Henry Tefft Clarke, pioneer legislator, freighter, and bridge builder, was native of New York and came to Bellevue, Nebraska in 1855. Convinced that a railroad would sometime be built at Bellevue, Clarke decided to settle there. He became a steamboat agent at Bellevue, and later began a general merchandise business. He contracted with the government to supply corn and oats to Fort Kearny between 1862 and 1864, hauling these products by oxen or horses from Bellevue. Later Clarke freighted merchandise and miners' supplies to Denver, making two round trips a year.
In the mid-1860s Clarke made surveys to promote locating the eastern terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad at Bellevue; and the location of railroads from Bellevue to Sioux City via Omaha, and from Bellevue to Lincoln. After completing the surveys, Clarke obtained the right-of-way and constructed the first ten miles of the Burlington line which ran from Omaha to Bellevue and on southward.
In 1870 Clarke began building highway and railroad bridges, in time building seven bridges over the Platte River. In 1876 he built a bridge over the north fork of the Platte at Camp Merrill in present-day Merrill County. This toll bridge provided a short line to the Black Hills gold fields over the Sidney to Deadwood Trail.
When the bridge was completed, Clarke received government protection for it, because it was located in Sioux and Cheyenne Indian country. A two-story blockhouse erected on an island in the Platte River housed soldiers. This building also was the location of Clarke's general store and the Camp Clarke post office. The bridge's location made it indispensable for cattlemen, the United States Army, and freighters.
Clarke established the Clarke Centennial Pony Express in 1876, connecting Sidney with outposts in the Black Hills. He also established post offices in the mining towns and operated a large store, dealing mainly in mining camp supplies. The store housed the office of Clarke's Pony Express company.
For building railroads in the state, Clarke received state lands, and used the land to raise grain and livestock. In 1879 he became involved in the hardware business, and in 1883, he started the H. T. Clarke Drug Company, a wholesale drug business.
Clarke was a member of the Nebraska Territorial House of Representatives in 1862, and in 1864 was elected to the board of education in Omaha. He was one of the incorporators of the Northwestern Electric Light Company, which first furnished electricity for Omaha.
Clarke laid out the town of Bellevue, built its first school house, and founded Bellevue College. He built Clarke Hall in 1882 and donated it, along with two houses and 265 acres of land, to the Presbyterian Church. Clarke became the first president of the board of Bellevue College.
Clarke was elected president of the Nebraska Territorial Pioneers'Association and was elected president of the Nebraska State Historical Society in 1906. Clarke promoted Missouri River navigation and became president of the Missouri River Improvement Association.
Clarke died February 3, 1913 at Excelsior Springs, Missouri.