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Nebraska...Our Towns


Dawson County

The "mud lodge" of the Pawnee has many of the same features as those of their ancestors, who lived and farmed in the area along the Wood River in 1100-1400. Left: a photo taken in the 1870s of a Pawnee earth lodge. [Nebraska State Historical Society]
The sod house in Buzzard Roost, the home of Leo and Edward Cunnningham, near Eddyville. The thick walls provided protection from the wind and cold in winter, and was surprisingly cool in summer.[Earl McFarland, Sumner]
Beautiful little church in Eddyville. [Harris]

Pottery and other artifacts found in archaeological excavations in central Nebraska indicate that a race of farming-people lived in this area from 1100 to the 1400s. Ruins of permanent homes from these Indians have been found in the Wood River Valley in northeastern Dawson County.

By analyzing material found in the diggings, it was discovered that a terrible drought hit this region in about 1425 and lasted for nearly 40 years. Eventually the people were forced to leave their homes and travel to the northeast. Their earth lodges eventually decayed, but were found to be an early version of the sod house used by many pioneers in the 19th century. The Indians, using a circular frame-work of poles and brush covered with grass, dirt and sod, made homes that were suitable for the severe weather of summer and winter.

No one tried to farm the valleys along this river again until the 1880s when white settlers came to claim homesteads. Early post offices listed for this area included: Trappers Grove, Guernsey, Jewell, and Congdon. When the Kearney & Black Hills Railway went up through the Wood River Valley, a station was needed near Congdon. Platted by the railroad, the new station was named for Eddyville, Iowa. The post office was moved and took the new name on November 12, 1890.

Eddyville's depot served that area, providing people of the community with all the conveniences that rail transportation afforded. A typical stop usually involved transferring incoming and outgoing produce, mail, and passengers. The nucleus of the town revolved around this process, and catered to the wants and needs of the basically agricultural economy.

Eddyville's peak in population came early, about 250 in 1910. By this time, the shift in population was beginning to effect some communities whose only function was to serve and be served by the railroad.

The winter of 1915 is remembered for its "snow blockade." Winter snow totaled over 25 inches when another 24 inches fell on March 6. No trains could get through for nearly a week. The "Sumner News" reported, "...the rotary snow plow with two engines and a force of shovelers went through at noon (March 11) and cleared the way to Stapleton." Mail had backed up so that 30 sacks were thrown off for Sumner, and nearly that many for Eddyville. The postmaster and rural carriers worked well into the night, sorting and distributing mail.

In January 1939 it was announced that Eddyville's legion post planned a new building, "...the drive started last Saturday with $150 being pledged." Mention was also made of the Wood River Valley Associated Chambers of Commerce organization.

With the coming of tractors and mechanization of agriculture, the rural population steadily declined. This also brought the loss of population in small towns, such as Eddyville. This had a profound effect on the schools. When the number of students becomes too small, it becomes necessary to close the school and merge with an adjacent district.

Eddyville found itself in this position in 1964, and using the redistricting plan, merged with the Sumner and Miller schools, becoming the new district known as S.E.M. District 101R.

All three towns had good schoolhouses, but none were large enough to accommodate all students. Rather than abandon these buildings and levy bonds to build a new school building, a plan was derived. Junior-senior high students attend in Sumner, which has the largest gymnasium. Eddyville and Miller elementary students stay at their school, with Sumner's youngsters attending one or the other as needed to maintain classes of normal size in both schools.

Of course this caused the end of the athletic rivalry that had extended for many decades. Eddyville retired the "Cardinals," and in this area where ranches and horses are common, the "Mustangs" was chosen by the students as the new symbol. By joining forces, the athletic teams have moved up from D to Class C rating.

Eddyville's board continues to meet the first Thursday of every months in the City Hall to transact the business of the village. The 130 citizens enjoy the simple pleasures available in their quiet town. Plans are being made for a centennial celebration in 1990.

From material submitted by Vera Thorell, 151 East Seward Street, Seward, NE 68434, and Earl McFarland of Sumner.