[Floodgap Roadgap presents the Summer of 6]

Floodgap Roadgap's Summer of 6 -- U.S. Highway 6, Part 20: US 6 in Nebraska (Hastings to Lincoln; Clay, Fillmore, Saline, Seward and Lancaster Counties)

Go to: Part 19 | Main US 6 page | Part 21

We continue on US 6 and the old routing of US 38 and the Omaha-Lincoln-Denver and Detroit-Lincoln-Denver Highways to Lincoln, the capital city of Nebraska, which we will look at in more detail in the next Part. More about the OLD and DLD in a moment when we see a surprisingly well preserved remnant in the field; for now, we continue along the historic routing only minimally realigned in the present day.

Clay County, Nebraska

Named for Henry Clay, a Kentucky U.S. Senator and later Secretary of State under John Quincy Adams (and subsequently a Senator again, serving until his death in 1852), the county was first formed in 1855 but not organized until 1871. A small county, its seat of Clay Center has only 723 residents [2017], and the entire jurisdiction just 6,205 [2017]. We will see only a small portion of the county here.

Junction NE 18A SPUR (SPUR S-18A [NHRPLB]), a small feeder route to the town of Harvard about two and a half miles north of the highway.
Advance signage for a brief co-routing with NE 14.
N-14 is an important north-south arterial running from the Kansas state line to South Dakota. Serving Clay Center south of us, it then continues north through Aurora, Central City, Fullerton, Albion and Elgin before crossing the Missouri River and leaving the state. It runs 204 miles.
Distance signage leaving the junction ...
... just before its separation.
Old controlled access highway signage with another right-of-way marker.
Junction NE 18G SPUR (SPUR S-18G [NHRPLB]) to Saronville, barely a mile and change long.
The water tower for the little town of Sutton.
Entering Sutton at Mile 241.
The largest settlement in Clay County, Sutton was named after the town of Sutton in Massachusetts, itself a probable corruption of the Anglo-Saxon for "south town." The town has 1,429 residents [2017].

US 6 presently occupies an eastern bypass alignment. I don't have a map showing this for certain, but the old alignment was probably along Saunders Avenue north and then Ash St east to leave town, though it is unclear when it was bypassed. We will note this purely for reference.

A friendly welcome just past Saunders Avenue and the presumed old alignment as we swoop north on French Avenue.
Gas station and grain silos.
Passing Ash St with advance signage as we leave town.
Fillmore county line.
Fillmore County, Nebraska

Named for President Millard Fillmore, the county was established in 1856 soon after the president left office in 1853, though homesteaders did not arrive until at least a decade later and the county organized in 1871. Its county seat, Geneva, was established in the county's geographic centre on school land then owned by the State of Nebraska, requiring an act of the legislature before it could be sold and occupied. Never heavily populated, the county numbers just 5,582 residents [2017].

Fillmore county is also our first major entrance into the watershed of the Big Blue River, the largest tributary of the Kansas River (and from thence to the Missouri and the mighty Mississippi), flowing 359 miles from its headwaters near Aurora, NE with a maximum discharge of 18,000 cubic feet per second. Its name was given to it by Kansa Indians who lived at its mouth at the Kansas River until around 1830; in their language it was the "Great Blue Earth River" for what was then its clear flowing waters. The watershed is part of the state's large eastern loess plain, periodically slashed by the river and its feeders that leave sometimes extensive wetland areas from silt. We will reach this river soon.

Entering Grafton.
The Burlington and Missouri River Railroad had a habit of naming their towns alphabetically, and when it entered Fillmore county it established three more, which in order were Exeter, Fairmont and, here, Grafton. (The prior town was Dorchester, in Saline county to the east; the next town was Huxley, in Custer county to the west, since abandoned.) Most likely it was named for the town of Grafton, Massachusetts, itself named for Charles Fitzroy, 2nd Duke of Grafton, the illegitimate son of King Charles II of England. The B&MRR eventually became the Burlington and Quincy, and by 1970 had merged into the mighty Burlington Northern Railroad and later today's BNSF. This blurb is probably larger than the village, which was incorporated in 1871 and has just 121 residents [2017].
Passing through the south edge of town.
Distance signage leaving Grafton.
Advance signage for US 81, which despite this diagram isn't actually co-routed.
Junction US 81, on an elevated controlled alignment.
US 81 is the parent of US 281, which we met in the last Part. An original 1926 highway and the inheritor of the old 1911 Meridian Highway along the historical surveyor's Sixth Principal Meridian, at its longest it too went border to border from Laredo, TX to Pembina, ND (today joining I-29 to become MB 75 (PTH) in Manitoba); around 1993 it was truncated to Fort Worth in favour of Interstate 35 and suffixes, where modern US 81 has a useless multiplex with US 287. In Nebraska it is largely expressway with some remaining one-lane-per-direction segments. Despite its southern truncation it still maintains a formidable length, though its more heavily trafficked segments are potentially at risk of being subsumed by future Interstate expansion. The modern alignment is 1,220 miles.
The reason for the "inaccurate" junction diagram is probably to point out that the onramp for NB US 81 is here.
Entering Fairmont.
Fairmont is the second of the B&MRR towns in Fillmore county, given its name for its relatively lofty elevation at about 1,640'. Like most of the region it is a farm town, with some ethanol production as well from the cornfields. The modern village was established in 1871 and has 531 residents [2017].
Grain silos and a formal welcome sign.
Mile 257.
Distance signage leaving town.
Crossing the Indian Creek, one of the minor tributaries of the Big Blue.
Entering Exeter.
Exeter is the third of the B&MRR towns, named for one of the early settlers' hometown of Exeter, NH, itself named for the city in Devon, England, itself named for its location on the River Exe (itself a corruption of Common Brittonic *iska, "water" or possibly "an abundance of fish"). At least one homesteading claim existed as early as 1870 based on a prediction about the railroad's course, which proved correct in 1871, and the town was incorporated in 1879. The modern village has 533 residents [2017].
Through the main street.
Distance signage leaving town.
Saline county line.
Saline County, Nebraska

