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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Mitchell -- Scotts Bluff County

Mitchell's "one-man"and ONLY telephone switchboard in early 1900s, Mabel Stewart Newell, operator.
The Boardwalk, Center Avenue, note trees!
Mitchell's "lavish" hotel, built in 1902, with drayman waiting for trunks to move.
New gasoline buggies line up for admiring citizens.
Great Western Sugar Company's factory, under construction, 1920.

Mitchell, lying on the high plains on the historic Oregon and Mormon trails, was named for Fort Mitchell, an early army outpost. Two Russell brothers ran a tiny store and post office called "Thompson," but in 1893 they renamed their holdings "Mitchell" for the fort abandoned in 1868.

Shortly before 1900 the C.B.& Q. Railroad built a spur at nearby "Sunflower." The Russells, fearing they would lose their post office to that settlement, hastily got permission to move across the river. Thus, the town of Mitchell and the railroad came simultaneously.

In 1902 the town incorporated (therein lies another interesting story). An early depot was replaced by a more modern one in 1922, now both are gone.

This was "cattle country" until the advent of irrigation in 1902, when ranches were pushed northward. Mitchell became the headquarters for the United States Reclamation Service for the North Platte Valley at that early date and had one of the first large irrigation projects in the nation. Known today as the Pathfinder Irrigation District, it serves nearly 110,000 acres along the valley from new facilities in Mitchell.

Mitchell is home of the Scotts Bluff County Fair, for many years the largest in Nebraska. The event brought dignitaries from Omaha and Lincoln on special trains primarily for the pari-mutuel horse races, but also known to be HIGH BIDDERS at the 4-H livestock sale. The fair is still highly rated for its excellent 4-H program.

The Great Western Sugar Company built a factory in 1919, with the expected influx of population. Mitchell's factory, now Western Sugar Company, handles the beet crop from nearly 8,400 acres.

Mitchell's business district, much as it has been since the beginning, consists of Center Avenue with the usual array of businesses, several now run by third generation descendants of the original owners. The "Mitchell Index" was published by George E. Mark in 1901, and continues today with only a few changes in ownership. The Mitchell Mercantile served the whole of western Nebraska until 1935. A two-story hotel built in 1901, called "lavish" by early writers, remains in use as apartments.

Until the 1929 depression Mitchell had three banks but only the First National survived. In 1934 it built a larger facility, reportedly the only bank built in the U.S.that year!

Mitchell's school grew from a sod house, to a small frame building, to a two-story veneer structure. This later became the Opera House where the curtain "rolled up" (literally, around a large timber) for cultural, musical and school productions. In 1910 a large brick school was built. A new high school was built in 1927 and an elementary school with gymnasium added in 1952. The "Sunflower" district merged with Mitchell in 1976.

Mitchell's first church was Presbyterian, built in 1904 and shared with the Methodists until 1911. The latter dedicated their building in 1929. A Christian church, built in 1906 and enlarged in 1917, became the Federated Christian-Congregational with members from 13 denominations. Episcopalians first met in homes, then had a small edifice, and in 1973 dedicated a new sanctuary. The Catholics, organized in 1913, dedicated a new building in 1976. In 1920 German families instituted the United Church of Christ. A number of new churches have been organized in recent years.

The usual, and several unusual, fraternal groups established chapters in the community. World War I veterans organized the American Legion with its auxiliary and have owned their own building for many years. Mitchell has a going senior citizen group and is proud of its fine volunteer fire department with trained rescue personnel.

A devout woman, Mrs.C.H.Spieth, started the library in a small garage where "nothing but the most wholesome volumes" were put on the shelves. When the City Hall was built in 1922, the library moved into rooms there. In 1959, dedication was held for one of the valley's finest libraries.

Mitchell's recreational facilities include a swimming pool, tennis courts, picnic area, and playground equipment in association with a beautiful city park. A second park and three new baseball fields have recently been dedicated.

Our town is legend. The German, the Bohemian, the Hispanics, the pioneers who trekked from the East, those nameless ones who came -- all helped build what today is Mitchell, a small town that grew, regressed, stabilized and in 1987 is home to over two thousand people.

by Jane H. Bowman, 2003 Center Avenue, Mitchell 69357