The whole reason for Florence's existence is based on the railroad. Prior to Florence, the same area was known as "Winter Quarters" starting when the Mormons arrived here in 1846 from Nauvoo, Illinois.
Winter Quarters was an important but temporary frontier settlement from 1846 to 1848 in Indian Country. What happened after the last Mormon wagon headed over the western ridge? Winter Quarters become a ghost town, as the land reverted back to the Omaha Indians. The abandoned Mormon town and cemetery were noted in many journals, as later immigrants passed on their way to the gold fields of California. The North Mormon Ferry remained however, and it became known as the "Golden Gate" in 1852 because of the large numbers of gold rushers crossing the Missouri River.
Built on the ruins of Winter Quarters, Florence was settled during the Territorial era and annexed by its former rival, Omaha, in 1917. At its beginnings as Florence, the area had been turned back to the Omaha Natives that lived there prior to the Mormon's arrival. For the most part, Winter Quarters buildings had been torn down, wood salvaged, or scavenged by anyone crossing the area on their way along the Missouri River. On top of that, the prairie burned, destroying nearly all traces of there having been such a large community existing here.
It was a man named James Comly Mitchell that saw the fortune to be made by building on the same grounds as the Winter Quarters settlement area. Being an astute businessman, Mr. Mitchell was well aware of what was going on in the world. He had been a captain sailing between New York and Liverpool, England before settling in Bellevue, Iowa. Bellevue, Iowa being right on the edge of the Mississippi and Illinois, he was aware of Senator Stephen Arnold Douglas' plan to have the transcontinental railroad take the northern states route, and specifically through his home state of Illinois. It was apparent that a town built on the new territory that would open up west of the Missouri River and on the same route as the transcontinental railroad would be an instant success, ... except for something that big, he couldn't afford to wait for the railroad to be built first. Also familiar with the Mormon history, he was aware that where Winter Quarters had been, the Missouri River had a special feature. It is at this location that the Missouri had a rock bottom, and where else would you build a bridge but where the footings could be placed firmly in stone.
Mr. Mitchell moved to the newly named Council Bluffs, established a Land Company, and when the Nebraska "territory" was opened for settlement, he set out platting the new town. He seriously considered naming the town Rock Bottom, but after discussions with his wife Eliza, they chose to call the town Florence. Eliza's daughter from her first marriage had just had a daughter; her name was Florence.
What seemed to be a fool-proof plan didn't end up as being so. What Mr. Mitchell had not counted on was some underhanded dealing going on in the new town of Omaha, just down the river, and directly across from Council Bluffs. Somehow, Omaha got the bridge. This affected Florence's growth so much, that it has been said that is why eventually Florence was annexed into the city of Omaha. Regardless of the loss of the railroad, Florence made its own fascinating history, leaving behind the great stories to tell. Thus, Florence stands out as an important part of Nebraska's history, and the folklore backs that up more than adequately.
Make sure you read about Mr. Mitchell, his wife Eliza, and her granddaughter Florence, the namesake of our community. If you think you already know the story, you don't know the full story unless you read it here in late March 2017. Also, we are about to publish even more new information, just uncovered.
- History (Brief)
- Local Mormon History
- Historic Markers
- Historic Sites (including Omaha Landmarks) -or- (Omaha Landmarks only)
- Historic Events
- Historic Homes
- Historic Cemeteries
- Not Forgotten (Florence's Past Citizens honored)
- Historic Names mentioned on the web.
- Pictures from a bygone era.