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Nebraska...Our Towns

Superior -- Nuckolls County

Superior's main thoroughfare in 1881. Located just one mile from Kansas in the Republican River Valley, it had the potential for growth because of the "superior quality" of the land and enterprising citizens. [NCHS]
Water-power, a major ingredient for a town, also provided a cool pond for swimmers on hot summer days. [Petr]
Downtown Superior, 1899, as four major railroads provide good outlets for its goods, and bring people and prosperity to the community. [NCHS]
By 1930 automobiles were here to stay, and the years of paving roads for them was in full swing. Using raw materials mined just across the state line, which were hauled to plant at Superior by rail, Ideal Cement was then shipped far and wide. [NCHS]

It is the people who make a community, the buildings that determine its familiarity and add to its memorability, and the land that gives it character. Extremes in weather and special events make a community unique, and the ability to "change with the times" keeps it alive. Superior is such a community!

Even before the county was established in 1871, William Loudon, 21 years of age, arrived in Nebraska, choosing to settle in the Republican River Valley. He wrote, "...the thought occurred to me that by cutting a canal and turning a portion of the water of the river across to Lost Creek, a sufficient fall would be found to insure a water power of substantial importance." Close proximity to the river was a major consideration in locating his homestead.

Loudon further noted, "From the first I had in view the obtaining of suitable lands and the founding of a town." However, the ground he really wanted was already claimed by A. M. Collett, who was not interested in selling. While Louden filed a homestead, and acquired additional abandoned claims for himself and friends at $1.25 per acre in 1869, and as much as $3 per acre in 1871, he agreed to pay Collett $9 per acre for 160 acres of the land he wanted for the town site.

With his town platted in 1875 and named "Superior" for the fine quality of the land, Loudon needed people and enterprise. He offered prospective businesses "free lots" on which to build, and even put up buildings with the option for them to buy. But growth was slow since Superior was 30 miles from the nearest railroad. Residents had to travel overland by wagon to pick up supplies or market products.

Soon after the town was incorporated in 1879, Louden approached the Burlington Railroad "with great persistence." He succeeded in selling it on the idea of an east-west connection through the town in 1880. This made the difference, and by 1887 Superior had grown to a "city of the second class." By 1900 four major railroads had extended lines through the city. With these good rail connection, the Ideal Cement plant became a major industry, supplying a wide area with the raw material most needed for building towns.

Growth was no longer a dream, it had become a reality. Superior reached a population of 3,227 in 1950 and currently numbers nearly 2,400.

Louis Carbill, a friend of Loudon's who also arrived at an early date, arranged for the first school to be built on his property in 1872. A log cabin built of green cottonwood resulted in "decorations" of branches and leaves growing out of the walls. With great anticipation of growth, a two-story schoolhouse was built in 1875. By 1888 that building was bursting at the seams, making it necessary to hold some classes in a house on Central Street while a brick school was completed. A North Ward elementary was built in 1889, and a high school was completed in 1908. A junior high structure was built in 1922, and a South Ward elementary in 1939, which is still used for the lower primary classes. Following some consolidation in the early 1960s, a new high school was built, and the junior high building was replaced in 1980. There are nearly 700 students being taught in grades K-12 at this time.

As was often the case on the prairies, Loudon's first home was a dugout. When his "Uncle Andy" (a carpenter by trade) arrived in 1872, a log cabin was built. This became not only Loudon's home, but also the first post office and later a grocery store. As acting postmaster, Lowden (paid $1 per month for his efforts) established "daily service," nearly unheard of in those days. Today's post office was built in 1934, and salaries are considerably higher!

There have been many changes along Central Street. Fireproof buildings of brick and stone continued to replace the original frame ones. Third-generation businesses, constructed as late as the mid-1970s, are spacious single-story brick facilities designed to blend with the two-story structures built in the 1890s-1900s.

As with many Nebraska towns, Superior's main street buildings remain something of a collage. Some face-lifts are brightly modern, while others try to harmonize and compliment the earlier architecture. Perhaps this is one reason Superior continues to be the largest community in the county, albeit only three miles from the Kansas state line -- and still not the county seat!

By Betty Hullett, local coordinator, Nuckolls County Historical Society, P.O. Box 441, Superior, NE 68978.