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Nebraska...Our Towns

Elgin

Antelope County

In the early days, the team that pulled a wagon to town was not always perfectly matched, but this coupling -- one horse and one cow -- was unusual enough to warrant a picture, titled "A reminder of Pioneer Days, Elgin, NE."
Shelling corn on main street in Elgin, 1980. Beats doing it by hand!!
The main street's "business section," 1956.
Similar view of downtown Elgin, 1987
The Elgin Street Carnival, as pictured in 1912.
The 1987 Street Carnival as photographed from atop the ferris wheel.

William Eggleston, one of the early settlers, circulated a petition to establish a post office in 1883. When it was granted, Gene Gailey opened a postal guide at random, pointed blindly with his index finger, opened his eyes to see "ELGIN" (Elgin, Illinois, that is). Thus the name for the post office was determined.

About three years later, a site for a town was established when the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad extended its branch from Albion to Oakdale. A plat was made in June, and on July 4, 1887, a "real village" was dedicated and the lots were available to be purchased. Elgin became incorporated in 1889 with a population of 421.

In 1895 a fire burned one whole block of buildings, including the Elgin State Bank, with a loss estimated at $15,000. An even more disastrous fire in 1909 started in the chimney of a restaurant. Fought only by a bucket brigade, it destroyed almost an entire block in less than two hours, a loss of $125,000. Before the ashes were cold, plans for equipping a volunteer fire department were under way. Elgin now has a well-trained volunteer fire department, and no fires have gotten out of control since then.

According to an 1894 copy of the "Elgin Advance" newspaper (now the "Elgin Review"), Elgin had one church for both Methodists and Presbyterians "...using the building on alternate Sundays." There was also a Union Sabbath School every Sunday, with prayer meeting during the week. Presently Elgin has three well-attended churches. The Methodist Church organized in 1880, Lutheran in 1893, and Catholic in 1899. There is also a rural Congregational Church of Christ, organized in 1885.

Bessie Seeley Sward wrote that a school, District 18, was organized in 1873. The first building was a soddy "...made from the readily accessible materials -- sod, clay, and native timber." All furnishings were homemade, even the blackboards, which were boards painted black. There was a summer term for two months and another in the winter lasting three months. By 1883 a frame schoolhouse was built. It also served as a church and a place for holding all the civic and social functions. About 1890 a two-story, four-room frame building was erected and two-year high school course were added. The first graduating class had as their motto - "We learn for life, not school." About 1906 the 11th grade was added and about five years later the 12th grade was part of the new addition to the brick building.

Elgin currently has three fine buildings for the public school as well as two Catholic schools -- St.Boniface Elementary and Pope John XXIII High School.

Fondly remembered are the open-air street dances held from 1934-54, with name bands such as Jimmy Barnett, Paul Moorhead, etc. Attendance of 1,000 or more was common with admission being 25 cents for men, 10 cents for women.

In 1947 a tornado hit Elgin, doing much damage to the main street. A hailstorm in 1984 caused an exorbitant loss to property and crops in the area.

"St.Maur," or the Seymour Plantation, located at the east edge of Elgin is a well-known landmark. This mansion was doubled in size in 1906 and again in 1917. It was purchased in 1972 and restored to its original beauty and splendor by Louis and Gayle Ganskow. Now owned by Merland and Barbara Clark, it is a home and Bed & Breakfast lodge.

The oldest continuous family business today is Elgin's chapel-mortuary. Established in 1892 by W.E.Brooks, it is currently owned and operated by Brook's grandson, Richard B.Huffman.

Now, as we think back to the unusual way in which Gene Gailey named Elgin, we can only say "thank you" for all he did for the town and the community. Gailey lived the remainder of his life in Elgin, and his daughter, Norma, and her husband, A.C.Carlson, are also both life-long residents. Over the years, this family has done a great deal to promote Elgin in many ways.

Elgin's current population is about 900. We are fortunate to still have enough businesses so that the majority of our supplies can be purchased right in Elgin.

By Bernadine L.Erickson, Rte 2 Box 168, Elgin, NE 68636, and Velma Sprout.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: A Panorama of Elgin on Parade (Diamond Jubilee Book), Antelope County History , "Elgin Review," and scrapbooks belonging to Velma Sprout and Rena Hoffstein.