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Nebraska City, Nebraska
Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, 2012
Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, 2012
Location of Nebraska City, Nebraska
Location of Nebraska City, Nebraska
Country United States
State Nebraska
County Otoe
 • Type Mayor-Bryan Bequette Commission
 • Total 4.97 sq mi (12.88 km2)
 • Land 4.97 sq mi (12.88 km2)
 • Water 0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
1,056 ft (322 m)
 • Total 7,289
 • Estimate 
 • Density 1,466.32/sq mi (566.16/km2)
Time zone UTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 402
FIPS code 31-33705
GNIS feature ID 0831570

Nebraska City is a city in, and the county seat of, Otoe County, Nebraska, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 7,289.

The Nebraska State Legislature has credited Nebraska City as being the oldest incorporated city in the state, as it was the first approved by a special act of the Nebraska Territorial Legislature in 1855.

Nebraska City is home of Arbor Day, the Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Center (which focuses on the natural history achievements of the expedition), and the Mayhew Cabin, the only site in the state recognized by the National Park Service as a station on the Underground Railroad.


Early European-American official exploration was reported in 1804 by Lewis and Clark as they journeyed west along the Missouri River. They encountered many of the historic Native American tribes whose ancestors had inhabited the territory for thousands of years.

During the years of early pioneer settlement, in 1846 the US Army built Old Fort Kearny at Nebraska City. Several years later, the army abandoned it to relocate the fort to central Nebraska, now south of present-day Kearney.

Shortly after the post was vacated, John Boulware developed an important river-crossing and ferry service from Iowa to present-day Nebraska City. He and his father expanded their business and in 1852 or 1853 built a ferry house, the first residence in Nebraska City.

In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed legal settlement in the regional area. Three townships were incorporated by settlers including Stephen Nuckolls, one of the fathers of Nebraska City. Nebraska City and Kearney City were incorporated in 1855, and South Nebraska City was incorporated in 1856. During those years, Nebraska City competed fiercely to become the Nebraska Territory capital. On December 31, 1857, these three town sites along with Prairie City joined, incorporating as present-day Nebraska City. Before the American Civil War, Nebraska City was noted as having the Territory's largest population of slaves. Many worked on the riverfront as laborers, involved with moving freight and luggage associated with steamboat traffic.

J. Sterling Morton, ca. 1858

By the mid-19th century, steamboats on the Missouri River were the vitalizing force behind Nebraska City’s growth - bringing commerce, people and freight to the west. In the spring of 1858 Russell, Majors and Waddell started freighting from Nebraska City on a government contract to transport all provisions for all western forts. The supplies were brought up the Missouri River by steamboat and then taken out by wagon train. Nebraska City's favorable position (with a gradual slope from the river to the table land above) and good trail made it an important link to the west.

Since that beginning, the city became established as a regional transportation, economic, and agriculture hub for the three state area. Additional forms of transportation were important, including the steam wagon and the first locomotive engine of the Midland Pacific.

J. Sterling Morton came to Nebraska City in 1855 to edit the Nebraska City News. Originally from Michigan, he and his wife Caroline were lovers of nature. Morton served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Grover Cleveland’s administration and in 1872 he was instrumental in establishing the annual tree planting day, Arbor Day. Governor Robert Furnas of Nebraska issued the first Arbor Day Proclamation on March 31, 1874. The holiday is celebrated around the world.

Nebraska City has its own hospital, St Marys Hospital. As the county seat, it has the courthouse and associated county offices.


Nebraska City is located at 40°40′34″N 95°51′35″W / 40.67611°N 95.85972°W / 40.67611; -95.85972 (40.676247, -95.859659), on the western bank of the Missouri River. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.69 square miles (12.15 km2), all land.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 1,922
1870 6,050 214.8%
1880 4,183 −30.9%
1890 11,941 185.5%
1900 7,380 −38.2%
1910 5,488 −25.6%
1920 6,279 14.4%
1930 7,230 15.1%
1940 7,339 1.5%
1950 6,872 −6.4%
1960 7,252 5.5%
1970 7,441 2.6%
1980 7,127 −4.2%
1990 6,547 −8.1%
2000 7,228 10.4%
2010 7,289 0.8%
2019 (est.) 7,292 0.0%
U.S. Decennial Census
2013 Estimate

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 7,289 people, 2,960 households, and 1,867 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,554.2 inhabitants per square mile (600.1/km2). There were 3,265 housing units at an average density of 696.2 per square mile (268.8/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 91.5% White, 0.4% African American, 0.3% Native American, 0.7% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 5.3% from other races, and 1.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 10.9% of the population.

There were 2,960 households, of which 30.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.1% were married couples living together, 11.6% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.3% had a male householder with no wife present, and 36.9% were non-families. 31.5% of all households were made up of individuals, and 15.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 2.97.

The median age in the city was 40.9 years. 24.4% of residents were under the age of 18; 7.6% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 22% were from 25 to 44; 26.2% were from 45 to 64; and 19.7% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 47.3% male and 52.7% female.


Nebraska City is known as "The Home of Arbor Day". In Nebraska City is Arbor Lodge, home of the first Secretary of Agriculture of the United States, J. Sterling Morton, who promoted the planting of trees on the prairie for shade, fruit, and windbreaks. The National Arbor Day Foundation has its headquarters near his home in Nebraska City.

Each year, the AppleJack Festival in Nebraska City takes place on the third weekend of September. The event has been held for over 40 years. It includes such events as a parade, a classic car show, carnival rides, the AppleJack Fun Run/Walk, a quilt show, and craft shows and events all around the city and surrounding area. In 2011, a turnout of 40–50,000 visitors was expected.


The first high school in Nebraska was established in Nebraska City in 1864.

Nebraska City has a public and a Catholic school system. Nebraska City Public Schools offers K-12 education. The high school has an enrollment of about 445; its athletic teams are the Pioneers. It is a member of the Eastern Midlands Conference. Lourdes Central Catholic Schools also provides K-12 education, with a total enrollment of about 330 in all grades. Its athletic teams are the Knights.

The Nebraska Center for the Education of Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired was founded in 1875 and today serves students across Nebraska and western Iowa.

Notable people

Mayhew Cabin and marker from SE 1
Mayhew Cabin and marker
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