Saline county got its name from the mistaken belief by early pioneers that great springs and deposits of salt could be found in the area. With the possible exception of induced alkali flats from overirrigation, this of course proved to be false, but the name stuck and was applied to the county thus created in 1855 and organized in 1867. Typical of the time, the choice of county seat was rancorous and prolonged, moving from its original location of Swan City (near modern DeWitt) to Pleasant Hill in 1871 and then to the present-day seat of Wilber in 1877. The 1877 election required two run-offs before Wilber prevailed by 230 votes; incensed, the residents of Pleasant Hill refused to relinquish the county records and a 300-man posse had to take them by force in 1878. The modern county has 14,441 residents [2017].

Junction NE 76A SPUR (SPUR S-76A [NHRPLB]), serving the town of Cordova to the north.
Shortly afterwards, advance signage for a link highway actually numbered for the highway it links to, for a change: NE 80E LINK (LINK L-80E [NHRPLB]).
This 12-mile link highway runs between this point and Interstate 80 in Beaver Crossing. We'll reach I-80 soon enough in the next Part. There is also an L-80F, L-80G and L-80H (we'll reach it in this part), all serving the Interstate.
Entering Friend.
Friend's charming name came from its (presumably) charming original homesteader, Charles E. Friend, who first called the community Friendville and ran the local dry goods store and post office. By the time the railroad arrived the name was well established and the B&MRR couldn't completely discard it, but they did assert themselves over its length and trimmed it to "Friend" when passing through in 1873. Small is a theme in Friend: during the days of the OLD/DLD the Friend Police Department was housed in a tool shed, only marginally expanding for a member of the Nebraska State Patrol in the 1960s, and this "larger" police station is reportedly still in use. The city has 984 residents [2017].
Junction LINK L-80E north.
The little white shed to the left in this image is the police station, with its single patrol car parked next to it.
Through Friend.
Distance signage and dead animal leaving town.
Starting a 12-mile co-routing with NE 15.

US 6/NE 15

N-15 is another important north-south arterial in Nebraska running from the Kansas state line to the South Dakota state line for 210 miles, serving (amongst other localities) Seward and Wayne.

Advance signage for our junction with NE 33, on a somewhat confusing sign that looks like NE 15 exits with it.
A minor local highway, from its terminus here N-33 serves Dorchester and Crete, the next two alphabetically named towns on the B&MRR. It then enters Lancaster county and terminates at an interchange near Roca with US 77 and SPUR S-55F after 26 miles.
However, the signage at the gore point makes it clearer.
EB US 6/NB NE 15 at Mile 279 (US 6).
Advance signage for 76E LINK (LINK L-76E [NHRPLB]).
L-76E connects with N-33 in Dorchester, and serves as a cutoff for westbound traffic. It is less than a mile long.
Separation, but signed as "TO NE 33," being its actual purpose.
Seward county line.
Seward County, Nebraska

Seward county was established in 1855 by the legislature as Greene county, named for one General Greene of Missouri. In 1862, with the beginning of the Civil War, the name became highly inappropriate with Missouri's secession with the other Confederate states; the legislature instead selected William H. Seward, the Secretary of State, as its new namesake. This was a solid and expedient choice, as Seward's tenure as Governor in New York advanced rights for blacks and protected abolitionists, and his committed attempts to preserve the Union were rewarded in spirit if not in history. By confounding attempts by the United Kingdom and France to interfere in the Civil War he almost certainly prevented the Confederacy from maintaining itself with foreign assistance and probably shortened the War by years; for this he was a target in the 1865 plot that assassinated President Lincoln, and was himself wounded by co-conspirator Lewis Powell. He survived to oversee the purchase of Alaska in 1867 ("Seward's Folly") and remained in office after Lincoln's death, but his support of President Andrew Johnson during his impeachment cost him the support of later President Ulysses S. Grant and he retired in 1869 to subsequently pass away in 1872. In 1867 the county was formally organized; the county seat of Seward is named for him as well. The modern county has 17,161 residents [2017].

