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Nebraska...Our Towns

Oak -- Nuckolls County

The huge oak and elm tree not far from "Oak Grove Station" on the Little Blue River under which Nuckolls County was organized in 1871. [Lowery]
Then: North side of main in Oak, rebuilt after the 1912 fire.
And now: The north side of main as it looked in 1987. [Lowrey]
Clearing the tracks at Oak following the 1912 blizzard. The water tower and windmill in the background. [Lowery]

Back in 1858 the Comstock family came west to build a ranch along the Oregon Trail from St. Joe to Fort Kearny. They purchased the Oak Grove Station in 1861, by then an established stop along the Little Blue River. History records that the station was attacked and burned by Sioux Indians in 1864, but was rebuilt and remained an important point, providing food and shelter for travelers. Oak Grove also served as a Pony Express Station during its brief existence. In 1867, when Indians again attempted to "exterminate white settlers" that were coming in ever-increasing numbers, the station had to be abandoned. Philip and Henry Michaels ventured back in 1869, and by 1870 pioneers again settled the area.

Many historic gatherings were held at Oak Grove. In 1871 Nuckolls County was organized under an elm tree at Oak Grove. A school, organized that same year, was built on the river bank near D.W. Montgomery's home. The Little Blue Cemetery was started in 1871 with the Oak Grove Cemetery laid on a hill north of the old station in 1873. With several homes nearby, a post office was established in 1874. James Moore built a mill on the south bank of the river in 1882.

The coming of a railroad changed all that. When the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad came through, it bypassed the settlement near the Oak Grove Station in favor of a new location. In July 1888 the Pioneer Townsite Company surveyed and staked out lots on part of George Follmer's farm, which he donated to the town for that purpose.

Moving day can be traumatic for even one household. Imagine a whole town at a time when everything -- including the buildings -- moved at the sound of a hoof-beat. The church and store were the first to be hauled to the new site. These, along with a section house and stockyards built by the railroad, became the nucleus for a town called simply "Oak." The houses, barns, and outbuildings followed. Soon all but the mill and cemetery had moved.

The "firsts" in the new town were: a child born to the Phillips'; Jack Pearts' death; the arrival of Dr. Humphrey; the establishment of the "Oak Leaf" newspaper; a Baptist church; and the marriage of Mack Comstock and Ettie Erickson. The list of businesses included Knoble's hardware, Mrs. Burns' millinery, Kimball's harness shop, Bartells' shoe shop, the Elkhorn Hotel, Chenoweth & Strawn furniture, Baker's meat market, Ross' drugs, a painter named Dave, and a livery barn. In 1897 the "Oak News" listed 22 businesses and a population of 230.

The first school was made of logs, the second was wood sided, and the third was a two-story ten-grade school, built in the 1890s. Oak's fourth schoolhouse was of brick, which now serves as a community center.

Oak had four churches. The Methodist, now the First Community Church, is the only one remaining. The United Brethren, Baptist, and the Christian, which held its Sunday school and church services in the opera house, are gone.

The King's Daughters library was organized in 1890. Walter Fifield organized a bank in 1897. The Scroggin bank, organized in 1898, was robbed on three occasions. An early radio stations, KFEQ, owned by John Scroggin from 1921-1925, is now located in St.Joseph, MO.

Oak recorded its highest population of 237 in 1910. In 1915 a hydroelectric power plant was located at the mill site, providing electricity for the residents of Oak. The years following World War I started the slow decline in population that accelerated during the Depression and drought of the 1930s.

Oak Survived three fires, most notably one in 1912 when the north side of main street was destroyed. Businesses were rebuilt with bricks. In 1935 the opera house burned.

The railroad abandoned its line through Nuckolls County in 1975. Since then the community has lost its grade school, the grocery store, and the bank. The town, with a current population of 82, consists of a community building, Oregon Trail Park, an elevator, a post office, a cafe, a blacksmith shop, a thrift shop, plus several small shop. The church is a very important part of the community, as are the organizations and the library. Oak is known for its good baseball teams, and was the hometown of Russ Snyder.

A tour and re-enactment at Oak Grove and seven other stations along the Oregon Trail is done every four years. The event was part of Oak's centennial in 1988, and will be included in a full day of history in 1992.

By Rhodabelle Lowery, coordinator, Oak, NE 68984. Help with historical & pictorial research; Ruby Lonsdale, Gwen Samsula, and Cindy Lowery. Research & typist, Georgia Biltoft and Connie Stichka. Photos, Lowery-Follmer family, Montgomery family, and Oak community.