In 1868 Crandell Hopkins was the first to claimed land at this location. Ten years later, nearly 200 settlers from eastern colonies, as well as German and Swiss immigrants, lived in the area. Getting supplies from West Point, Columbus or Yankton was arduous, over hazardous river crossings and dangerous trails. Mills built in Norfolk, Neligh, and Oakdale helped, but the settlement was still quite isolated.
In 1879 this peaceful, unassuming crossroads in the Elkhorn Valley was to become a dream-come-true for the area's settlers. The Sioux City & Pacific Railroad extended its line to Norfolk and Battle Creek.
There were no plans for a depot where the town now stands. However, a disagreement over bonds erupted and when it was settled, Antelope County was to have two depots, one near Oakdale, the other near the Madison County line. The citizens seized the opportunity. They built a large depot on the Antelope side of the line (the town's present location), making sure the railroad kept its promise.
When the first train arrived, everyone was there to celebrate! They had dealt with the railroad and county government, and had won! They had acquired the vision they sought, and while there was still no sign of the town, its future existence was assured.
Charles Burnham put up a building, opened a store, and is quoted to have said, "I looked at my well stocked shelves and wondered who was going to buy it." Settlers arriving on the railroad welcomed his merchandise, and soon he expanded into larger quarters. When the railroad platted the town in 1888, he became the "founding father," helping negotiate for land owned by McComb and Livingston. The town was named "Burnett" for the railroad superintendent.
Burnham was appointed postmaster, and by fall there was a blacksmith, saloon, livery stable, and grain buyers. The next year, Gilbert Ditz, a contractor, did a rushing business, putting up many stores and homes. By 1882 there were 40 residents, a rooming house, bank, restaurant, meat market, dentist, a school, several churches, and a practicing physician, Dr.Griffith.
The "Burnett Blade" newspaper, started in 1884 by A.E.Sheldon, is a valuable resource of information. The early town was dusty and/or muddy, as street-grading laws were non-existant. Each house had an "outhouse" and a barn, with no sanitary ordinances governing them.
But, Burnett had bigger problems than these: its principal streets were in two counties! Laws passed for one county did not affect business in the other. The Madison County side incorporated in 1885, but property in Antelope County was not annexed. Persons committing a crime on one side of the street could cross to the other side and be safe from arrest.
By 1887 it had a school, fine hotel, and an opera house for dances, plays, political rallies, and magic lantern shows. Horse racing, ball games, and ice skating also provided entertainment for ranchers, farmers, and townfolk. It was no longer a "frontier town."
In 1892 steps were finally taken to unite the town. In addition to improved law enforcement, ordinances were passed governing sanitation, taxes, sidewalks, business, fire, and police protection.
By this time, the town was using two names. Burnett was "too similar" to Bennett, a town several years older. Howard Botsford, postmaster, suggested "Tilden." (The good Democrats of the town had not forgiven voters for choosing Ruthaford B. Hayes as president over Sam Tilden.) The "Tilden Citizen," which gives an on-going history of the town, was established in 1893. Tilden was the postal name, but the people called it Burnett until 1902, when Judge Boyd ordered it changed on municipal records.
Tilden became a city of the second class in 1919 when it reached a population of 1,000. The town has held at this figure, with appropriate services for the needs of the community. This includes a well-equipped hospital, capable of handling most emergencies. The school which burned in 1922 was rebuilt, and in 1987 a new building was constructed.
Tilden is a progressive town, boasting paved streets and good government. The community supports a library, two city parks, a civic center, auditorium, swimming pool, and five churches.
Our town, Tilden, will not only survive as a small town, but continue to grow.
By Marie Louise Prevo, Box 283, Tilden, NE 68781