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Nebraska...Our Towns

Table Rock -- Pawnee County

The "table rock" as it appeared in 1869. [Stehlik]
Table Rock's main street during a festival, ca. 1917, prior to the big fire. [Stehlik]

A strange table-like rock formation was found near the north fork of the Nemaha River. Petroglyphs, carved on the walls of nearby caves and on large stones which jut from the river bluff, allude to its importance during earlier cultures. However, man and the elements destroyed the landmark in 1869.

Platted in 1855, "Table Rock" did not advance from "a paper town" until Charles Giddings, an Episcopal minister hired by the Nebraska Settlement Company, led a colony of emigrants from Pennsylvania and New York to the territory in 1856-57. Told that "...a railroad will be built momentarily," 200 families established homes out on the prairie, 23 miles from the Missouri River.

In the first county election, Table Rock lost the race for county seat to Pawnee City by only 16 votes. By 1856 a post office was established, as was a school -- the first in Pawnee County. It was held in Lydia Giddings log home. By 1857 a flour mill was in operation, however, the plans for the railroad failed to materialize, making it difficult to get crops to market. After flood waters inundated the original town site in 1858, many people packed up and left. "So greatly discouraged were the settlers," wrote Elder Giddings, "that by the end of the year only 15 families remained -- and they were too poor to leave."

For several years thereafter, meetings, public worship, or "the literary society" were held at the Giddings home nearly every night in the week. In 1862 a stone schoolhouse was built, said to be "the largest and best in all of Southeast Nebraska." During the Civil War, "Jayhawkers" terrorized the area until they were captured and hanged.

Many musical groups were organized with the coming of Czech and German immigrants in 1860-80, which enhanced school, community, and lodge picnics. The bandstand, built after World War I, provided the setting for Saturday night concerts in the park and there were "platform dances."

Chauncey Norris established a store in 1869. In 1871-72 the Atchison & Nebraska Railroad finally built its line, and soon a hotel and several businesses were in operation. In 1881 two severe floods and a fire caused the initial town site to move to "Upper Town," one mile west.

A creamery, established in 1880, was managed by William Sutton. It becoming "one of the greatest cream stations" before being purchased by the Beatrice Creamery in 1896. A 105-foot smoke stack is all that remains of the two thriving brick yards, built in the 1880s. Table Rock Clay Company was formed in 1896. Frank Taylor established the "Table Rock Argus," in 1884. In 1974, after the sudden death of its last editor, Rudolph Senft, the "Argus" became a page in the "Pawnee Republican."

In February 1920 fire destroyed five buildings on main street. There was a gaping hole behind a high board fence until 1969, when the post office was built. The telephone building was built in 1976.

Table Rock's District 33 still serves students in our town and the surrounding area. Losing its accredited status in the 1950s, it was enlarged in 1956 when it was joined by ten rural schools. A new school was built in 1964, with Steinauer joining in 1982 and Elk Creek in 1984. Accreditation was regained in 1983, with K-12 classes currently provided for 136 students. A strong musical program, established in 1928, resulted in the state championship for the band in 1931, and nine consecutive superior ratings in marching band festivals from 1966 to 1974.

Methodist and Church of Christ congregations remain active, with the old St. John's Catholic Church (thought to be the oldest established church in southeast Nebraska) maintained as a museum.

Table Rock's centennial was celebrated in July 1958, with a 65-person cast, four-act pastoral play, depicting our history. The 1967 Nebraska centennial was observed with the "Ballad of Pawnee County" performed at the Table Rock Festival. Directed by four UNL students, it had a cast of 80. A pageant, "History of Table Rock" was presented at the festival in 1992, and a Q125 observance, "The Best Little Brick Town in Nebraska" was produced in 1992.

The Table Rock Historical Society maintains the "Argus" Shop, the opera house, and five other buildings as museums. Persons from our community who served in Nebraska's Legislature include: C.I. Norris, William Sutton, and Frank Taylor.

By Nettie Stehlik, historian, Box 20 Route 1, Table Rock, NE 68447.


ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: A story about Table Rock, was compiled in 1987 by Nettie Stehlik. The manuscript is on file with the Nebraska State Historical Society.