A Mormon, Joseph Johnson, settled on the banks of the Wood River in 1858, giving the town of Shelton a place in the annals of history. Johnson, along with his several wives and family, established a store and printing office to serve the needs of pioneers. He established the "Huntsman's Echo", first newspaper west of the Omaha area. Six years later, as social pressures against polygamy grew, they moved on and other families settled in the area.
Edward Oliver, August Meyer, William Nutter, David Owen, Thomas Morgan, Martin Slattery, and Patrick Walsh were responsible for further development of the community they called "Wood River Centre."
Rails came very early to this area -- 1866. The steel link connecting this settlement and the rest of the world brought new opportunities and entrepreneurs by the dozens. Walsh, Slattery, and a Sgt.Coady petitioned Governor Butler to organize Buffalo County. An election, held in 1870 in the District 1 schoolhouse, selected Wood River Centre as the county seat. A year later, however, the seat of government was moved to Gibbon.
A post office, established in 1860 by Johnson, closed when he moved. In 1872 the never-say-die Irishman, Patrick Walsh, re-established the post office. Frustrated by the confusion with a town a few miles east, he wrote the postmaster general..."Sir, you are hereby notified that as there is another post office in the state known as Wood River, the name of Wood River Centre is changed to "Shelton," and you will govern yourself accordingly." No further correspondence in the matter was recorded. (Nathan Shelton was an auditor in the land department of the Union Pacific Railroad.)
Although a settlement of importance prior to this date, no town was officially laid out until March 1879 when "Paddy" Walsh had it surveyed on a portion of his farm, just a half mile from the Hall County line, with additions soon made by the UP and Sgt.Coady.
"The Shelton Clarion" was established in 1879, but the next year it was sold to Mr. McNew who called it "The Shelton Clipper," the name by which it is known today.
When the town incorporated in 1882, the first of many banks was established, one being Meisner's Bank. Legend has it that Mr.Meisner was illiterate, however, he deciphered digits on the ledger with no difficulty. Later chartered as a state bank, it fell to liquidation in 1927. The present bank, chartered on February 29, 1928, (a leap year) struggled during the depression, but was among those that survived.
The first school was built in 1870. By 1881 overflow classes were being held in Oliver's Store, so a larger building was constructed. Improvements over the years have kept Shelton's schools among the survivors.
A fire in 1903 that threatened the entire business district was responsible for organizing a fire department and prompted development of a city water system. At first, horse-drawn carts were acquired, but replaced in 1920 by a Model-T truck utilizing soda and acid. In 1932 a Ford/Pearse with an engine-driven water pump was added. A rural fire district was formed in 1944. Emergency volunteers first went to accidents in private cars. A used ambulance was purchased, later replaced by an adapted panel truck, then by two van-type vehicles.
By 1971 travel on the UP mainline had become a thing of the past. Freight, other than carloads of grain, was non-existent, so the Shelton public depot closed. Later, the building was purchased by the Buffalo County Historical Society and moved to Kearney where it serves as a museum.
Shelton, evolving from Wood River Centre, is one of the older communities in Nebraska. It has grown through the influence of Fort Kearny (just 25 miles southwest), the railroad, the development of highways, U.S.#30 and I-80, and the eternal optimism of those involved in agriculture.
Shelton has, since the early years, maintained a population of about 1,000. The industrial base of the area between Kearney, Hastings, and Grand Island insulates the community somewhat from the pressures of an economy totally dependent on farming, so Shelton does not have the same difficulties many small towns do.
If there is anything unique about problems which occasionally arise, it is the way Shelton handles them: through cooperative efforts of the whole community and an agrarian faith that "things will get better, given time, and hard work."
Irene Garrett, Historical Coordinator, Box 50, Shelton, NE, 68876. Story by Douglas Duncan, Editor, Shelton Clipper