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Henry T. Clarke

Henry Tefft Clarke, pioneer legislator, freighter, and bridge builder, settled in Bellevue, Nebraska, in 1855. He became a steamboat agent at Bellevue and later began a general merchandise business. He contracted with the government to supply corn and oats to Fort Kearny between 1862 and 1864, hauling these products from Bellevue. Later Clarke freighted merchandise and mining supplies to Denver.

In the mid-1860s Clarke made surveys to promote location of the eastern terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad at Bellevue; and the location of railroads from Bellevue to Sioux City via Omaha, and from Bellevue to Lincoln. After completing the surveys, Clarke obtained the right-of-way and constructed the first ten miles of the Burlington line, which ran from Omaha to Bellevue and on south.

In 1870 Clarke began building highway and railroad bridges, in time building seven bridges over the Platte River. In 1876 he built the Camp Clarke Bridge, two thousand feet in length, over the north fork of the Platte. This toll bridge provided a short line to the Black Hills goldfields over the Sidney-Deadwood Trail. The bridge's location made it indispensable for cattlemen, the United States Army, and freighters.

Clarke established the Clarke Centennial Pony Express in 1876, connecting Sidney with outposts in the Black Hills. He also established post offices in the mining towns and operated a large store, dealing mainly in mining camp supplies. For building railroads in the state, Clarke received state lands, which he used to raise grain and livestock. In 1879 he became involved in the hardware business and in 1883 the wholesale drug business.

Clarke was a member of the Nebraska territorial legislature in 1862. He was one of the incorporators of the Northwestern Electric Light Company, which first furnished electricity for Omaha. He laid out the town of Bellevue, built its first schoolhouse, and founded Bellevue College. He was also elected president of the Nebraska Territorial Pioneers Association and of the Nebraska State Historical Society. He died in 1913.

(September 2001)

 

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