EB US 6/NB NE 15 (but NE 15 got top billing this time).
Signage for a "county road" (in this case SewardCo 294). The reason is to avoid a left-turn backup on the main highway.
Split, with a shoo-fly and cross-over (at Mile 289).
Advance signage for the end of our co-routing with NE 15, signed also as "TO I-80" (about a mile north of us).

US 6

Entering Milford.
Milford was named for J. L. Davison's 1864 settlement and mill on a ford of the Big Blue, which he moved from Weeping Water Falls (thus "mill ford"); the site of his log house later became the local hospital. The city was incorporated in 1866 and has 2,080 residents [2017].
Passing by the local high school.
Curving around through town.
Some of the houses in the residential district on the east side.
US 6 then pulls a 90-degree left turn and starts traveling due north.
Crossing the Big Blue River, at last, presumably near Davison's old mill.
However, today the river looked more like the Big Brown.
Leaving town.
Unsigned (at the time) NE 80H LINK (LINK L-80H [NHRPLB]), which connects to I-80 just about two thirds of a mile north of us. We hang a right to travel east again ...
... but now co-signed as ALT I-80.
Distance signage.
Through the rolling fields.
Advance signage for NE 103, with its northern leg signed as "TO I-80."
N-103 runs 58 miles from N-8 near Diller through DeWitt, Wilber and Crete. This is almost its northern terminus, and the sign encourages this interpretation, but the designation continues about a half mile further north to the Interstate.
Distance signage at the junction, including that it goes to I-80.
Separation (and don't forget: it goes to I-80).
Continuing as ALT I-80/EB US 6.
Lancaster county line.
Lancaster County, Nebraska

Lancaster county is Nebraska's second-most-populous county at 314,358 [2017], with its county seat the same as the state's capital, Lincoln (Part 21). Established in 1855, it was named after the town and county of Lancaster, PA, itself named for Lancaster, England, derived from Loncastre (from the River Lune and the old English cæster, for fort). Between it and Omaha's Douglas county, almost a third of Nebraska's population lives in this region.

The History of the Detroit-Lincoln-Denver Highway

In the county line photograph, a little white sign is shown at a 90-degree angle; here is that sign, one of the surviving Omaha-Lincoln-Denver Highway signposts (with an OLD mark), so let's finally discuss the history of the OLD and DLD. In 1911 the Transcontinental Highway Association created the original routing, at that time between Omaha and Denver via Lincoln, and metal signposts were erected by the B. F. Goodrich Company in 1913. From Denver to Omaha we have or will have traveled the entire routing of the OLD in this photoessay. Other than the paint the sign embossing appears to have survived well, and if it isn't molested this old sign should survive for decades more.

[DLD obelisk in Lincoln.] The routing was clearly ripe for lengthening, though some internal controversy resulted, and the OLD was not expanded to Detroit (becoming the DLD) until 1920. The DLD mark was the same as the OLD, but used a D instead of the O, and had black borders on the top and bottom of metal shields; as durable reassurance markers the DLD erected concrete obelisks instead of the OLD's metal signposts, and at least one example is reportedly still extant in Lincoln though I wasn't able to find it at the time. In 1924 the Nebraska routing of the DLD officially entered the state highway system as then-NE 6, anticipating its later national grid number by nearly a decade. The final routing of the DLD stretched 1,435 miles and almost 100,000 motorists passed along the highway in 1921.

In 1926, the DLD was numbered by AASHTO (then AASHO) as US 38 from Denver to Omaha (i.e., the OLD) and from there US 32 to Joliet, IL, which we'll talk more about when we get to Omaha. From 1931 to 1933 the US 38 section was co-signed as US 6/38 with US 6's expansion; both of these highways subsequently became solely US 6 and we will travel them.

As far as the rest of the DLD's routing, the mainline appears to have proceeded from Joliet into Chicago via IL 7 ("the Whiteway 7"), then US 20 to Gary, IN and most likely US 20 (although US 12 runs in the same area) to Michigan City, then modern US 12 to Niles, MI. An "optional route" instead takes US 30 from Joilet through Chicago Heights to Dyer, IN and Valparaiso, IN; it then continues a routing most similar to IN 2 through LaPorte to US 20 and takes US 20 to South Bend, turning north again via present-day IN 933 (becoming MI 51 at the state line) to Niles. The routings then unite on MI 51 up to I-94 via Dowagiac and follow the general routing of modern Interstate 94, which was the former routing of MI 17 and later US 12 before it was shifted south, through Battle Creek, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti to terminate in Detroit.

Although the DLD's preeminence faded after the rise of the US highway system and disappeared completely with the Interstates, marks of it are still seen on roads in the region, and virtually all of its old routing survives as various state and national highways.

Mile 306.
Entering Emerald, still signed as ALT I-80.
Emerald is a small unincorporated town, so named because the lush landscape was "as green as an emerald." Established around 1884, the town never grew, and its minor post office closed in 1943. A handful of residents remain.
Junction NE 55A SPUR (SPUR S-55A [NHRPLB]), serving Denton to the south.
Lincoln city limits.
Continue to Part 21
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