It was the land that brought the settlers to Exeter, Neb., in 1870 – “free land.” The Homestead Act of 1862 made it possible to acquire 160 acres of land, free of all charges except the filing fee. The site of the Village of Exeter was originally a land grant to Dr. H. G. Smith from the government of the United States, the Homestead Act of 1862.
The railroad’s advance west from Lincoln determined the site and name for Exeter. Few towns have been named in as unique a way as Exeter. The railroad proposed to build a line from Crete westward, with towns approximately eight miles apart and named in alphabetical order. It is believed that the name “Exeter” was suggested for this town by a family that came to the area from Exeter, New Hampshire. The name happened to fit in with the alphabetical system of naming towns along the Burlington railroad, so it was adopted. Thus these are the nearby towns of Crete, Dorchester, Exeter, Fairmont, Grafton, Hastings, Inland, Juniata, Kenesaw and Lowell.
By 1878 the town listed 16 business houses, including a newspaper, a doctor and a hotel. There were three churches: Catholic, Baptist and Congregational. In 1879 the town was incorporated and Exeter celebrated its official centennial with a three-day celebration in 1979.
Although the familiar depot is gone and passenger trains no longer stop, the railroad is still a vital part of the town’s economy. Exeter’s location on the main line assures the community of rail service at a time when other communities are facing abandonments.
|— Taken from the book, “They Called It Exeter”, Exeter’s Centennial Book Committee, 1979.