In the earliest years of white settlement, few Nebraskans were concerned with the development of an agricultural system. Most were interested in the profits to be made from investments in towns and cities. Dreams of money gained by investing in town lots lured many early settlers to Nebraska Territory, and paper towns dotted the territorial map.
The cities which grew up in territorial Nebraska were transportation centers. Nebraska City and Omaha became the largest cities in 1860 because they were points at which goods bound for the West were transferred from steamboats to wagons and, after 1865, to trains. Smaller towns such as Plattsmouth and Brownville hoped their riverfront location would mean urban growth.
Most of these early towns and cities had only uncertain prospects. Few buildings from this earliest period remain in Nebraska. Most were of shoddy construction. Even the first state capitol built in Lincoln was so poorly constructed that it had to be replaced in little over a decade.
The Union Pacific Railroad gave Omaha access to the markets, goods, and population centers to the east and west. It quickly became the wholesale, retail, and transportation center of the state.
As farms were established and grew in number, cities and towns developed as retail and service centers for surrounding rural populations. The railroad brought prosperity and growth to towns and cities, especially in Omaha. It was still a frontier community in many ways, with muddy streets, taverns, and gambling halls, but it was also acquiring libraries, churches, theaters, and schools.