The idea of the town of Aurora originated in Chariton, Iowa, born of an agreement by seven men who were eyeing the possibilities of a new territory in Nebraska.
The members of the company were David Stone, Darius Wilcox, Robert Miller, Nathaniel H. Thorpe, James O. Doremus, Justinian Ray and Stillman P. Lewis.
On April 16, 1871, Nathan Thorpe and Robert Miller arrived in Hamilton County and first sighted the twin cottonwoods, the location of the new town.
David Stone proposed that the new town be named Aurora as a compliment to his wife, who was a native of Aurora, Illinois. A vote was taken on June 19, 1871 and the town of Aurora was established.
Stone also “dug” the first home. The first store was built by Robert Miller on what is now the northeast corner of the downtown square. By fall there was a general store-residence, which was followed by Wilcox’s implement store, and Nat Thorpe’s construction office. By 1872 the post office was moved from Spafford’s Grove. Soon there was a schoolhouse and 18 buildings, including the Aurora House, a hotel known as the “sample rooms”. The town was “a GO!”
The county seat was moved from Orville City to Aurora in 1877 and the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad arrived in 1879. The population, already over 400, increased when the other contenders for the county seat, Orville and Hamilton, succumbed and merged with Aurora.
The second courthouse, completed in 1877, was used for church, social, and political gatherings. A much grander building was completed in 1895. The spired structure of the red limestone still stands on the courthouse square.
The year 1879 was a great one and the most progressive in the town’s history. Telegraph service arrived in October, regular train service in November, and mail delivery in December. E.W. Hastings built a two-story plant for his newspaper, “The Aurora Republican.” Purchased in 1930 by the Hamilton County Register, it became The Republican-Register until 1942 when it merged with the Aurora News, becoming the Aurora News-Register. Banks erected substantial buildings in 1879, 1881, 1903, and 1913. Banking was “a popular business,” with as many as four operating at one time.
H.T. Jensen established a machine shop in 1884 with a patent to manufacture “feed steamers,” and Curry & Grover built a roller mill using “first class modern machinery” for the production of flour. In 1886, F.W. Wilson built a foundry, and a brickyard started in 1904. Production rose to five million bricks per year, but a financial bust in 1921 left great piles on hand and operation ceased.
Aurora was well-supplied with rail facilities. In addition to the Lincoln-Billings mainline, the town served as a terminal for branch lines southwest to Hastings and northwest to Burwell, Sargent, and Ericson. An engine house to service steam locomotives was located here, and a substantial brick depot was built in 1912.
The first church was organized in 1872. Spiritual growth and development have played an important role in the community. Today local churches represent nearly every major denomination.
Aurora, population 1,175 by 1885, had wide streets, miles of good sidewalks, and trees on the courthouse square.
From Nebraska Our Towns: Central Southeast - article by Gwen Allen 1987
Edits and updates by the Plainsman Museum 2018, to reflect our mission.
OUR MISSION: The Plainsman Museum is a not-for-profit institution, which focuses on the time from 1860-1950, that collects, preserves, illustrates, and works to establish the History of Hamilton County, Nebraska, through education, exhibits, research, and maintenance of relevant archives and collections.