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Nebraska...Our Towns

Broken Bow

Custer County

The "Custer County Republican" sod office. Photo taken 1884. l to r: W.G. Percell, Uncle Milo Young, R.H. Miller, Harriet Miller, Frank Connelly, Bert Miller, A.S. Autereson, and Arnold man and the Methodist minister (names unknown). Started in 1882, the newspaper was published until 1921, when it was bought out by the "Custer County Chief." Six weekly papers and six daily papers have been printed in Broken Bow over the years, with the bi-weekly "Chief" surviving.[CCHS]
The Garlock Brickyard, located southwest of town on the clay banks. [Weiss, Custer County Chief]
The original town, 1887. Below: The steps of the 1st National Bank were a favorite gathering spot for "gentlemens\' conversations." 1890. [Lyon CCHS]
The block-long single building, Realty Block on the south side of the main square, was started in 1889. The ground floor space are presently used.
Muddy Creek flood of 1898. First overflowing in 1888, it continued at intervals until the late 1960s when a flood control project curbed its wicked ways. [Bangs, CCHS]
Livery barn south of Commercial Hotel. Man in white shirt is thought to be town founder, Jesse Gandy. [Butcher, Nebraska State Historical Society]
Broken Bow's BIG train wreck, September 4, 1902.
The block-long single building, Realty Block on the south side of the main square, was started in 1889. The ground floor space are presently used.
Side of the Realty Block after a wind storm June 14, 1892, with the south side of the Opera House exposed. [Butcher, Nebraska State Historical Society]

In 1879 only a few people lived near the center of Custer County; Jesse Garringer and the Hewitt, Lewis, Graham, and Raymond families. They wanted a post office so Hewitt was appointed postmaster. After two rejections, the name "Broken Bow" was accepted.

Early in 1882 the Gandy brothers came from their ranch on the Middle Loup River. Jesse Gandy bought Garringer's land and things began happening. He platted a town, stipulating, " liquor be sold or billiard parlor be built on perimeter of the town square," a tenet still honored. A public well was dug and in June, R.H.Miller published the first "Custer County Republican," the newspaper that today provides our best window on the early years.

With the Gandy's and Miller pushing, the town quickly took shape. More people arrived, building homes and businesses, and by fall this "upstart-of-a-town" challenged Westerville for the county seat, and won!

The settlers celebrated the 4th of July, put up a 100-foot flag pole, started a baseball team, laid out a croquet court, and organized a GAR and WCTU. In 1883 they challenged Westerville for the county fair.

At this time, lumber had to be freighted to town by wagon, so dugouts and sod houses were prevalent. A brick factory started in 1883, however the bricks were quite soft and did not wear well.

Rumors of a railroad started in 1884. A Burlington & Missouri River Railroad survey was made in 1885, and the first train arrived in August 1886. Lots sold like hot cakes. The Lincoln Land Company platted an addition north of the tracks that developed into a thriving business district. The last passenger train ran in 1969, ending an era. Today, coal and freight trains run through Broken Bow.

By spring 1884, Broken Bow was incorporated. Four years later, the village petitioned to become a second class city. Seven additions were annexed, and the population was then 1,600. The 1980 census lists 4,200 residents.

A bridge was built across "the Muddy" in 1883 and wooden sidewalks were constructed around the square in 1885. By 1910 cement sidewalks were in place, and the summer of 1921 saw seven miles of brick paving laid. In 1910 and again in 1933 the streets were renumbered and renamed. (Imagine going to bed on 5th and waking up on 10th!)

A less-than-great, privately-owned water works started in 1888. The city bought the plant in 1904 and made improvements to keep pace with the growth of the town. A volunteer fire company organized in 1889 and is still very active.

The first park was the town square. Sod was broken in 1885 and trees were planted on Arbor Day 1886. Band concerts were held weekly, and the park is still the site of many civic activities. In 1974 a 53 acre park was donated by Leo Mellam. The city built a swimming pool in 1976, and has added trees, ball parks, and other facilities.

The first library was in Dr. Hull's hotel in 1884, then moved to the new city hall in 1910. In 1915 a Carnegie Library was built, which served until 1971 when a new building was constructed.

School was held in unused homes or stores until 1884, when a brick school was built. In 1989 there is a north and a south elementary, and a middle-high school complex holding an AA rating.

The Baptists organized in 1881, and the Methodists in 1883, followed by the United Brethern, Catholics, Christians, and Presbyterians. Today there are 19 denominations, with the old Christian and the Presbyterian churches standing as examples of the early architecture.

Gone are the days when stores of every type could be found on each side of the square. The livery stables became garages, and the mills, brickyards, blacksmiths, bottling plants, Chinese laundry, and creameries have vanished. The town now has discount houses, chain stores, car washes, and fewer independent merchants.

Early Bowites enjoyed gatherings -- speaking, musicals, and dramatics. More than one opera house provided a stage for local talent, and the railroad made touring groups possible. By the 1910s Chautauquas were the rage, and the circus was a big favorite. Hugo Tent Shows followed. The Elks Club Band now plays for special events, and a community playhouse offers "entertainments" three times a year.

Local community groups have promoted both the city and county, and tried, under Governor Silas Holcomb (a local man),to get the state capitol relocated to Broken Bow. Later, an effort was made to get the state agriculture school and the reformatory. More recently, the Becton-Dickinson Company located in Broken Bow, and is currently the largest employer. The Nest Builders presently promote projects to benefit the city.

Broken Bow has, in 107 years, faced good times and bad. But the "do, and do-it-well" spirit of the early pioneers, continues to make our town a going concern.

By the Custer County Historical Society, Inc, 255 South Tenth Avenue, Broken Bow, NE 68822. Research by Frances Jenkins, Javene Nielsen, Mary Landkamer, and Grace Varney.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Pioneer History of Custer County; Custer County Republican; Custer County Chief; and How Our Hundred Happened, by Phillip Gardner; "Custer County Leader," "Custer County Beacon," and "Broken Bow Free Press."