About Nebraska...Our Towns
Nebraska's Agrarian Roots...
Nebraska's economy has been, and still is, primarily agriculturally based. A report titled, "New Seeds for Nebraska" states that more. than 40% of the state's economy is geared to agriculture - the highest proportion of any state in the nation. In addition, nearly 60% of the manufacturing in the state is also ag- related!
The number of farms, however, diminished from 129,000 in the 1930s to 60,000 in 1982. The 1990 national census places the number of total households in the "farm self-employed" category as just 2.2 per cent. Farmers, therefore, represent a much smaller proportion of Nebraska's population than they did in the past.
While this series is about "our towns" and not about the many facets of the economy and our close association with farming, it is obvious that what happens "down on the farm" still greatly effect what is happening in our towns.
IF, however, you want to learn about Nebraska and experience what it is that makes this such a special place, you will need to stop and discover for yourself the unique qualities found in each town. Most towns didn't just "happen." The where and why a town came into being had something to do with its location, and the people who planned it. The fact that a town survived and continues to exist today is often a story of innovation, renewal, personal initiative, community pride, and yes, sometimes determined by its location and the people who now live there.
About the Our Towns Project
Certain parameters were established when organizing the project Nebraska...Our Towns. For this to be a complete picture Nebraska's towns, all incorporated towns were invited to participate, from the smallest to the largest. After all, even our 12 biggest cities were once "just another Nebraska town."
Our towns range in size from villages of single digit population to a metropolis of nearly 335,000 people. Our capital city of Lincoln is classified as a primary city (having a population of more than 100,000). We have 29 first class cities (more than 5,000 - 10 of which are between 12,000 and 33,000), 113 second class cities (more than 800 population who have voted to move up to that classification), and nearly 400 villages.
The official list of incorporated towns, kept current for the purpose of distributing money used to maintain state and federal highways, is available from the Department of Roads. The official 1987 list includes 535 cities and villages.
Towns no longer, or never incorporated, and "ghost towns" are not included in this series with two exceptions - the county seats for two counties - Banner and McPherson, that have no incorporated towns within their borders.
To BECOME "a town," a community must complete an application and have it approved. The rules for becoming incorporated were, and still are, very specific. Primary movers-'n-shakers from within a settlement met "the letter of the law" in a variety of ingenious ways. (One town had the, soldiers from the nearby fort signed as residents, another included 36 square miles in their original plat, and a third town built two men of stone to reach the required number.)
To STAY incorporated, a city or village must pay a nominal fee, and keep up the paper work. Nebraska's smallest town, Gross, had an official population of "2" in 1976, yet proudly continued to meet all the requirements.
Not all incorporated towns are found on the official state road map, or have their own postal zip code. Other communities, while identified on the map and maintaining a post office, never were incorporated or may have let their official status laps. The geographic location, proximity to other towns, politics, or the people who live there seem to have something to do with the phenomenon.
Of course, many of our towns did not survive. Literally hundreds have either pulled stakes, moved lock, stock, and barrel to the next town, or just "blew away."