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Nebraska...Our Towns

Ravenna

Buffalo County

Morning train in Ravenna. The Burlington Hotel on the right was 110-foot frame structure built in 1891, with its own power plant to light the building and grounds. Ravenna was the principal food stop on the line, so its fine dining room was enjoyed by many. There was also a men's lounge and a women's lounge on the first floor. Sparks from a locomotive in 1906 caused a fire which burned it to the ground. Due to high winds, the entire town was endangered. After this incident, all business buildings in Ravenna were required to be of brick. The hotel was not rebuilt.
The sod home on Echo Farm, northeast of Ravenna.
An early view of Ravenna, with an obvious absence of trees.
Ravenna's main street, Appian Avenue, later renamed "Grand Avenue."
Ravenna as it appears from the top of the overpass.

"Jak se mas, Joe?" (How are you, Joe?)

"Dobre, Barta, jak ti?" (Fine, Barta, how are you?)

Nearby --

"Vie gehts, Emil?" (How goes it, Emil?)

"Gahnst gut!" (It goes good!)

Now and then you can still hear Czech spoken on the streets of Ravenna, however, from its beginning through the 1930s, Czech and German were commonly heard, and businessmen greeted customers in their native tongue. Businesses were generally owned by Czechs and English-speaking Americans from eastern states. Farmers were German, Czech, English, Irish, Scotch, Scandinavian, or of other European backgrounds.

An outpost of Fort Kearny was built in 1864 on the south fork of the Loup River. Named "Post South Fork", a full day's ride north from Fort Kearny, the soldiers called it "Fort Banishment." Earlier, wagon trains had crossed the area, wearing deep ruts in the prairie that, along with the crumbling sod walls of the fort, were still evident when settlers arrived a decade or two later.

In 1869 the government granted the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad nearly 2,500,000 acres of land to finance the building of a railroad through central Nebraska to the mineral fields in Wyoming. In the 1870-80s, pamphlets were distributed in the eastern states and in Europe extolling the virtues of the region. Many settlers were influenced to come to this area because of the glowing accounts of this new territory.

Erastus Smith, Ravenna's founding father, sold his Iowa farm in 1874 and bought land in northern Buffalo County on Beaver Creek (known today as Mud Creek) near its junction with the South Loup River. His background in railroad engineering caused him to believe that a railroad built in this area would need a division point at this site. In 1878 Smith had mail delivered to "Beaver Creek" at his impressively furnished sod house.

The railroad was completed to Grand Island in 1884. Plans were announced for its next division point. With the town of Nantasket, three miles east being bypassed, Smith's land receiving the prize. In January 1886, Smith sold a 30-lot tract to the Lincoln Land Company. He chose not to use the Beaver Creek name or have the town named for him. So, R.O.Phillips, secretary of the Lincoln Land Company, named it "Ravenna" for a city in Italy, and the streets were named for other Italian cities.

During the spring of 1886, Ravenna was "a town about to happen." Lots were sold, supplies, and building material were ordered and held in Grand Island. Only a few hardy pioneers attempted to bring the material for their businesses by team and wagon over rough trails, fording rivers and streams, the 35 miles to Ravenna. Barta Case and Joe Bohac, two young musicians from Omaha, were two who did. They opened a leather shop, and provided the nucleus for a band, bringing Czech music to Ravenna.

After the first train arrived in June -- like a dam break -- materials, people, and supplies poured in. The town sprang up almost overnight, with homes, businesses, churches, schools, and a newspaper. Smith replaced his soddy with a three-story dwelling. Ravenna Post Office opened in July on Appian Way.

Ravenna was incorporated on October 12, 1886. As with most railroad towns, Ravenna reached its peak population (about 1,600) in the 1920s. The 1980 census lists the town at 1,300 residents.

"Annevar" (Ravenna spelled backwards), has been celebrated annually since 1923. Held in early June, it is a good time to visit our town.

Ravenna's centennial was held and a book was published in 1986. It was a year-long celebration with events held each week-end honoring a different group: farmers, teachers, veterans, etc. Well over 700 Ravenna High School alumni returned for the Annevar celebration that year.

The title "All American City" was won by Ravenna in 1978. The award was made for the ability of the community to face and deal with local issues and problems, and seek solutions to them.

Ravenna's wealth is in its people. The people who volunteer many hours to the benefit of others in the town are our greatest treasure; the volunteer firemen, emergency medical unit, community organizations, and churches which serve the needs of the city. Individuals help the elderly, and young people help with city-wide clean-up. In Ravenna, one seldom needs to ask for help. Someone will see a need and volunteer.

Ravenna. It's a great place to live.

By Winona Snell, Box 87, Ravenna, NE 68869, with the assistance of John Snell, Bev Larsen, Lois Johnsten, Edith Abraham, Harold Polenz, and Bethyne Hanna. Pictures by: Dorothy Majer, Harold Polenz, Barb O'Neill, Jim Frye, Virginia Nolda, and the City of Ravenna.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Ravenna Centennial 1886-1986, by Ravenna Genealogical Society; Ravenna, A Place Called Banishment, by Charles Jenkins; "Notes of Yesterday," weekly columns in "The Ravenna News"; Buffalo Tales, Buffalo County Historical Society; and NCIP scrapbooks by Bethyne Hanna and Lois Johnsten.