Kearney, Nebraska
Community Profile


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Metropolitan centers within a 500-mile radius of Kearney include Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Louis, Memphis, Fort Worth, Dallas, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Albuquerque and Salt Lake City.

Location is one of Kearney’s greatest assets. Situated in south-central Nebraska, Kearney is the county seat of Buffalo County. The city is located on the north bank of the Platte River at its southernmost point. From here, the river dips in a great arc across Nebraska. Kearney is served by Interstate 80, U.S. 30 and state highways 10, 40 and 44. Kearney is 186 miles west of Omaha and 361 miles east of Denver.

The community enjoys a rich heritage shaped by early pioneers and 49’ers as they converged at Fort Kearny while following their dreams on the Mormon, Oregon and California trails. Later, the Pony Express, Overland Stage, Union Pacific Railroad and Lincoln Highway all passed through Kearney as they connected the east and west coasts to build a continental nation. Although many who traveled these early trails were bound for points farther west, some hardy and enterprising adventurers recognized emerging opportunities along the “Great Platte River Road” and stayed, laying the foundation for what would become the “Midwestern work ethic.”

Fort Kearny, named for Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny, was built in 1848 to protect those heading west on the Oregon Trail. More than 30,000 travelers passed through the fort as they headed west during an 18-month period around the Gold Rush, making the site an early crossroads and stopping point. The community is named for the fort, although observant readers are quick to point out the difference in spelling between the fort and the town. The extra “e” in Kearney is not difficult to explain. Someone in the post office simply made a spelling error, and by the time it was realized, no one felt a change was necessary.

The town site was surveyed in the summer of 1871 by Anselmo B. Smith, and the plat was filed with the county clerk on October 27, 1871.

After a reversal of fortunes just before the turn of the century, Kearney began to rebound. In 1904 the cornerstone was laid for what is now the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Classes began in 1904, with 96 students forming the first class.

In the new century, Kearney’s growth was steady but less dramatic than before. By 1930 the population was 8,575. In later years the community was aided by the completion of Interstate 80 in 1964.

I-80 created a boom in tourist trade which, in turn, encouraged the construction of new motels and restaurants. Linked to the busiest east-west highway in the United States, Kearney benefited from its geographic position in the heart of the country and the state.

During the 1990s, Kearney was Nebraska’s fastest-growing city of 20,000 or more. The 2000 U.S. Census reported the city grew at a rate of nearly 12.4 percent to reach a total population of 27,431. Workforce numbers grew at a corresponding rate, providing local business owners a continually expanding pool of qualified labor.

The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument is the only historical-educational monument that has been granted air rights over a federal interstate highway. This eight-story archway is longer than a football field and was placed over Interstate 80 in 1999. The structure, which opened in June 2000, houses two levels of fascinating interactive exhibits tracing the history of the Great Platte River Road from Oregon Trail days to the fiber-optic future world of tomorrow.

Welcome | Location | Tourism | Conventions | Business | Agriculture | Healthcare
Government | Quality of Life | Transportation | Sports | Education | Worship