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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

McGrew -- Scotts Bluff County

The beginning of McGrew named for a man who never returned. Land was purchased in 1910 and a land office built. With a well dug and a "small building" out back, they were ready for business. The plowed sod in front is curious. Was it to plant something, make a road, or as a fire-break?
Ora E.Adcock, his wife Carrie (Franklin) and son Orie Cassius, ca 1928.
Adcock retired from his store in 1952, and after several ownerships, the McGrew Mercantile closed in 1983.
The Presbyterian Church, built in 1912, and renamed the Oregon Trail Chapel in 1986, operating as a community church.

In anticipation of the coming of the Union Pacific Railroad, land for a townsite was purchased in 1910 and a land office building erected. C.F.McGrew, an executive of the Livestock National Bank of Omaha, promised to build a full block in the new town if it was given his name. The town obliged, but the buildings never materialized -- nor was he heard from again.

The first store was probably started by Jess Pickering, managed by Boyd West. Another store established by F.E.Sheffer also housed the post office and telephone exchange. Next came a hardware store, pool hall with saloon, coal and lumber. The blacksmith, barbershop, and printing press were all owned by Jack Long who edited a paper called, "The Wasp." All this began before the arrival of the first train late in 1911. That October, the town of McGrew was organized and in July 1912 it incorporated as a village.

John N. Howard built his home and livery stable, later to become a garage. He owned one of the first Model "T" Fords in the area. Ora E. Adcock, a young traveling salesman, liked what he saw, rented a building, and opened a general store. Later he built The McGrew Mercantile -- the shopping mall of its day.

In its heyday the town had 400-500 residents, mainly because of the thriving Union Pacific Railroad. In 1914, a concrete bridge was built across the North Platte River, making the town accessible to a larger trade area. By 1920 the town had a bank, a hotel (built of cement blocks and still in use as a tavern), cafe, church, a pickle station, grain elevator, stock yards, cream station, the depot, and a school house.

In 1917 sugar beets became a main crop in the region. A beet dump was built near the tracks and beets were shipped to Scottbluff where the first sugar factory in the valley was operating. Jake Sauerwein opened a butcher shop, Frank Jones had a cab service and sold Chevrolet cars. Later he purchased the bank. It collapsed due to a downward turn in 1921, but he remained in McGrew and raised his family, serving over 30 years as school custodian. Thomas Wyatt Petty was agent for the railroad. J.B. Tillman managed the Cox Lumber Co and served in various official positions of the town, church and school.

Every town has its tragic or sensational incidents. In 1938, some rowdy celebrators shot and killed the town marshal, Dave Lee, at the local dance hall.

McGrew was known as the "mating capital" of the region. Young ladies applying for teaching positions were told, "If you wished to remain single, don't come to McGrew." Seems the eligible bachelors were looking to "snare" a wife, and by the mid '30's there were 14 ex-schoolmarms living in the surrounding territory.

The first school in the valley was built at Horseshoe Bend. A short distance southwest of McGrew was Wilford with a sod building used as a school and later a post office. In 1888, Cheyenne County (which had included that whole area) was divided into five additional counties: Banner, Kimball, Morrill, Deuel, and Scottsbluff. McGrew's District No.83 first operated as an elementary 1-8 unit, then as a 1-10 for several years. From 1920 until 1967 it was a K-12, then returned to K-8 with students attended other high schools in the area. In 1986 with the need to have all lands a part of a K-12 district, McGrew merged with the Bayard schools. Changes came due to changing times: larger farms and lack of opportunities for young rural families resulted in a population decline. So, sadly, there is no longer a school in McGrew.

A Presbyterian missionary conducted church services in the community before the town was organized. A church was founded on April 29, 1912, and erected a building costing $1500. Serving the community for many years, the church officially closed in 1971 but steps were taken to save the property. With the help of the Platte Valley Bible College, the McGrew Community Church was formed that May. In 1986 the church was renamed "The Oregon Trail Chapel" in memory of the hundreds of pioneers whose wagon wheel ruts still mark their trail near McGrew.

The voices of the past are no longer heard, but the results of their efforts and work have been far-reaching and made a lasting impression upon the area. We pay tribute to the pioneer generation who helped conquer the wilderness and establish this frontier community which characterizes the great spirit of the west.

Researched by: Mrs. Wm. (Helen Jones) Marker (one of those

"schoolmarms"), history of the town

Dr. James L. Tillman, history of the schools

Mrs. Paul Franklin, history of the church

Compiled by: Mrs. H.E. (Mary Alice) Burchfield