Two brothers served as catalysts in the settling of Howard County: James N. Paul and Nicholas J. Paul. The Paul brothers had spent several years on the frontier surveying government land. In 1870, J.N. Paul took a hunting trip through the picturesque valley of the North and Middle Loup Rivers. the image of this land remained in his mind as the ideal location for a settlement. Through the efforts of these brothers and by a special act of the Nebraska Legislature the boundaries of Howard County were defined and approved on March 28, 1871. The county was named for a Civil War General, Oliver Otis Howard, a prominent promoter of freedom and equality and a significant officer of the Southwest Indian War.Nick Paul bought Union Pacific land in Howard County on April 15, 1871 for a county seat. He paid $785 for 400 acres. The first county commissioners were J.C. Lewis, Luther North, and N.J. Paul, though there was dissension about the location of the county seat for some years. Evidently a promise had been made to name it “Gerrald City” after the legislator who introduced the bill establishing the county, but somehow the name was dropped. Settlers met to draw a name from a hat for the a name for the town and “Athens” was the first name out. The Post Office Department in Washington disapproved this name as there was already an Athens in Nebraska. NE Senator Phineas Hitchcock then suggested Saint Paul. The Paul brothers said that they were no saints, but the current joke was that a saint was definitely needed.

The opening of the Nebraska Territory for public settlement brought many civil war veterans seeking a new start on free lands. The GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) post of St. Paul once hosted nearly 220 civil war veteran members from throughout Howard County. Other early settlers, besides Ohioans encourage by the Pauls, were Danes ( led by Lars Hannibal, who settled in the Dannebrog and Boelus area), and Scots or Scotch-Irish who claimed land on “Canada Hill” after first settling in Canada. Bohemians, led by Joseph Toman, settled near Elba. There were also “Yankees” near Elba, such as Wm. Alexander who was the father of Grover Cleveland Alexander, Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher

Polish immigrants settled along Turkey Creek to the Sherman County line. The first Polish Catholic church in Nebraska was established in 1887 in Posen, later called Farwell. The first known church service in Howard County was Methodist held on March 3, 1872. The first church building was also Methodist and was built on Canada Hill in 1873. A Czech Catholic church was built in 1877, German Catholic in 1878. The County Commissioners donated land for the first Presbyterian church in 1879. There were one thirty churches in the county including 12 Lutheran churches.

The horse was one of the most valued possessions of any pioneer. For early settlers, the horse was transportation, power for farming, for hauling freight and nearly every task requiring significant strength. The horse generally received attention and care before any member of the family. Frank Iams, St. Paul horse breeder from 1882-1917, was the nation’s largest importer of European draft horses.

Howard County settlers were very dependant on the building of the railroad. An early 1900’s promotional article stated, “Howard County is traversed with four railroad lines.” Nearly 100 miles of railroad were present in the county at that time. “There is not an acre of land within the county’s borders that is at an unreasonable distance from some railroad town.” In 1881 nearly a thousand carloads of farm produce was shipped from the county in a six month period. Immigration societies were organized by the railroads encouraging settlers to come to Nebraska, and immigrant trains brought many settlers. A branch line from Grand Island to Ord, which carries farm products, is the only relic from that era.

Howard County has an agriculturally-based economy, largely dependent on the Farwell Irrigation District. Its peak population was 10,783 in 1910, going down to about 6,000 in 1990. Indications are that improved transportation to Grand Island is leading to population growth now.

An average of seven new housing starts are made each year in St. Paul, with a trend toward apartment-buildings. There are very active Hospital, Library and Educational Foundations. The Historical Society presents monthly programs and maintains a “Historical Village”, as well as the 1908 “Gruber House”. An annual Grover Cleveland Alexander celebration in early July brings many visitors for a classic car show, talent show, and other activities, including athletic events. A baseball museum in the Gruber House has exhibits on Nebraska Baseball Hall of Famers – Alexander, Hoot Gibson, Dazzy Vance, Wahoo Sam Crawford and Richie Asheburne.

Howard County online