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Jim McKee: Cady helped shape state of Nebraska
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Jim McKee: Cady helped shape state of Nebraska

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The Henry Cady residence at 1020 Third Ave. in Nebraska City is shown here as it appeared in 1885. The house still stands today, though considerably altered, across from Nuckolls Park in the Nebraska City Historic District.

Before Nebraska was even a state, the area which would become Nebraska City began to attract settlers around the blockhouse at what was first known as Old Fort Kearny. With river traffic and the terminus of a trail west, several settlements in the area began to coalesce and a vast freighting company formed as the second largest city in the territory came into being.

As the state’s second city, Nebraska City attracted businesses, capital and prominent leaders who built large homes, bequeathing a cache of Victorian houses and museums.

With a federal contract to move freight to supply U.S. outposts in the west, the firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell, then headquartered in Leavenworth, Kansas, and Westport, Missouri, decided to establish a new terminus on the Missouri River at Nebraska City. In March of 1858 Alexander Majors arrived and bought 138 city lots principally from Stephen Nuckolls, who had arrived in Nebraska Territory four years earlier from Virginia and was considered one of the city’s founders.

The lots, partially owned by Charles Cowles, were in the northwest, Prairie City, section of the city, north of Third Avenue stretching to Table Creek, for which Majors paid $19,000. Here Russell, Majors & Waddell built “large warehouses, corrals, housing,” a store and blacksmith shop. Three of the 1858 houses, directly associated with Russell, Majors & Waddell, at 516 N. 14th, 517 N. 13th and 407 N. 13th are extant in the Nebraska City Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. With the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, overland freighting ended, Russell, Majors & Waddell was bankrupt, and their vast Nebraska City enterprise ended, principally becoming a residential area with a full city block dedicated as a park named Nuckolls Square.

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Henry Francis Cady was born in 1851 in Madison, Wisconsin. He immigrated to Iowa where he operated a furniture and general merchandise store and four years later owned a hardware store in Kansas City. In 1874 Cady began working for the Chicago Lumber Co. of Omaha and moved to Nebraska City where, two years later he was in partnership with Chicago Lumber in their Nebraska City branch. Cady established the Pioneer Lumber Co. in Dunbar, Nebraska, as another branch yard for Chicago Lumber in 1878. A year after Cady was elected mayor of Nebraska City, in 1883, he built a new Victorian design house on the old Russell, Majors & Waddell property at 1020 Third Ave. across the street north from Nuckolls Square Park. The Queen Anne style house was a two and a half-story frame structure with a brick foundation and considered one of the finest of its day.

In 1886 Cady moved to Omaha, still associated with Chicago Lumber Co. and by then owned a one-third interest in their yards in Council Bluffs, Omaha, Nebraska City, Palmyra, Unadilla, Dunbar and Talmage in addition to managing smaller yards whose annual sales fell between $25,000 and $35,000.

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In 1891 Cady acquired the Harris & Foster Planing Mill in Omaha, which had been established in 1867 and renamed it Cady & Gray Planing whose plant covered five acres, employed 150 men and became nationally noted when they supplied the lumber for the electricity exhibit at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Still retaining ownership of his Nebraska City mansion, Cady sold it in 1897 to William Wilson, who was then the cashier of the Nebraska City National Bank. It was apparently Wilson who then removed the original, elaborate porch, port cochere and carriage house. In 1967 the house was listed in the 58-square-block, 155-acre Nebraska City Historic District’s entry in the National Register of Historic Places.

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On Jan. 21, 1910, after a six-week illness, Henry F. Cady died at his Omaha home at 206 S. 36th St. and was buried in Omaha’s Forest Lawn Cemetery. In addition to being mayor of Nebraska City and president of its Board of Trade, he was elected to the Nebraska Senate in 1881, was director and later president of the Nebraska City Telephone Co. while owning the Cady Lumber Co., Omaha Box Co., Omaha Wooden Packaging Co. the Cady Land Co. and treasurer of the Chicago Lumber Co.

Interestingly he gained Nebraska, regional and national notoriety in a now nearly forgotten action which could have made Nebraska well known for many decades. A state constitutional amendment, House Roll 59, passed in the House on Jan. 13, 1881, then passed in the Senate Feb. 21 and was signed by the governor on Feb. 26, 1881. Although it was not subsequently approved by Nebraska voters, it would have made Nebraska the first state in the union to confirm women’s suffrage. Henry F. Cady was one of eight senators who voted against the bill while 22 voted for it.

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Historian Jim McKee, who still writes with a fountain pen, invites comments or questions. Write to him in care of the Journal Star or at


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