Skip Navigation

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  • Virtual Nebraska Logo

Virtual Nebraska

Nebraska...Our Towns


Antelope County

The Orchard Cheese Plant. Fulfillment of a dream.
Hauling corn was an all-winter job, working best when the ground was frozen but the snow was not too deep, circa 1915

Orchard is a busy little town with a big cheese factory and 490 friendly people. The town came into being as a result of the extension of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad west from Sioux City to O'Neill. The railroad company spaced towns along the route to serve the area (and provide fuel and water stops for its steam-powered locomotives).

The Pacific Townsite Company took advantage of this expansion and bought land from a homesteader who had settled earlier. A town was then platted and an advertising campaign described in glowing terms the "important trading center" that was developing. According to the ad, nearly 200 people had already settled in the town, and it concluded..."Among the things that Orchard needs and is ready to assist in getting is a cheese factory."

The prophetic statement was, however, not realized for almost 70 years until Ernest Gudenschwager and John Kiley of Renwick, Iowa, bought the Orchard Co-op Creamery building and converted it into a cheese factory in 1960. The business was purchased by David Nielsen in 1972. Orchard Dairy Products, Inc. currently employs 38 people, makes 8,500,000 pounds of cheese and 3,000,000 pounds of whey products per year.

Had you (or a visitor of that day) come to Orchard in 1893, looking for land or business opportunities, you would have found a lively community. A post office, established in 1881 south of the present town, had been moved to a location nearer the depot when the first train came through in 1890. There were rooms at the Pacific Hotel, while two general stores provided a place to shop, or you could have stopped at Clausen Bros for a game of billiards. (John Clausen was also the justice of the peace.) J.H.Yokom, the carpenter, could handle any building project. The Orchard State Bank was open for business, as well as a harness shop, a blacksmith, an implement dealer, hardware, furniture, and lumber stores, and two physicians -- E.J.Austin and J.S.Livingstone.

By 1915 the population had increased to 650. There were five churches, a public grade school, and a high school. The town had an electric light plant and water works, and all the businesses needed to serve the growing community.

The people of Orchard are known for their ability to work together for the good of the community. In the early 1920s the town raised money for new fire equipment by having several home-talent plays directed by Mabel Drayton. Many years later the community again rallied in support of the fire department to raise funds to buy "jaws of life" and other equipment.

The library has grown from 93 books in 1903 to over 5,000 in 1989. Meanwhile, with the shift to larger school units, the phasing-out of rural districts and small high schools, the school has also grown.

Improved transportation has cast its shadows on the businesses still in operation. There is no photographer, jewelry store, theater, or hospital, but second and third generation members of the Bruce family provide veterinary services to the town, and the bank is managed by Cliftons, descendants of early settlers in Orchard. We no longer have a resident doctor, but a clinic is staffed by two doctors from Plainview three mornings a week. A well-equipped rescue unit, made up of well-trained public-spirited citizens, provides emergency service to the community and surrounding area.

Orchard may not have achieved all the predictions of the 1890 promotional ad, but it is a pleasant town with tree-lined streets, well-cared for homes, active churches, and a busy commercial area.

If you (or the mythical visitor of 1893) were to return in 1989, you could stay at the Orchard Motel, and be served a good home-cooked meal at the Lunch Box or corner bar/grill. Visitors often buy gifts for the family at This-n-That gift shop or browse for bargins in the antique store. Should you decide to settle down, you will find two lumber yards ready to help, plus a hardware, farm machinery, feed store, and a bakery. There is also a well stocked grocery store in the same building that was moved from Ewing back in 1890, which has housed a general merchandise or grocery store since that time.

Certainly Orchard has become a substantial community, worth the faith of the early pioneers.


By Dorothy Zimmerman, Box 56, Orchard, NE 68764.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Memories of Orchard , by Alexander, 1985.