Cities, Towns, Villages
Arlington; Blair; Fort Calhoun; Herman; Kennard; Washington
Like many of those counties bordering the Missouri River, Washington County's history dates back to the early 19th century. On Aug. 3, 1804, Merriwether Lewis and William Clark held council with six Indian chiefs on the western banks of the Missouri River. The site became known as "Council Bluffs." At the suggestion of Lewis and Clark, this same site later became Fort Atkinson in 1819.
Fort Atkinson, the first Union military post in Nebraska, was intended to bring peace with the Indians and discourage British encroachment on fur trading with Canada. It was once the largest military post of its day, as troops stationed there numbered over 1,100. The fort served the Midwest until 1827, when it was abandoned. Eventually the community of Fort Calhoun was established on the site.
Washington County's first boundaries were established by the Territorial Legislature on Feb. 22, 1855, the anniversary of President George Washington's birth. Thus, the county was named in his honor. Fort Calhoun was selected as the county seat. When the boundaries were redefined three years later, the county seat was moved to DeSoto. In 1869, by a popular vote, Blair was selected as the county seat. The present courthouse was completed 20 years later at a cost of about $50,000. Several additions have been made to the courthouse over the years.
Washington County was originally slated to be the home of Nebraska's State Capitol. In 1855 the town of Fontanelle, located in the western section of the county and named after Omaha Indian Chief Logan Fontanelle, was platted expressly for this purpose. It also was the first home of Nebraska University. Plans for both eventually stalled and both facilities ended up being built in Lincoln.
Just as it does today, farming played a key role in the early years. The Mormons farmed in the south part of the area in 1847 and 1848 to supply food for their brethren who were traveling to Utah. It was reported that soldiers stationed at Fort Atkinson once grew 20,000 bushel of corn.