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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Book Credits

Published by
Second Century Publication Committee
1997 280th. St., Seward, Nebraska 68434-7832

Committee Members


James E. Potter
James E. Potter

Archeological evidence indicates that the earliest humans formed communities. Nebraska's pre-historic and historic Indians were communal peoples, some living in semi-permanent villages while others were nomadic. Regardless of the specific place of residence, a group living arrangement offered protection, a division of labor, better access to resources, and social opportunities. In return, each community member sacrificed some individuality for the common good. Towns and villages of today provide similar benefits to their citizens.

When Nebraska Territory was created and opened to white settlement in 1854, towns sprang up almost overnight, each vying to become the capitol, a county seat, a railroad terminus, or the home of a university. Though many failed to realize their aspirations, the fledgling towns were funnels through which poured streams of settlers who would transform Nebraska from a territory to state and make bloom the once maligned "Great American Desert."

An urban frontier moved westward from the Missouri River along with the homesteaders, cattlemen, and railroads. The combination of a vast tract of public land, settlers who wanted it, and railroads to move people and commodities, is a key to town-building in Nebraska. Most Nebraska communities after 1870 trace their establishment and livelihood to the railroad. By the end of the nineteenth century, rails criss-crossed the state knitting towns together in a transportation network.

In the twentieth century, the loss of rail service was a major blow to many towns, a loss not made good by an improved highway system. Equally serious was a declining rural population brought about by changes in Nebraska's agriculturally-based economy. The larger cities benefited most from the exodus from the farm. Some of the small towns have disappeared. Others are struggling to survive.

The NEBRASKA...Our Towns series does not attempt to synthesize and explain the urban history of Nebraska. The stories within are as diverse as the towns they portray. Yet the reader will notice common themes of pride, optimism, and persistence. The community spirit that created and sustained Nebraska's towns and villages in the past is their best hope for the future. That spirit is reflected in these pages.

James E. Potter, Editor, Nebraska State Historical Society, 1500 R Street, Lincoln, NE 68501


James J. Reisdorff
James J. Reisdorff

It has been said, ..."it was only yesterday when everybody loved trains." History students are well aware of the role that the American railroad industry played in the opening and settlement of the nation including Nebraska. The railroad construction era in Nebraska spanned from about 1865 to 1927, with many of Nebraska's towns owing their establishment and early survival to the steel rails that overcame the isolation associated with distance. Railroad historians have pointed out that, in a period when horsedrawn vehicles were the only other means of transport, it made "real sense" for railroads to establish stations every eight to ten miles apart for the convenience of farmers and travelers. Many of these small "whistle stops" of course grew to become our towns.

Railroads in the golden age of public rail travel came to be one of the major business forces in America. As a result, the initial picture of town residents eager for rail service was later replaced by the imagery of small town farmers and merchants financially struggling against the railroad transportation monopoly in such matters as shipping rates and adequate station facilities. Today, in the aftermath of the impact that the automobile, airline, and trucking industry has had on our lives, people have returned to a more nostalgic attitude toward railroads.

Technological and financial transition in the railroad business has certainly impacted on the history of Nebraska towns. Discontinuance of the labor-intensive steam locomotives meant reduced employment in many small towns. A gradual loss of passenger train service, starting in the 1920s, culminated with the start of the federal government-sponsored Amtrak system in 1971, which left only one passenger train route across Nebraska. Many of the state's rail branch lines have been abandoned and most of the small town depots have been closed.

However, the railroads' current emphasis on hauling such freight commodities as Nebraska grain products and Wyoming power plant coal have meant stability and growth for some mainline towns. Companies such as the Union Pacific Burlington Northern and the Chicago & North Western are now striving to remain competitive in the transportation industry.

Jim Reisdorff of David City is a freelance writer, newspaper correspondent, and book publisher. He has written and co- authored several books on Nebraska-related railroad subjects and edited similar books for other authors.


David L. Chambers
David L. Chambers

Our past slips away so quickly - like a Nebraska sunset. We should preserve, record and document events not only for the statistics of the incident but also to remember the beauty of the moment.

David L. Chambers, 6201 W. Adams, Rte 4, Lincoln, ME 68524


The 1970s and 1980s have been the decades of centennials for most towns and counties in the State of Nebraska. Celebration of these milestones produce festivals, fairs, pageants, and, more often than not, a centennial history book.

