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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Cowles -- Webster County

A little cemetery sits on a hilltop just north of the town of Cowles. The grass waves in the wind and prickly pear cactus pokes from beneath other weeds. Auger towers and grain bin roofs protrude above the trees. Yes, there really is a town of Cowles, Nebraska.
What appeared to be a unique dugout in the negative, was instead a Greek laborer's bake oven, left behind when the work crews moved on. [Nebraska State Historical Society]

The village of Cowles in Webster County is perhaps in the category of a "useta'was" town. Its population as listed in the official 1987-88 road map is 48, down from a peak of 222 in 1920.

The first post office at this location was "Edna" established May 10, 1877. While the origin of that name is not known, the first postmaster was Arando Edson. (A genealogist could probably help identify the person for whom the settlement was named -- perhaps Edson's wife, mother, or daughter?)

The name was changed on January 27, 1879, in honor of W.D. Cowles, who had been general freight agent of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad until his death in 1876. To honor someone posthumously in this manner is a unique distinction, to say the least.

The town was given an appropriate start with the often-mentioned Anselmo B. Smith doing the official plat for the railroad in September 1878. Located about ten miles northeast of Red Cloud, the village gained prominence in the late 1920s as an especially nice summer recreation area.

In High Plains Route, edited and published by James J. Reisdorff, South Platte Press, Richard C. Kistler reported that the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad operated a well-patronized Sunday excursion train from Hastings to Cowles for many years. In 1930 the CB&Q employees picnic was held at this location. The railroad personnel arrived on the special train that ran from Omaha, stopping to pick up others at the stations along the way. It was noted that among those attending was CB&Q's president Ralph Budd.

It was reported that the recreation spot closed by 1934, undoubtedly a victim of the drought, the Depression, or both. During those years of "hard times" there was no money available for "recreating." For many years thereafter, however, local gravel pits still provided revenue for the railroad on that line. With the advent of large trucks, this too, went by the wayside.

In 1959 the Cowles post office was made a rural independent branch of the Blue Hill office. By then the town had dwindled to a mere shadow of its former self.

A weathered station signboard was pictured in June 1969 beside the tracks overgrown by weeds. The picturesque grain elevator's lettering was still visible, and numerous round grain storage bins indicated that the elevator at that location had at least been active in the post-World War II period.

The last listing in the League of Nebraska Municipalities was made in 1984. Since then, the phone company has also revised service to the town (making phone numbers listed in the LNM Directory obsolete) and there has been no response to letters in connection to this project. Cowles is still listed as an incorporated village in 1987 with an actual valuation of $538,665.

From information found in Perkey's Nebraska Place Names, Fitzpatrick's Nebraska Place-names, High Plains Route, South Platte Press, Rte 3 Box 86, David City, NE 68632.