Volume 10, No.5             Buffalo County Historical Society       May 1987


GEORGE MEISNER OF SHELTON


by Angela Frazier

        What links the past to the present? In Shelton it is a group of High School Enrichment students under the direction of Beverly Thomas, who made a movie based on the facts we found about the history of Shelton. This was a project decided on after some brainstorming by the class. Each student picked a person or place that was important in the building of Shelton. It didn't take me long to decide on George Meisner, a leading businessman and farmer of the late 1890's and early 1900's.

        At the time of his death George Meisner was one of the most well-known and powerful men in the area. To know why the man was the success he was you must go back to the beginning. Mr. Meisner was born in Vitzburg, Germany in 1842, one of three children. The family left Germany to find a new home in the United States when George was only three. His father started a business in Troy, New York. Only eight years later fire destroyed everything the family owned. While land was cheap and fortunes were to be made in the central United States, the Meisners moved to Tama County, Iowa.


George and Racheal Meisner

 
 

        At the time the Meisners lived in Iowa Mr. Meisner learned his values of hard and honest work. During the Civil War he enlisted many times to fight for his country but was turned down because he was blind in one eye. While his father and his brother fought in the war, George was left to work on the farm. During this time he acquired many tracts of land in Iowa. A biographical sketch published in 1890 says of George Meisner:  ". . . in fact, he owned over 400 acres of good land in Tama County, Iowa, which he had well improved and well stocked. But he wished to do better and he believed Nebraska was the place to do it." In 1871 Meisner bought a section of land two miles north of Shelton, since land was so much cheaper in this area. Over the next six years he worked hard at farming and ranching, and bought more land. During all this time he lived in a small house on his property.

        On October 3, 1877 George Meisner married Racheal Fieldgrove, daughter of the Hon. Henry Fieldgrove, also of the Shelton area. They lived in a small combination barn/granary until their home, the "Elms", could be built. The "Elms" was completed in 1878 and the Meisners moved in that year. The house was known throughout the county and beyond as a country mansion. It contained two main floors, plus an attic and a basement. This showplace had sixteen rooms, eighty inside doors, six outside doors and ninety windows. Each detail was planned perfectly. The ornate carving found on the staircase and the woodwork throughout the house are unblemished over the years. Special designs were created for each room.

        A viewing tower, which has since been removed, is the subject of many stories. It was once said that from the viewing tower Meisner could see all the land that he owned for miles around. Others believed that he spent his time watching his laborers work.


The "Elms," a country mansion

       During the next fifteen years Meisner was a busy man. He and Racheal were blessed with four girls, Elnora, Cora, Dora and Lulu. Meisner enlarged his business standings by entering the banking business. He and several other men organized the Meisner Bank with a capital of $35,000. In 1889 the bank was reorganized as the First National Bank of Shelton. This lasted only until 1894 when it again became the Meisner Bank. Bank records were published in each edition of the Shelton Clipper. Although the bank had the Meisner name, he did not have controlling interest, owning only 197 out of the 400 shares. Further in his biographical sketch it says that he was also "a large stock dealer, handling from fourteen to fifteen hundred head of cattle all the time . . . constantly buying, feeding and shipping. In the town of Shelton he owns eight business buildings . . .Besides these he owns something like a dozen residences, large and small, in the town."

        When Meisner had free time he enjoyed spending time entertaining guests. If the weather was nice he might take them on a boat ride on Meisner Lake. For more formal entertainment they might attend programs at the Meisner Opera House. But he mostly enjoyed entertaining in his own home. Mrs. Meisner also enjoyed this. Each week in the Shelton Clipper it would tell of the social activities that went on. Meisner once received a fine walking stick from the Hon. D. E. Thomson, U. S. Ambassador to Mexico, on the occasion of his visit to the Meisner home.

        After the death of his wife Racheal on November 9, 1889, he married Nellie Forsythe, a local school teacher. Their marriage took place in 1895, and they were happily married until Mr. Meisner's death in 1909.

       Months before Meisner's death he became the president of the City National Bank of Kearney. This time he had large stock holdings in the bank. He was also contemplating the building of a four-story hotel that would accommodate the travelers who passed through Shelton.


   

            
             Nellie Forsythe Meisner, second wife of George Meisner

 
 

        


Street scene in Shelton, showing the Meisner Bank.

 

       On March 2, 1909 the town and the community were shocked to learn that one of the leaders of the area was dead. Dr. E. L. Smith was called between midnight and one o'clock because Meisner was having trouble sleeping. The doctor arrived shortly to find Meisner dead. His death was due to neuralgia of the heart. He had not been sick, in fact, he had been working manually on the building of the new Meisner Bank.
 

        The funeral was held March 4th at the "Elms." The Rev. F. A. Mitchell of Davenport, Oklahoma, officiated at the services. Every business in town was closed for the day. Nearly 2,000 people attended the funeral.
 

        Many townspeople waited for the estimate of the estate to be printed in the Clipper. The estimate was printed on March 12, 1909:
 

Real Estate in Buffalo County...............$232,439.56

Real Estate in Hall County .....................126,275.00

Personal property..................................175,110.06 Household goods.........................................610.94

                                               Total    $534,435.56

        It was a wonder that this one-eyed man without much schooling could make such an impact on this area. During the 38 years that he lived in the Shelton area he became the largest landowner and rancher in the county. He was also president of the two strongest financial institutions in the county. Not only did he make his own fortune, but he helped others along the way.

        In my mind, George Meisner will live forever as a builder of what Shelton is today.

SOURCES

        The Shelton Clipper, March 5, 1909, March 12, 1909; Biographical Souvenir on the Counties of Buffalo, Kearney and  Phelps, Nebraska, 1890.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angela Frazier is a member of the 1987 graduating class of Shelton High School.

Proofread 3-18-2004

Revised 2/12/2003



 

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