An important part of these town chronicles is the use of historical photographs. Zealous amateur historians scour the countryside unearthing never-before-seen views of their community. Photographs are borrowed, published, and returned to their owners.

It wasn't until later, when subsequent researchers uncover the visual treasures in these books, that it is discovered that this treasure has been reburied. Once the pictures are returned, they are lost to the public forever.

But that isn't the case with the NEBRASKA...Our Towns series. From the outset Jane Graff has worked closely with the staff of the Nebraska State Historical Society, making the images that she has assembled available to us for copy. This means that before the pictures are returned to their owners, they are copied, and thus their intellectual content is forever saved.

While it has not been practical to copy every photograph submitted, a large body of photographic history has been generated. The foresight that recognized that there was a worth to this material that transcended this publication is something, for which future generations of Nebraskans will be grateful.

John Carter, Photography Dept., NSHS, Lincoln, NE 68501


Jane Renner Hood
Jane Renner Hood

AT&T's persuasive commercial reminder to "call home" is so successful because it draws upon the image of the "home town" in the American imagination. Our home town may be the quintessential American small town of a Norman Rockwell painting, a neighborhood bound by ties of religion or ethnicity within the larger boundaries of a city, or, for younger generations, a suburban tract whose center is likely to be a shopping mall. Whatever our home town may have been, it exercised a powerful influence on our understanding of how the world worked, who each of us were as individuals, and how we fit into the larger society as symbolized by our community.

For towns are more than economic units or political entities. Each is, as Robert Bellah observes in HABITS OF THE HEART, "a community of memory linking the destiny of its citizens with their ancestors and descendants." The memories hold of our home towns remind us that our fundamental values and most important aspirations are given shape by traditions that transcend the present circumstances of our lives.

The essays in this publication are a contribution to that "community of memory." As such it is particularly appropriate that they were written by local citizens. By telling the story of their towns, each author serves as an active link between the community's ancestors and its descendants, and each essay helps us to preserve our collective communities of memory.

Jane Renner Hood, Executive Director, Nebraska Committee for the Humanities, 215 Centennial Mall, Lincoln, NE 68508


Jane Graff
Jane Graff

The project coordinator, Jane Ramsay Graff, third and fourth generation descendent of Seward County pioneers, lives on an acreage near Seward with her husband Meurice "Bud" Graff. They have three grown children. Her interest in history was first kindled when Seward was preparing for its centennial. Author of the book, On A Bend of The River, The Story of Seward & Seward County, 1967, she was given the unofficial title, "local historian."

Since then Graff has penned a family genealogy book, Our Heritage, Seward's The Fourth of July Book in 1980, and chaired the county's family heritage book project, SEWARD COUNTY NEBRASKA in 1982, and SEWARD COUNTY NEBRASKA SUPPLEMENT in 1983. Starting the NEBRASKA...Our Towns series in 1986, this, the seventh volume, completes the project. Graff is also the author of Seward County 1992: A Photographic Journey, written for the county's Q125 in 1992.

Graff's interest in education include 12 years on the Seward Board of Education, during which time she served on several state committees. She currently serves on the board of Educational Service Unit 6, and as a Director for Nebraska Association of School Boards. In 1984 Graff chaired the task force to establish the Nebraska History Network, a state-wide association of historical societies, museums, genealogy, and preservation groups, served as its first president, and continues to assist in the publication of its newsletter, VIEWPOINT.

Jane died in December of 2012


Dr. Robert Manley, best known of all the Second Century Committee members, has been writing, telling, and singing about our Nebraska towns for many years. He is genuinely excited about history, how it has effected the past and relates to what is happening today. Manley taught history in public schools, in the History Department at UNL, and at Hiram Scott College in Scottsbluff. He was with Selection Research, Inc. in Lincoln in 1971, later becoming SRI's president, and associated with Stuhr Museum during the 1980s where he continued his research and participated in the "living history" at Railroad Town. Currently an independent Senior Historian, Dr. Manley is the author of more than a dozen books and articles about Nebraska and its people, and has produced television programs, film strips, and audio tapes on the subject. He has been a consultant to school boards and to several oral history projects.

"History can provide a valuable lesson today's small town troubled by the depressed farm economy and population declines," says Manley. "People can see by reading these stories that towns have a rationale about them...they were built for a reason. Somebody planned them. When the reason a town started changes, things need to be revised. Some one or some group needs to make new plans."

The Manleys are now retired and living in Kansas.