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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Arcadia -- Valley County

The old CB&Q depot at Arcadia as the train approahes [Nebraska State Historical Society]
Al and Katie Fagen in their fine buggy. [Zentz]
South side of main street, 1907. Poles up, wires not strung. Two dare devils on top, one on his way up.
The 1974 tornado as it entered Arcadia.
Out town today, 1988. [Harris]

Postmaster of a new office in 1874, Sarah Coulter Hawthorne, chose the name "Arcadia" when she was told that it meant "the feast of flowers." Since Valley County was filled with beautiful wild roses, the name was appropriate. The word actually means "a region or scene of simple pleasure and quiet," which would also seem to fit.

A town at this location was not laid out until 1885, when it was anticipated that a branch line of the Burlington Railroad would be extended through the corner of the county and on up to Comstock and Sargent. The town and eventually the railroad also adopted the Arcadia name.

As the population grew, schools, and churches were built. The Methodist Church was built in 1886 and the Congregational in 1888. Both churches recently celebrated their centennials.

In 1889 the first train came through the town. This was a great day! By 1899 the population was 700, with 41 businesses. By the time the railroad discontinued service in 1985 its importance to the town had passed, so no one in Arcadia noticed when the rails were removed. [The date was actually 1986.]

Through the years the town has seen many changes. There have been grasshoppers, drought, depression, floods, fires, blizzards, hail, and tornadoes, but the pioneer spirit has kept it alive. Today many third, fourth, and fifth generation families are representatives of the hardy men and women who settled the area.

Arcadia has not always been a "quiet peaceful town." In 1953 a tornado struck nearby, killing eleven people, ten from one family. On June 4, 1959, a tornado ripped through town with damage to the school and to numerous trees. Then on a beautiful clear day at 4:15 in the afternoon, April 20, 1976, a tornado which seemed to come from nowhere, crossed the Middle Loup River, and severed power lines in its path of destruction through the village. It entered the southwest corner of town, stayed on the ground, and exited the northeast corner after destroying 40 homes and businesses. Luckily, there were no deaths or serious injuries that time.

Arcadia has also been the victim of fires. In 1933 the schoolhouse burned and was replaced by the present school. Then in 1937 fire destroyed the frame buildings on the north side of one block of main street, the damage set at $100,000. Only two of the eight businesses remained, so many landmarks were lost.

With a population of 410, Arcadia is alive and well. The town has a bank, schoolhouse, post office, general store, lumber yard, filling stations, Legion Club, two cafes, Carnegie library, and numerous small businesses. Every year on Labor Day, the Fall Festival is celebrated with a big parade, junior rodeo, and a talent show.

Every five years a school alumni gathering is held over July 4th. For such a small town, Arcadia has unbelievable strength to draw people together from coast to coast, whose roots bring them "home."

A number of good books have been written about the community. These include Them Was the Days, by Martha McKeown, as told to her by her grandfather, Mont Hawthorne, and a 691-page history of the town and its people titled, Arcadia's Laughter and Tears.

Arcadia celebrated, with pride, its centennial in 1985.

By Winnie Arnold, Box 294, Arcadia, NE 68815

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Them Was the Days , McKeown, 1950; Arcadia's Laughter and Tears , 1978.