Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


In 1859 a group of settlers gathered in southeastern Nebraska Territory on the banks of Salt Creek and founded the hamlet of Lancaster. They had aspirations that Lancaster would grow into a manufacturing center based on local salt deposits, aspirations that came to nothing. But by 1866 the hamlet was named the county seat, and a year later, when Nebraska attained statehood, the site was formally selected as the capital and renamed in honor of President Abraham Lincoln. The settlement was incorporated in 1869.

The city grew rapidly, attracting one railroad by 1870 and seven by 1900. In addition to its governmental function, Lincoln became home to meatpacking, agricultural-processing, and printing industries and the first of many insurance companies by the 1880s. Diversity was recognized early on by the Nebraska legislature's donation of a site for the African American congregation of the Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in 1873. The city's population grew rapidly to 55,000 in 1890, then declined during the depression of the 1890s. Recovery was slow at first, but Lincoln's population then increased during every decade of the twentieth century, reflecting the diversified economic base, which furnished jobs, and the attractive living environment. By 2000 the city's population had reached 209,192, having grown at an annual rate of 1.6 percent over the previous three decades.

As the seat of state, city, and county governments, Lincoln remains a major administrative city. It has a mayor-council form of local government and the option of home rule under the Nebraska constitution, which authorizes the city to operate under its own charter. The University of Nebraska, established in 1869, Nebraska Wesleyan University, and Union College give the city its identity as a university town. A mix of manufacturing, transportation, trade, commerce, insurance, health, and other service industries characterize the contemporary diversified economy of the city.

The premier work of architecture in the city is the Nebraska State Capitol, designed by architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. The First Plymouth Congregational Church, the old university library (Architectural Hall), and the William Jennings Bryan House are also noteworthy and among several buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Distinguished architects Phillip Johnson and I. M. Pei designed the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden and the National Bank of Commerce, respectively. Another local point of interest, Pioneers Park, designed by landscape architect Ernst H. Herminghaus (who also laid out the state capitol grounds), lies at the fringe of the city.

Prominent historical residents of Lincoln include John J. Pershing, commander of American forces in Europe during World War I; William Jennings Bryan, orator, U.S. congressman, and three-time Democratic Party presidential candidate; Charles Dawes, vice president under Calvin Coolidge in 1924; Willa Cather, Nebraskan author and 1895 graduate of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln; George Beadle, Nobel Prize–winning biologist; and Roscoe Pound, legal scholar, dean of the University of Nebraska Law College, and dean of Harvard Law School.

Gilded Age Plains City website.

See also ARCHITECTURE: Herminghaus, Ernst; Nebraska State Capitol / LITERARY TRADITIONS: Cather, Willa / POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT: Bryan, William Jennings / WAR: Pershing, John J.

N. Brito Mutunayagam Abigail Posie Davis University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Clerk of the Legislature, ed. Nebraska Blue Book 1998. 1999. Lincoln NE: Unicameral Information Office, 1999.

Copple, Neal. Tower on the Plains: Lincoln's Centennial History, 1859-1959. Lincoln NE: Lincoln Centennial Commission Publishers, 1959.

McKee, James L. Lincoln, the Prairie Capital: An Illustrated History. Woodland Hills CA: Windsor Publications, 1984.

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