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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Dorchester -- Saline County

The "D" on the B&MR's rail line west of Lincoln, Dorchester's two-story depot housed the station agent and his family upstairs. [Prokop post card, SCHS]

Our town, created first on paper, is one of the "alphabet towns" on the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad line that built west from Lincoln. It was platted in 1870 as "DeWitt," but since that name was already used in Cuming County at that time, another "D" name had to be selected. "Dorchester" was chosen, either for a suburb of Boston by that name, or a town in England. No one is sure.

Representatives of the South Platte Land Company, a subsidiary of the railroad, had secured the land for a town by filing claims in their names -- James Seeley, Ed McIntyre, William Lewis, and Charles Stackhouse. They had built a dugout in the center of the section so each man could "sleep on his land," to fulfill the letter of the law. That structure was located at what is now the middle of town, near the village office.

By July 4, 1871, the railroad reached Dorchester. A well was dug and lots went on sale. McIntyre was chosen to "manage the company's business" and appointed post master, while the other three company-men moved "down the line" to begin the process further west.

Businesses fairly bounded out of the ground. In November 1871 the commissioners approved the building of a wagon road from Dorchester to Crete. By 1879 the population reached 200, with incorporation approved in 1881. In 1882 there were 500 residents and 90 buildings, 35 of which were businesses or public facilities. Brick buildings lined both sides of Washington Avenue for two blocks to house a variety of businesses including "The Dorchester Star." By 1889 the population is said to have reached 800, with refinements that included an opera house, and four churches.

School was first held in 1872 in the back room of McIntyre's store. In 1889 a two-story brick school, with eight classrooms and a bell tower, was built.

The drought and money panic in 1893-95 worked a hardship on debtor and creditor alike. While the town lost 28 businesses, the population remained fairly stable. New families moving in where others moved out. Early in 1900, fires destroyed several businesses and the village records. By the 1910s Dorchester had electricity, a water tower, and a fire department. A commercial club was organized, and brick sidwalks were installed. A three-story school replaced the 1889 building.

During the Depression, the Bank of Dorchester failed, while Citizen's State and First National banks merged and survived. WPA projects helped pave Washington Avenue, install a sewer system, and create a park. The Thompson Rodeo debuted as a popular summer attraction.

Highways 6 and 33 were graveled in the 1940s, as were rural mail routes. The first irrigation well was drilled on Chris Weber's farm, and rural electrification was completed following the war. In the 1950s dial phones were installed, but the newspaper ceased publication. Several rural schools merged with Dorchester's K-12 system and buses were purchased to transport students. The Burlington depot closed, but the railroad's freight business continued.

A "new gym wing" was added to the school in the 1960s. A watershed district was organized and flood-control structures were built northeast of town. The Saline County Historical Society located its museum at Dorchester, and a new post office was dedicated.

In the 1970s Dorchester participated in the Nebraska Community Improvement Program. Runners-up in 1977, Dorchester won the top award in 1978 and 1981, and an honorable mention in 1979. Several streets were paved, and other community projects improved the town's appearance.

During the 1970-80s, Dorchester athletic teams distinguished themselves in district and state competition. Our sons and daughters have become successful out in the world and here at home, with many earning state and national recognition. When Dorchester observed her centennial in 1981, people "came home" from all parts of the country.

Dorchester's proximity to industries in Crete and Seward, and access to the I-80 hook-up to Lincoln keeps the population stable. Descendants of pioneers who arrived more than a century ago live next door to families who arrived just last month. Over the years Dorchester has been many things to many people. For the 610 residents, Dorchester is "Home, Sweet Home."

By Jan Stehlik, Rte 1 Box 11, Dorchester, NE 68343.