Oakdale, established in 1872 and named for the abundance of oak trees in the area, was the first town in Antelope County. It is located on the south bank of Cedar Creek about a mile from its junction with the Elkhorn River. Land was bought from the Omaha & Northwestern Railroad for $3.25 per acre, with a $10,000 bond to insure that a flour mill would be erected. The town was not incorporated until 1882.
The flour mill was operating by November of 1873. A steam saw mill, post office, and a church (part of a community known as "Twin Grove," several miles northeast), were moved to the new town. Soon there were many shops, homes, and a semi-monthly newspaper (printed in West Point). By fall the first public school was begun. The Methodist Episcopal Church, the first protestant church in the county, was organized and met in homes and the school house until a church was built in 1881.
Oakdale was the county seat from 1872 until 1883 when (after a vigorous battle and five ballots) it was moved to Neligh.
Despite grasshopper scourges between 1873-77 and the great distance from any markets, the town continued to grow. Several freighter companies carried on the business of moving cattle and commodities to the west and north. In 1879 the "Pen and Plow," Oakdale's second newspaper established in 1877, reported there were 32 businesses and dwellings when the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad completed its track to town. The coming of the railroad gave a great impetus to its growth.
In 1881 a Presbyterian Seminary was to have been built, but because of one being established in Omaha, it never came to fruition. By 1887 there were five churches: Methodist Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Evangelical Association, and Catholic. In the early 1900s the United Brethren in Christ was organized and bought the Evangelical Association building. Today, two churches remain: the United Methodist and Church of Christ.
Even through the drought and severe winters of the 1890s, the town continued to expand. The first public telephone was established in 1896. The Oakdale Acetylene Gas Company began to furnish street lights and later residential lights. Two banks were in operation and a branch line of the railroad was built to Scribner.
In the early 1900s a Commercial Club was organized, and with its help, several types of entertainment, including a bowling alley, were brought to the town, and the Federated Woman's Club started a public library. Local musicians held weekly band concerts. Chautauquas were held annually from 1911 until sometime in the 1920s. The year 1912 appears to have been a banner year. The new school house had just been completed, an electric light plant was built, and the population reached its peak of nearly 900.
In 1919 the community built a pavilion that was used for community activities until replaced by a new one in 1981. A gymnasium for the school was built in 1921.
The economic slowdown and drought of the 1930s hit very hard. The banks failed and the mill went into bankruptcy. Our small town never sprang back.
Many factors contributed to the gradual decline of Oakdale. These include the loss of the county seat, not being chosen the division point on the railroad, and the construction of the branch line which took away trade from the rich area to the south. The decline of the railroads, with the end of passenger service, meant that families of railroad employees left town. Nonetheless, the community still has a strong pioneer spirit of working together when things need to be done.
The decades of the 1960-70s brought positive changes that have improved life in the community. Underground telephone lines were installed, the main street was paved, mercury-vapor street lights were installed, and the Centennial Park playground was built with local donations and a public auction. Completed in the 1980s have been a new community center, extensively used for activities by the local residents as well as other area people, a water tower, a new pump, water meters, and many blocks of new water lines. These have all improved life in the community.
The centennial celebration in August 1972 was well-attended and enjoyed by all. The 1980 census shows a population of 410.
By Lois Johnson, Rte 1 Box 35, Oakdale, NE 68761
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: History of Antelope County, 1868-1883 , 1909; Centennial History of Oakdale , 1962; History of Antelope County, 1883-1973, 1976; History of Antelope County, 1868-1985, Antelope County Historical Society, 1986.