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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Polk -- Polk County

Jamier Stevens and his family (pictured on the left) built this sod house in 1873. The town of "Polk" did not develop until the railroad put a line through the county in 1906.
Polk's main street, with newly graded streets and trees on the boulevard, 1911. [Nebraska State Historical Society]
Main Street 1989, with grown trees that provide shade during the summer. [Harris]

On September 11, 1906, lots in the new towns of Polk and Hordville went on sale at a "Grand Public Auction." The City Improvement Company had been organized to carry out wishes of Union Pacific officials in establishing two towns on a branch line from Stromsburg to Central City. Over 1,000 people gathered in the wheat stubble, soon to be the main street of Polk, and shouted out their bids. Lots were specifically sold to residents, not to speculators.

Careful attention had been taken to provide for broad streets, parks, churches, and school grounds. Businessmen purchasing properties that day included a grocer, a restaurant keeper, a blacksmith, dealers in furniture, produce, hardware, lumber, and implements, and -- most important -- a banker. People immediately started moving in from previously established areas to be near the railroad. Until the rails were laid, building material was hauled from neighboring towns.

By March 1907 the railroad line was opened for business, providing two freight and four passenger trains daily. During that first year, regular publication of a newspaper began, and on Polk's first birthday, it was granted incorporation as a village.

Very early in Polk's history three churches, which had existed near Polk, moved into town. At the present time there are four active congregations in town and several more in the rural area nearby. The ministerial association arranges for a number of community worship services, and a community chorus has given a Lenten concert for many years.

The first school was completed in 1908, followed by numerous additions and revisions. The present high school was built in 1959, and the elementary building in 1975, replacing the building destroyed in a fire. A library, established years ago by several dedicated ladies, continues to provide a source of educational material in Polk.

Polk's streets were graded in 1911, the work being done by horsepower. Two miles of paving was poured in 1915. Soon, 16 more blocks were completed. Today, all streets are hard-surfaced.

Electric lights were turned on February 10, 1914, and the water system extended to all parts of town before the end of that year. A new waterworks system was built in 1933, and in 1952 the sanitary sewer system was established.

In 1962 Kansas-Nebraska Natural Gas Company extended a line to Polk to supply the city and the surrounding area. The fire department, along with the well-trained rescue team, has served the community well, providing emergency service to facilities in nearby towns.

Our weekly newspaper, "The Polk Progress," and its owner Norris Alfred, have probably provided more notoriety for our town than anything else. Known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning writing talent, Alfred has put Polk's small-town wit and philosophy on the map. Other famous citizens include: former Governor Dwight Burney, Evelyn Lincoln (secretary to President Kennedy), Natalie Hahn (IFYE student, now serving as a doctor in Nigeria), and two NU football squad members, Ernest Kroeger, and Tom Carlson.

The Crescendos, a women's singing group, provides musical programs in the community. The school drama and music departments furnish the entertainment for a dinner theater to raise funds for scholarships to graduating seniors. A large portion of Polk's activities centers around the school and churches, with a spirit of unity and cooperation.

The ability to work with neighboring towns has been a positive motivating force in the character of this area. Thus in 1987, the two towns that shared the spotlight on auction day, Polk and Hordville, took steps to merge their school systems. Since education is a high priority, the need to consolidate in an effort to provide a better education for our youth was more important than the individual autonomy of either district.

Polk, in the extreme southwest corner of the county by the same name, had a peak population of 561 in 1920. Currently 440 residents call it "home."

Many changes have come about with time and technology...businesses have come and gone, while others have endured...people have come and gone, some leaving a line of descendants to carry on. The farms around Polk are blessed with fertile soil and the means for irrigation, and the town's economy reflects this strong agricultural base, cultivated crops, and livestock production. With a high percentage of creative, farsighted people, the Polk area has achieved recognition in material matters and aesthetic development.

By Janice Saylor, Box 5, Polk, NE 68654. Photos by Grace Burney, and Mrs. Irvin Anderson.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Polk Memoirs, 1974, by Burney & Anderson.