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Nebraska...Our Towns


Butler County

Binders, mowers, and wagons being assembled in the rear of Heyo Aden's hardware store, 1900. Photographer Lew Marshall's jewelry store is on the left.
Spelts Grain Company and the Garrison Depot about 1900.
Shops, town hall, and businesses that lines the street on the north side of Lincoln Park before the fire, 1909. [Remmers]

Brothers John and Loren Walker homesteaded just west of the present-day Garrison in 1867. After failing at an attempt to farm, they built a small trading store on the old Indian trail that ran up along the Big Blue River. In 1871 Charles Henry Sargent visited this "hamlet," consisting of one house and one store while surveying the grade for the Lincoln & North Western Railroad. He bought the quarter section nearby on which to locate a depot. We consider this the beginning of our town.

When the rail line was constructed less than a decade later, the village was surveyed. Sargent named his town for William Lloyd Garrison (an anti-slavery activist), the streets for famous writers (Essex, Holmes, Whittier, Lowell, Bryant, and Longfellow), and the town's park for President Lincoln.

The Walkers moved their store to the east side of the newly-laid rails in 1879, and enlarged the building to make room for a post office. By the time the first train arrived in 1880, Garrison was a booming community. By 1886 the population reached 175. Included in the 28 businesses were two newspapers, the "Garrison Argus" and "Garrison News."

A Methodist Church was built in 1882. After that building burned in 1929, a new church was erected. That building was torn down in the 1950s.

A larger school was needed in 1885, and in 1922 Garrison boasted a new school for grades 1-11. Garrison returned to a K-8 Class I district some time ago.

Fire has been Garrison's worst enemy. Aided by a gusty southwest wind, the west side of the square burned to the ground in 1909. The four businesses and five buildings were not rebuilt. Another fire on Christmas morning in 1948 destroyed a two-year-old repair garage owned by Harold Hanner. This was also not rebuilt. The only local fire-fighting equipment is a three-quarter ton pickup used for small fires. Our local fire and rescue personnel are part of the rural fire district affiliated with the David City VFD.

We have lost other buildings linked to the past. One in particular, built in the 1880s by B.A.Shearer as a grocery market, was enlarged to the west in 1910. The addition housed a barber shop and meat market run by Adolph Piller until the 1930s, when it became a tavern. The room above the store was used as a community hall, and doubled as an opera house where school programs were held, or you could see a movie for a nickel. While the high school was being built, the rooms were used for classes. After a hailstorm in June 1973 which damaged the building beyond repair, it was torn down and the owner, Lawrence Zegers, replaced it with a Behlen Building that presently houses the tavern.

As the automobile increased in use, trains declined. Until its discontinuance in 1953, a single unit diesel "motor car" served as passenger, mail, and small freight carrier from Lincoln arriving in the morning and going back again each evening. Currently, the line, now Burlington Northern, still serves the community. Sizable additions were made to the elevator in 1970 and 1977. History was made in 1988 when a 27-car milo train was loaded and shipped, the first complete grain train from the Garrison Elevator.

Free movies were shown in Lincoln Park on Friday evenings, for many years, the park was the place where people gathered to socialize and visit with friends and new comers. Now days, there are ball games for kids, men, and women held on the school grounds and enjoyed by all. Other social events include the annual town picnic and a soup supper held in the village hall. Rented almost every weekend, the hall is probably the best investment Garrison ever made.

Located on the tableland just south of Highway 92, Garrison overlooks the Kelser Creek Valley, a tributary that joins the Big Blue River. The town's peak population of 250 was recorded in 1900, with the present number being less than 70. The town is still incorporated, although the post office was made a "rural station" of David City in 1966. Metal cluster mail boxes were erected in the park near the village hall in 1981.

The town's centennial was held in July 1971. Garrison's two-room school has remained a center of many social events, which include a Christmas program, school picnic, and an annual weiner roast.


From Marianne Ziethen, Rte 1 Box 222, Garrison, NE 68632

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: This story was written by David M. Remmers and Marianne Ziethen from a personal history of Garrison compiled by Anna Hoeft and Marie Hunsche, and a story written by Thelma Zegers for the Butler County History Book, 1982.