Sterling was founded along the Overland Trail, a highly traveled route for migrants on their way to Oregon and California between 1862 and 1868. Many of the local settlers had gone further west to the Union Colony near Greeley but found the best land there already taken. So they headed east for a bit and settled around what was to become Sterling.
The first European settler in the area was William Hadfield, and he settled on an island in the South Platte River a few miles south of present day Sterling. The first settlement at Sterling was actually about 4 miles north of the present town but when the railroad was coming, local leader Minos King traveled to Omaha and met with the railroad officials. He offered them 80 acres of land for a right-of-way if they would build shops and a roundhouse right there, too. John Boyd owned that land and he sold it to King for $400. Railroad surveyor David Leavitt surveyed and platted the new town of Sterling (which he named after his home town in Illinois: Sterling). When the land was put up for sale, most of the settlers in the old town moved to the new town and set up shop. The railroad came to town in 1881 and built a section house and depot. Then the Pacific Hotel was built near the depot. The city fathers filed incorporation papers in 1884 and when Logan County was created in 1887, Sterling became the county seat.
Main Street in Sterling