The decades-long shift from rural to urban living has left the map of Nebraska dotted with abandoned town sites. A county-by-county listing of the state’s place names and their origins, including those of many ghost towns, is found in Perkey’s Nebraska Place Names, by Elton A. Perkey, first published by the Nebraska State Historical Society in 1982, and now in its fourth edition. It’s available from the NSHS Landmark Stores.
A former postal employee, Perkey combed post office records for obscure place names long vanished from the map and consulted library and archival sources at the NSHS. He defined a ghost town as “a village now faded from the map due to economic factors.” They vanished, he said, for a variety of reasons: “(1) failure to gain the county seat; (2) poor economic base; (3) lack of railroad; (4) inability to handle indebtedness; (5) fraudulent establishment designed to dupe the gullible; (6) Missouri River floods or abandonment of river trade due to railroad competition.”
One of the best known of Nebraska’s ghost towns, Rock Bluffs (later Rock Bluff City or Rock Bluff), was founded in Cass County in 1856 and during territorial days was a thriving river town. Perhaps the most notable incident in the town’s history was that involving a ballot box that “went to dinner.” During the referendum of 1866 Nebraska voters were deciding whether the territory should become a state, and if statehood was achieved, whether the first officers would be Republicans or Democrats.
The political parties were almost evenly divided in Nebraska Territory, and the election was close. In the precinct of Rock Bluff 107 votes were cast for the Democrats, enough to put Cass County in the Democratic column. However, the county canvassers decided that because the ballot box had been taken to the home of one of the election officials over the noon hour, when the polls were declared closed, all Rock Bluff precinct votes would be thrown out. The result was that Cass County went Republican, and its representatives furnished the edge in the legislature that enabled the Republican legislators to elect Nebraska’s first two United States senators.
Because of this celebrated incident, Rock Bluff achieved a permanent place in Nebraska’s political history. However, when the Burlington Railroad built through nearby Plattsmouth, the Cass County seat, Rock Bluff went into a serious decline. Today it is a ghost town. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications