Cortland Legends

Joseph Hopkins Millard

J.H. Millard is credited with filing the plat for Original Cortland in February 4, 1884 and for Millards Addition to Cortland, later on September 6, 1884.

The deed history for Original Cortland begins with the United States conveying it to the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad Company in 1872. Alfred Gales received his title to 77 1/2 acres of land from the B&MRR Co. at a cost of $637.87 on April 12, 1883.

It was in 1883 that the Omaha and Republican Valley Railroad Company began acquiring right of way for the railroad from Lincoln to Beatrice, Nebraska. Recorded deeds in Lancaster and Gage County show that most of the right of way deeds were recorded in June, July, and August of 1883. Alfred Gales sold a tract of this land to the Omaha & Republican Valley Railroad Co. (i.e. Union Pacific) for $400 on August 3, 1883.

On November 30, 1883 Alfred Gales sold the remainder of his interest to J.H. Millard for the sum of $2,800. J.H. Millard then platted the land into 25 blocks containing up to 12 lots each and proceeded to sell the lots at varying costs, averaging approximately $150 per lot.

A Wikipedia account of J.H. Millard's life states he was a director for the Union Pacific Railroad for 15 years, six years of which he served in the capacity of a government director. This may provide some insight as to how he became aware of the Cortland area becoming a railroad stop and an investment opportunity.

Millard was born April 20, 1836 in Canada. He died in Omaha on January 13, 1922, and was interred in Prospect Hill Cemetery.


A. B. McNickle

Justice of the Peace; Real Estate & Insurance; Postmaster

A. B. McNickle was born in Pennsylvania in 1842 where he lived until seventeen years old. He then went to Illinois where he remained until the breaking-out of the war of the rebellion in 1862, at which time he enlisted in Company K, One Hundred and Twelfth Illinois Infantry. He was in twenty battles and a number of skirmishes, and in front of Atlanta, Ga. During a charge on the enemy's breastworks, was wounded in the right leg. He was discharged in 1865 and returned to Illinois. He then went to northern Missouri where he remained until 1869, when he moved to Kansas, thence to Nebraska in 1874, locating at Silver (six miles west of Cortland, NE Section 6), Gage County.

He was married in Illinois in 1866 to Miss Rhoda E. Balderson. They had four children (circa 1979) -- Mary L., Nancy A., Edith R. and Harry A. Mr. McNickle was appointed Postmaster at the Silver office in 1879 and served at a third term as Justice of the Peace. He was a member of Highland Lodge, I. O. G. T. and a member of the Pilgrim Congregational Church.

A.B. McNickle commenced a building in Cortland in the early days. The lot purchased was the east 1/2 of Lot 3 in Block 11 of Original Cortland on February 28, 1884 at a cost of $150.

The Cortland Sun, January 1, 1908, states, "A. B. McNickle having been elected Justice of the Peace of Highland Township, opened up a justice office in connection with a real estate and insurance business in this little office building and 'tis said that for a few years Mac was about the busiest man in town. Two saloons and several temperance joints assisted materially in making plenty of business for a justice office and Mac administered justice in such a manner that from that to the present time, 27 years, with the exception of two years, the people have regularly elected him to the office of justice."

In 1908 he was postmaster in Cortland. Accounts indicate he served as secretary on the first board of trustees in Cortland.

One of the east sanctuary windows in the Cortland United Church at Fifth and Sheridan (formerly Pilgrim Congregational Church) contains a dedication to A. B. McNickle.


George W. Norris

U.S. Senator

George William Norris was a born in Ohio on July 11, 1861. His journey was from Ohio to McCook, Nebraska, and then on to Washington D.C. as the well known, famous, United States Senator from Nebraska. He spent some time in Gage County, Nebraska in 1884 and 1885 on his road to fame. There is some evidence that G. W. Norris, at age 22, owned property in Cortland in its early days in 1884.

Norris was born in Sandusky County, Ohio in 1861. He was the eleventh child of poor, uneducated, unchurched farmers of Scots-Irish and Pennsylvania Dutch descent. When he was three years old both his father and brother died, leaving his mother Mary Magdalene Norris, age 46, to raise and provide for George and his six sisters. At the time, Mary Norris was pregnant for the twelfth time.

Mrs. Norris instilled in young George a strong religious faith, a respect for education, and a fierce sense of right and wrong. These qualities returned to help him time and time again throughout his career in government.

He graduated from Baldwin University and in 1883 graduated from law school at Northern Indiana Normal School at Valparaiso. He was admitted to the bar in 1883. To help finance his college education, he taught school off and on for several years.

Armed with his law degree and his farming and teaching experience he headed west. He made a short and unforgettable trip to Walla Walla, Washington before deciding to settle in Nebraska where he had relatives. His mother held the deed to an 80-acre farm in Johnson County near Tecumseh, Nebraska.

In order to have funds to set up a law practice, Norris returned to teaching for a short time. In 1884, at age 22, with $300 of his sister, Melissa's butter and egg money, he began a law partnership with Valparaiso classmate, H.H. Harrison, in a law office in Beatrice, Nebraska. Established law firms dominated the Beatrice scene which made for slow progress. Within a year the partnership dissolved. Norris moved to Beaver City in Furnas County, Nebraska and established a law practice there.

Two deeds, recorded at the Gage County Register of Deeds office in 1884, show that G.W. Norris was a property owner in Cortland when the town first started. On April 10, 1884, G.W. Norris acquired the W 1/2 of Lot 10 in Block 9 and all of Lot 1 in Block 16 in Original Cortland from J.H. Millard. One hundred and twenty-five ($125) was paid for the land. J.H. Millard filed the plat that began Cortland in February 1884. G.W. Norris bought the lots two months after the plat was filed.

On October 8, 1884, after about six months of ownership, the lots were sold for the same amount as he paid. Considering that the lots were sold for the same amount as he paid, it is unlikely that Norris ever built on these lots.

A passage in Cortland's most recent history book gives another account that George W. Norris was in this area. In the family history account for Charlie and Sadie (Balderson) Krapp it states: "Sadie was a school teacher and taught school at...her home District 64... As a child Sadie won a prize at school, an autograph album. One autograph of special interest was from a famous former teacher of District 64 who wrote, 'In the days of thy youth improve your mind. Knowledge is better than gold.' G. W. Norris, Cortland, Nebr. April 17, 1885."

The rural District 64 country school was known locally as the Balderson School. It was located two miles west of Cortland in Section 9, Highland Township, Gage County. The above passage states that G.W. Norris taught school there.

Sadie Balderson, born in 1874, was age 11 in 1885. This is consistent with other accounts of G.W. Norris teaching to raise money to support himself.

G.W. Norris moved to Beaver City, Nebraska in 1885. He became active in politics in 1892. He moved to McCook, Nebraska in 1899. In 1902 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and represented Nebraska for 10 years. He was then elected to the Senate in 1912 and served for the next 30 years until 1942.

He has been credited with many accomplishments such as leading the effort to create the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for low cost electricity, and bringing the electricity to rural areas through the REA (Rural Electrification Act) in the late 1930's.

Norris wrote and promoted the Nebraska Constitutional amendment that created the Unicameral Legislature in Nebraska that began in 1937 and is unique among the 50 states.

Norris was active in establishing the Homestead National Monument at Beatrice.

Norris Public Power and the Norris School District 160 are named after George W. Norris.

G.W. Norris died on September 2, 1944, two years after he retired from the Senate. He is buried in McCook, Nebraska.

When you visit Cortland, you are standing where he stood 124 years ago on his journey to becoming the famed United States Senator from Nebraska.