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Nebraska...Our Towns


Dakota County

Emerson looking north, 1904. In the center, newly planted trees for a park. The old Catholic Church in the background.
Looking south from Water Tower, 1904
Main street looking south, 1988

Nestled in the rolling hills of northeast Nebraska, the town of Emerson has the distinction of being located in three counties. The largest western section is in Dixon County, while the northeast part is in Dakota County, and the southeast part of town is in Thurston County.

Established as a junction on the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway in 1881, it was first known as "Kenesaw Junction." Since there was another town in Nebraska by that name, a new one, "Emerson," for the author Ralph Waldo Emerson, was chosen.

Emerson had what is referred to as the "Winnebago Invasion." In 1882 the Indian reservation extended to the edge of Emerson's initial plat. Many settlers, however, built on the land beyond the town where they had no rights. On a morning in May, a delegation of Indian warriors in full attire, delivered a decree of the Winnebago Council meeting "...these people are to be off the reservation within an hour." There was a wild scramble, but by nightfall, the collection of temporary shanties had been moved across the line into the village-proper. Later, the reservation line was established at the Thurston County line.

Emerson incorporated in 1888 when the population was between 200 and 300. By 1893 the village had grown to 600 residents.

Emerson, born as a railroad junction, had 67 trains daily until well into the 1930s, and was the home for many railroad workers. There were three section houses, an extensive waterworks, car scales, and a good stock yard. Every four hours a passenger train left for Omaha, Sioux City, or Norfolk. Four hotels flourished, and at one time the town had a cigar factory and a roller mill. As rail traffic declined, truck lines took over. The depot and round house still stand, but now house other business establishments, and the tracks have been removed.

Emerson had a local weekly newspaper for more than 100 years. First established in 1883, it was purchased by the "Nebraska Journal-Leader" at Ponca, which continues to publish Emerson's local news.

The Emerson school district was bonded for $5,000 in 1885 and a fine schoolhouse was built. It was sold for $275 in 1906 and a larger school was completed at a cost of $20,000. A $225,000 school facility was needed in 1954. Later redistricting necessitated the building of a junior-senior high school for the new Emerson-Hubbard district. Dedicated in 1964, it cost $530,000. In addition to a K-6 elementary center, Sacred Heart Catholic School, built in 1918, also serves students in grades 1-8. The community is very proud of its fine school system and high educational standards.

A definite asset to the community is a well-organized volunteer fire department, which also provides 24-hour ambulance service. Organized in 1902, the water works was established in 1903 after fire destroyed a number of businesses on main street.

The light plant was established in 1912. In about 1940 the Northeast Nebraska Rural Public Power District stationed its headquarters in Emerson.

The community provides spiritual training at the worship centers of its people: a Presbyterian, a Catholic, and two Lutheran churches.

Emerson boasts of many other fine facilities, including a swimming pool and an excellent park. The town has an active senior center, nursing home, low income housing development, and many new homes. There is a large grocery store, post office, bank, and many small businesses to serve the community.

Good, hard-surface highways into town from all directions have been a big asset, and many residents are employed at IBP in Dakota City. However, Emerson's proximity to larger towns may also be one of the reasons the town has not grown significantly the last few years. The uncertain farm economy and strained labor conditions in the past few years have contributed to changes in the local economy, and caused some small businesses to close.

Emerson, with a population of approximately 850, is the headquarters of the National Farm Crisis Organization.

By Shirley Blaker, Box 424, Emerson, NE 68733


ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Warner's "History of Dakota County," History of Dixon County; Nebraska Centennial 1867-1967, Dakota County; and "Emerson Centennial Book."