent interest.  They hired a surveyor, Cornelius Schubert, who laid out the town of Arago.  The first-class lots were 80x100 feet, nearly all in the beautiful bottom as level as a floor, covered with large walnut, oak, elm and basswood trees, about one-half mile wide.  The second-class lots, 50x100 feet in the bluffs and the third-class, 50xl50 feet and garden lots on the prairie.

The first 12 settlers from Buffalo, N. Y., Louis Allegewahr, George Seyfang, Mike Solomon, C. F. Walther, Henry Sommerland, Louis Kleber, Henry Sacht, Fred Nitche, August Dorste, William Ziemendorf, Conrad Klingelhoefer and Bernard Klingelhoefer, landed at Arago on the 4th of July, 1858.  They hoisted the U.S. Banner on a tree.  They built a warehouse, a dock for boat landing, cut down the high hill to open a road westward and built houses for themselves.

Nearly all the houses were built of native wood finished later with pine weatherboards and pine lumber inside.  Plenty of large rocks and sand were found near St. Stephen.  Brick was made by F. Smile in the town; other building materials came by steamboat from Brownville.  Many settlers from Buffalo followed in 1858 and 1859 to Arago. At one time, six families were living in the warehouse.  The first settlers came by the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad to St. Joseph, Mo., and from there to Arago.  On June 15,1859, in Buffalo, N.Y., a convention was called to elect an agent to go to Arago to pay the balance for the land.  It also voted a levy of $5 on each share. Gust C. Duerfeldt Sr., being elected agent, landed at Arago June 23, 1859, went on horseback the next day to Salem, the county seat (at the time) of Richardson County.

I found to my surprise that our mortgage of $14,000.00 was not on record.  Mr. Story stated, that Mr. Wm. Mann asked him $1 for recording, which was too much.  We sold the timberland for $6.00 per acre and the prairie land for $5.00 per acre.  Many of the 500 shareholders came to Arago, built houses and started business with the sawmill.  A flourmill was started; Mike Gehling and H. Sommerland had built a brewery.  Nemijeck, from Nemaha County, built a whiskey distillery.  There were five large general stores, one farm implement, three blacksmiths, four saloons, wagons and copper shop, one Doctor and one watchmaker.  Allegewahr was shipping all kinds of grain, wool, etc.  He later sold the business to Peter Frederick Sr.  Also, there was hog packing business, from a few hogs up to 10,000 a season.  As Arago was the only hog market in the County, it took the farmers from Spicer precinct nearly three days to drive their hogs to Arago.

Among the buildings at Arago was a fine Evangelical Lutheran Church 20x60.  The Catholic Church a large two-story schoolhouse, which taught both English and German, a newspaper published one-half in German and one- half in English.  There was a large dance hall with a stage, two large hotels, a chair factory owned by P. B. Miller and B. Solomon, a brickyard owned by Mr. Smile. Arago had a brass band of 20 pieces, also a string band and a German singing society.  On application, Governor Saunders gave the town thirty-five new muskets, which Colonel J. D. Fremont bought in Germany.  These muskets were for protection against the Indians.

Mr. Rosellus in Missouri furnished the first settlers with provisions. (We owed him in 1859 over $800.00)  Flour was from $3.00 to $4.00 per barrel, live hogs from $2.00 to $3.00, beef from $1.75 to $2.00 per hundred pounds, corn from 20 to 25 cents, potatoes 25 to 30 cents per bushel, butter 10 cents, coffee 15 cents, sugar 10 cents per pound. Eggs 5 cents a dozen. Corn, rye, wheat, barley and potatoes were sent in two-bushel sacks, oats in four-bushel sacks.  Pork and all other kinds of provisions were sent by steamboats.  At times there would be four or five steamboats docked at the same time.

Arago was the first town in the County to be incorporated as a city, requiring a special act of the Territorial Legislature to accomplish the fact.  The date was January 10, 1860 located in Section 11, Township 2, Range 18, Richardson County, NE.  The city limits took in 240 acres plus some fraction of sections.

There was no bank at Arago.  Buffalo, N.Y. banks paid 4 per-cent interest on deposits and interest was 10 per-cent on borrowed money.  Gust Duerfeldt Sr. further states, "by agreement we were sent drafts payable, at the First National Bank of New York.  As fast as we received the money, (the balance of $6,300.00) I paid $1,000.00 in gold, and the rest in currency.  To the first settlers we sent them money, for improvements, by express to St. Joe, Mo.  From there the Arago Treasurer, H. Sacht, had to get the same."  Later, L. Allegewahr and Peter Frederick Sr., furnished money to farmers and citizens.  The sawmill was donated to a man from Brownville, to erect a flourmill in Arago.  He became the owner of and operated both the sawmill and the flourmill. 

Dr. C. T. Burchard wrote that on a trip with his father, at the age of eight years, they traveled from the east to the west, tarried 5-years in Detroit and then returned by steamboat to Arago in Richardson County.  There being no vacant house in Arago, their baggage was hauled by Frederick Lutz to the hostelry or tavern of Nicholas Lippold.  Through the kindness of Gust Duerfeldt, he put them up at his farmhouse seven miles into the country.  They stayed for six weeks. Mr. Duerfeldt was the cabinet and coffin maker for the immediate vicinity.  It was during these six weeks that I witnessed the making of a coffin for a child from the planning of the rough walnut boards to the finished lining of the burial case.  I also attended the funeral and was shocked to see an ordinary, mud covered farm wagon serve as an improvised hearse.  In 1867 the epidemic of Asiatic cholera made its appearance in Arago and the County.  Many deaths occurred from the disease.  The John Smick family died in quick succession, first a child, then a second child, Mrs. Smick and then John Smick.  An autopsy was decided upon but the deaths were so close together that an analysis was never made. 

Arago was growing fast and all business flourishing, some dreaming to get ahead of Chicago, at least the county seat.  The population was at 1500, and was then the metropolis of Richardson County.  As soon as the; St. Joseph & Council Bluffs railroad on the east side of the Missouri River was built and the company bought the steamboats for ferries, all business on the Missouri River was to an end, all the cities and towns along the river went down with Arago. Some of the businessmen went to Falls City to follow their former occupation as: Mike Gehling, F. Stock, Otto Wirth, Mr. Lange, Mr. Netfleback, Henry Ruegge, Dr. Burchard and August Neitzel.  A few went back to Buffalo, Louis Allegewahr, Geo. Seyfang, Mike Solomon, Louis Kleber and Anton Hipchen.  Some went in all different directions and most of the citizens became farmers.

The Atchison and Nebraska railroad being completed in Falls City in 1871, took a large part of the trade from Arago, which up to that time was the only real good market in the County.  Here the farmer could sell almost anything he raised.  Nowhere else did they pretend to slaughter hogs on a large scale.  In 15 years this business got to be a big thing and brought a lot of trade to town.  As fast as the railroad cut off the business from Arago, the river took the whole bottom clear to the bluffs, nearly all the first class lots were washed to St. Louis.  The distillery, the brewery, the flour and sawmill, stores and other fine buildings went up in smoke, some houses were moved to farms and to Falls City.  So, Arago went down faster than it was built up.  In 1909, only two of the old settlers were left living there, Mrs. Christ Strecker and Mr. Bajie Saal. 

L. Allegewahr was the first mayor of Arago and C. F. Walther was the last.  The Post Office of Arago was discontinued Dec. 4, 1903 and moved three miles west.  The name Arago clung to it while the older village was caused to be officially known as Fargo, but to some it will always be "old Arago."

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