DAKOTA COUNTY, Neb. -- Northeast Nebraska may be rich in history and tradition, but supporting that cannot be done without volunteers.

That's what the nonprofit Dakota County Historical Society would like to better cultivate.

Organized in July of 1963, with a purpose of preserving and showing historical sites and artifacts of historical value within the county, the society's mission is to promote the preservation and presentation of history in Dakota County, explained Dennis Reinert, president of the group.

"The challenge for us is a bit different than for other historical groups," he explained. "We have several buildings we maintain in several different places."

The historical society operates and maintains four historical sites: Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Dakota City; and the Combs School, O'Connor House, and Machinery Museum in Homer, Neb.

Emmanuel Lutheran Church was built for $2,000 in 1860, the first to be built in the Nebraska Territory. It is today the oldest church building of any denomination now standing in Nebraska, Reinert said.

"It stands as a monument to those pioneers gone before and a symbol of hope to all who come in the future," he noted.

The Combs School, the oldest school building in Dakota County, was erected in 1857 in the Nebraska community of Omadi. The Missouri River began to undermine the town, so it was moved south of Homer. The school ceased operation in 1964. In May 1976, the school was moved to its present location, west of the O'Connor House, Reinert said.

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"Each May nearly 500 students and their teachers from area schools hold a regular day of school here," he pointed out. "It is a day for them to come dressed as they would have years ago and bring their noon lunch in a tin bucket. A curriculum of the late 1800s is used."

The 14-room O'Connor House was built by Capt. Cornelius O'Connor and is located one and one half miles east of Homer at 2470 Blyburg Road. Construction on the house started in 1865 and the house was completed 10 years later. The 14 rooms were needed to accommodate the captain, his wife and 10 children, explained Randy Hummel, whose wife Jean is the great-great-granddaughter of the captain.

"The captain was a carpenter and finished all the native walnut woodwork throughout the house," he said. "He carved the built-in walnut sideboard in the dining room."

In 1978, members of the society decided more room was needed to house machinery and yesteryear tools. The public was invited to assist with donations and a result, a steel building was erected in 1979, Reinert said.

"We have an outstanding collection of early machinery that fills two-thirds of the building," he added.

The erection of five Nebraska Historical Markers have also been sponsored by the Dakota County Historical Society. The St. John's marker is in Jackson, Neb.; the Emmanuel Lutheran Church marker is in Dakota City, and the Tonwantonga, Combs School, and O'Connor House markers are in the Homer area.

"It takes a lot of volunteers and money to maintain everything," Reinert acknowledged. "We owe it to those pioneers of early Dakota to preserve their heritage."

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