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Nebraska...Our Towns


Boone County

Postcard from Petersburg, 1911. [Nebraska State Historical Society]
North side of main, during the building of the water tower, 1910. [Nebraska State Historical Society]

Logan Fontenelle, son of fur trader, Lucien Fontenelle, and the daughter of Big Elk, becoming Chief of the Omaha tribe in the early 1850s. He also served as interpreter, and went to Washington D.C. where the treaty, signed on March 16, 1854, opened the Nebraska Territory to settlement. In 1855, while hunting buffalo near the Beaver River, Logan Fontenelle was killed by rival Sioux Indians.

The first white settlers didn't arrive until more than a decade later, in 1871. When the railroad was extended through Boone County in 1886, three stops were planned between Albion and Oakdale, one of which was to be Raeville. The people of that town, however, fearing "the demoralizing influence" this might bring, refused the railroad's offer to establish a station.

With the line nearly ready for service in May 1887, a businessman from Albion, John Peters, offered to donate a portion of his land several miles further down the line to the railroad for the station. The offer was accepted. On June 8th the plat was dedicated to the public and one week later, with not a building or tree in sight, $10,000 worth of lots were sold. A year later over 30 businesses had been in established, and Petersburg was a town.

About the same time, the Rae Valley Town Lot Company also establish a town site west of the railroad, that rivaled the budding community. In 1990 this area was annexed by the village of Petersburg.

J. J. Andre was appointed postmaster, and H.G.Gross established the newspaper, "Petersburg Press" in 1888. (Unfortunately all copies of these original papers were destroyed by a fire, so many details of those early days has been lost. In 1891 another newspaper known as the "Petersburg Index" was started. Some time later it re-established the "Press" name, by which it is known today.

A first public school was built in 1888. The first churches were the Adventist and Mennonite. The old Mennonite building, known as the "Russian Church." was later converted into a parochial school when St.John the Baptist Catholic parish was established in 1896. Both schools still operate.

Telephones were installed in 1900, and electric lights in 1917. In 1926 Main Street was paved. The heat, dust, drought, and depression of the 1930s, however, greatly effected the community. Many men had to leave home for the Civilian Conservation Corps or the Public Works projects. They sent money back home to feed their families. Several farmers organized crews that traveled with their thrashing rigs and corn sheller machines. The town struggled to stay afloat.

In the early days there was a huge skating pond where the city park is now located. During the 1930s free outdoor movies attracted huge crowds. Saturday nights brought everyone to town to deliver their produce, get a supply of groceries, and talk about crops and the weather. The population at that time was nearly 700.

The 1940s were the war years. The young men were off to the service, and everyone at home did what they could for the war effort, with "victory garden," and rationing. After the war the "White Barn Dance Hall" housed many fun-times through the 50s and 60s. Baseball and softball were also a mainstay of the community.

Petersburg celebrated its 75th Jubilee in 1962. Many bi-centennial activities were held in 1976. The community's centennial, held in 1987, was a three-day extravaganza.

In 1973, the year that railroad was removed, plans were initiated to build a new park. It was completed and dedicated in 1977. The historical marker honoring Logan Fontenelle was erected there. There are two ball diamonds, a shelter, and in 1981 the Jaycees completed a multi-purpose court. A centennial walkway has been added.

Petersburg is now a town of 381 with over 50 businesses. A senior citizen's group, formed in 1983, serves meals and meals-on-wheels five days a week.

Petersburg is a close-knit family oriented community. It has a very active Commercial Club, a good volunteer fire department and rescue squad, and many service organizations. A participant in the Nebraska Community Improvement Programs, the people of Petersburg are working together to improve the town's image and services.

From material found in the Petersburg Centennial Book, 1987, available from Bernie Cunningham, Petersburg, NE 68652, and the NSHS.