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Nebraska...Our Towns


Colfax County

"Third Street looking south," was taken in the 1880s. Mike Hader's livery stable is the building at the far right. Note people sitting on the front porch of Mother Wellman's house, squeezed in between the business houses.[Veronica Vogel]
Main street looking west in 1909, soon after telephones came to town.
Main street 1990, Prucha Funeral Home, at the far right, built in 1890, now houses the Howells Historical Museum

Settlement in northeast Colfax County began in 1870 when two prairie schooners rumbled into the area, bringing 13 sturdy Czech pioneers, the families of Joseph and Thomas Sindelar, Jonas, and Dostal. They settled along Maple Creek, several miles from the present site of Howells. The area was soon teaming with settlers. In addition to the availability of homestead land, the reason for the growing cluster of houses and businesses was the news that the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad was extending its line between Scribner Junction and Oakdale.

Initially, the settlement was known as "Buschville." While it was known that the railroad planned a town in that general vicinity, a definite site was not announced. George Nagengast platted his land north of the right-of-way and began to sell lots. Unbeknownst to Nagengast, the railroad purchased 200 acres south of the tracks from his sister-in-law Antonia Busch. She had purchased the land from Nagengast a few years earlier for $500, and received $4,000 for the tract in 1885. When the railroad completed its survey and filed a plat, the town was named in honor of the surveyor, James Howell.

Businesses established in Buschville were placed on wheels and moved to the new town, where choice lot sold for $250. More were built, and on July 4, 1887, there was a big Independence Day celebration. The population had reached 200, and it was time for incorporation! On August 22 Thomas Walker, justice of the peace, received the welcome news that the commissioners' had endorsed Howells' official status. With John Kloke as mayor, meetings were held every other day for the next few months to complete all the paper work.

The builders of the town were busy from morning 'til night. These vigorous young people displayed the pioneer pattern of priorities: First establishing a means of livelihood and shelter for the family, then provision for a place of worship, and education for their children.

By 1900 four churches had been built within the village. The Congregational Church was organized in 1887. Catholics near Howells and from Oleyen (now spelled Olean) dedicated their church and school, taught by the Sisters of St. Francis, in 1890. Later the Czechs established the St.John of Nepomuk parish. They opened a parochial elementary school in 1955, taught by the Sisters de Notre Dame. In 1968 the two schools consolidated into the Howells Community Catholic School. Trinity Lutheran Church was organized in 1900, with the church built the nest year.

The education of Howells' children began in a little red schoolhouse built on Louis Kovar's farm east of town. The children crossed Maple Creek on a swinging bridge. Classes were later held in the depot and the Congregational Church. In 1888 a $1,500 bond issue was approved for the purchase of land and construction of a two-room school. An extensive physical plant now houses the Howells Public School, which has earned full accreditation from the North Central Association. Students enjoy a wide range of academics and extracurricular activities. Rightfully proud of the accomplishments, "Going to State" is well understood in all departments.

From the beginning, the hard work of tilling the land and building a town was alleviated by a robust capacity for enjoyment. Music has been an integral part of Howells history. With music instruction emphasized at home and in school, and with abundant musical talent in the community, bands and orchestras formed easily and frequently. The Howells Ballroom, operated today by the the Howells Fire Department, was a natural progression from the open-air dances on a wooden platform in Nagengast's Grove.

Game-playing of all sorts, from cards to league sports, provides year-round activity. Long-time organizations with strong, active membership accomplish many worthy goals while providing companionable "meet and eat" socializing.

Howells observed its centennial in July 1987, with a three-day celebration. Annual events include Memorial Day observances, June horse show, July 4th celebration, and a visit from Santa in December.

By Mrs. Wilbert Vogel, Box 421, Howells, NE 68641

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: First Fifty Years, 1887-1937; Diamond Jubilee , 1962; and Howells, Nebraska, The First Hundred Years , 1887-1987.