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Nebraska...Our Towns


Adams County

Quiet village green [Harris]
East side of Juniata Avenue, date not given. The structure at the left appears to be a raised bandstand. [Adams County Historical Society]
Juniata Avenue, 1891, looking south. [Adams County Historical Society]

Juniata, a name made popular in a song describing a river in Pennsylvania, is the "J" on the Burlington rail line. It was the first town in Adams County, platted, settled, and elected county seat in 1871. The first settlers were from Pontiac, Michigan.

The first official business was transacted in January 1872 when the newly-elected commissioners, Brass, Allen, and Selleck, divided the county into districts, arranged for the establishment of roads, and ordered that a courthouse be erected,"...20 by 16 by 8 feet, to be built within ten days."

In the masthead of the first issue of the "Adams County Gazette," the town's name was spelled "Junietta." The advertisements indicated that there were two general stores, two attorneys, and a doctor. The newspaper editor was also the superintendent of schools. Juniata had 50 residents and 15 homes when the first train pulled into town on June 8, 1872. This was a joyful occasion, celebrated by a public dinner.

Development of the town was rapid, and before the summer was over, Juniata had two churches (Baptist and Methodist Episcopal) and many new businesses.

In April 1872 a representative of the St.Joseph & Denver Railroad asked the commissioners to provide $75,000 in county bonds to assist in the completion of 25 miles of line in Adams County. However, prominent business leaders argued that the railroad would build their line and cross the Burlington at Juniata without any incentive, so the bonds failed to pass. The new railroad came, but the lines did not cross at Juniata. They crossed several miles east where the railroad established a new town site called "Hastings."

Almost immediately the new town challenged Juniata for the county seat and won. Although stripped of her prize, business and building activity continued. In 1880, upon the petition of 64 taxpayers, Juniata was incorporated as a town. The flour mill, the only one for miles around, attracted people from far and wide. (Because of the earlier action, all roads in Adams County still led to Juniata.)

Company F, Nebraska Militia, forerunner of the Nebraska National Guard, was organized in 1880. In 1882 they were mobilized for strike-breaking duty in Omaha. In 1890 the post was called to action to quell an Indian disturbance that culminated in the Battle of Wounded Knee. A GAR post, Geary Post No.82, was organized in 1881, serving the needs of veterans.

When William Jennings Bryan appeared in the town in 1899, he was not greeted with enthusiasm. Most of the several hundred people who listened to his oratory were Republicans and "not sympathetic to his political leanings."

Like many small towns, Juniata had many bands. A coronet band organized in 1878 presented regular concerts. A proper bandstand was built in 1904, and in 1913 a band composed largely of youngsters was organized.

Despite a big bell mounted in front of Williams' restaurant in 1878 to call citizens to fires as well as to meals, fires presented grave problems. In January 1883, a fire started in a saloon and destroyed seven businesses before it was stopped. In 1892 the original flour mill burned. In 1908 and 1917, still more businesses were destroyed.

Juniata never recovered from these losses, since the buildings were not replaced. The close proximity of Hastings precluded renewal attempts. After fire destroyed the lumber yard in 1933, a Volunteer Fire Department was organized. Acquiring and updating its equipment over the years, it became part of a rural fire district in 1955. A tornado in 1960 destroyed the depot, the bandstand, and town pump.

The village board minutes state that in 1918 the town voted to issue bonds to establish an electric light system by purchasing the power from Hastings in 1918. Main street was graveled in 1924 "...from the DLD highway to the railroad tracks," and in 1928, the streets were graded and graveled. In 1938 three blocks of Juniata Avenue were paved. The village-owned windmill and tower were sold in 1945 and an electric motor installed. It was 1956 before the board established a water and sewer system and 1968 when all town streets were "oiled."

Juniata is one of the small towns in Nebraska that is still growing. Population in 1980 was recorded as 703. The town maintains a K-6 grade school, and is part of the Adams Central Class VI school for 7-12 students.

Compiled from material submitted by Catherine Renschler, Box 102, Hastings, NE 68901

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Adams County: The Story 1971 by Dorothy Creigh