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Brewster

Blaine County

Brewster's first schoolhouse, near the town of Brewster, laid out by George Washington Brewster, a wealthy newspaper publisher and descendent of Elder William Brewster of Mayflower fame. Brewster school is District 5 school of Blaine County.
A scene of Brewster in 1908. A windmill, a trail into town and a few homes and businesses.
The town of Brewster, looking north up Main Street. 1914.
Main Street as it looked in 1988. The hill is still there, but there are obviously many more trees, both in town and in the surrounding area.

The first post office in this area was established on June 10, 1884, at Ladora, in what was then called "Sioux County." Platted by E. Wright Rankin, it was located on the sagebrush-covered gravel flats less than a mile southeast of Brewster and was basically a "paper town."

A town named "Brewster" was laid out by George Washington Brewster, a wealthy newspaper publisher and direct descendant of Elder William Brewster of Mayflower fame. Brewster came from Oakland, Nebraska, in 1884 and homesteaded the land on which the town now stands. It is named for Elder Brewster and not George.

The post office moved to Brewster in September 1884, then back to Ladora in May 1887. In January 1888 it was moved again to the Brewster location and the buildings at Ladora were either moved or torn down.

The reason for these changes are reflected in a unique county seat fight. In organizing the county, an election was to be held in Brewster on November 6, 1886, to vote for the county seat. In that vote, Ladora got 63 votes, Blaine Center 43, and Brewster 24. Since there was not a "legal majority vote" for any of the sites, another election was scheduled for November 23, 1886, but postponed until December 27, 1886. At that election Ladora came out ahead with 91 votes and was declared the official county seat. The county board met in Ladora for the first time on January 11, 1887.

Six months later at the board meeting, a petition was presented by George W. Brewster requesting a special election to relocate the county seat. This time, Brewster was awarded the prize and Mr.Brewster promptly constructed several buildings, including a large hotel. He lived there with his wife Elizabeth, daughter Mollie, and sons, William and Ben.

George Brewster was owner and publisher of the first newspaper in Brewster. P.C.Erickson owned the first bank, called the International State Bank. Brewster also built the "Brewster Block," a two-story building that housed several businesses plus apartments and rooms upstairs. Brewster expended his fortune building up the town, fully believing that "Brewster would soon be the state capitol" because of its excellent central location.

On November 14, 1887, records show that a petition was filed by D.C."Doc" Middleton requesting a license for a saloon in Brewster. In 1888 a license was granted to sell "malt, spirits, and liquors." Doc Middleton has been described by some as "the wickedest outlaw ever known." But, he also had scores of friends among the ranchers, merchants, and homesteaders. Some referred to him as "Nebraska's version of Robin Hood," and helped hide him when the law was near. Doc was known to help many who had "fallen on hard times" or who were in need of a horse.

In January 1888 the county board met to decide on plans for a courthouse "not to exceed $1,500." Bonds were passed in a special election calling for $2,000 to be used in building a courthouse and $500 for a jail. This courthouse burned to the ground on September 7, 1907, and another one was built for $1,000 in 1908.

The village of Brewster had two well-stocked stores in 1887, owned by a Frank Howell and Sam Swengel. Other businesses included a drug store operated by W.S.Richey and a hardware store operated by Willard Swengel, a blacksmith shop and a livery barn. Dr.W.S. Irwin and his family lived in Brewster in 1887. He was also the county coroner and served for a year as county judge.

Peder Erickson, one of the earliest settlers and land owners in the county, was involved in the banking business, and published the "Brewster News" from 1895 to 1932. It has been said that Erickson owned the east side of main street, and E.H. Riggs owned the west side.

Brewster did not incorporate until 1947. The first village board included Roy Blixt, Lyle Ferguson, Fred Turner, Harry Yochum, and Earl Zeigler. Frank Paul was elected police magistrate.

Brewster's peak population was 287 in 1930. The 1980 census gives the town a population of 50. In 1987 Brewster celebrated its centennial with a barbecue and many other forms of entertainment.

The latest venture has been the building of a park just west of main street. Labor and financial help from the surrounding area is aiding the project.

By Al Schipporeit, Blaine County Historical Society, Box 21, Brewster, NE 68821

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The History of Blaine County published 1988, by the Historical Society of Blaine County.