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Nebraska...Our Towns

Albion

Boone County

An aerial view of Albion, circa 1955.
Flemings Piano Store ca. 1915. Rural schools often purchased the piano boxes for cob storage.
Horse-propelled merry-go-round, ca. 1890s, operated by J. A. and Will Fleming
Albion High School orchestra, 1916. Top (l-r): Ivan Culver, Lloyd Phillips, James Hill, Millard Jones, Dana Williams, Dorsey Gainey, Adrian Edgar, Laurence Jones. Middle row: Richard Herse, Ed Kurth, John Stillinger, Richard Quiter, Hazel Reynoldson, Irene Herse, Ruth Garten, Muriel Ross. Front: Jennie Hosford, Oscar Blatter, Roger Doten, Thomas Ruddy, and Eva Fleming.

I am Albion, county seat of Boone County, nestled amid the fertile farms of Beaver Valley.

I was born on the flowering expanses of luxuriant grasses, heretofore known only to roving Indians, deer, beaver, and prairie chickens. Only when those 14 persistent prospective settlers from Columbus appeared for a third time, in April 1871, did I become reality. The following day, they started to erect my first house. (None had ever built a sod house, so its construction was not unlike that of the Tower of Babel, further complicated by a three-day blizzard.)

For two weeks, this soddy (14 feet by 18 feet) housed the stalwart group. A frame structure, also Boone County's first, was built of lumber donated by Columbus businessmen and hauled overland by wagon. Completed in May, it was in the center of section 22 so each of four settlers could "sleep on his homestead."

I was called "Hammond," in honor of one of the "14." Legend says a game of euchre permitted the winner the right to name me "Albion." (He graciously granted his opponent the honor of naming the precinct, "Manchester.")

Buildings for a harness shop, store, drug store, and hardware store followed, but I grew very slowly, undernourished because of blizzards, Indians, and prairie fires. I had only 300 residents in 1880.

The coming of the railroad in 1880-81 brought substantial nourishment -- many immigrants. By 1884 my 600 inhabitants had established 51 businesses. During the 1890s, a money panic, grasshopper plague, and drought restricted rations, but I maintained steady growth because my farmers were now stockmen. Since I was the end-of-the-line, I was the receiving and shipping point for a wide area.

The effects of depression, grasshoppers, drought, bitter winters, and hot summers of the '30s thinned me down. I fluctuated up and down over the years, attaining my zenith in 1940 with a population of 2,268. Today I number about 2,000 inhabitants who are engaged in over 200 businesses and professions.

My second frame building was the home of Elizabeth Rice, whose daughter Sarah taught my first school for $20 a month. A schoolhouse, built in 1872 at Second and State Streets, was small. District 1, in which I was legally located, built a schoolhouse in 1873. Crowded conditions soon created private schools. In 1883 the present school site was chosen within my bounds. Through the years buildings have come and gone, premiered always by student needs. From their portals came many to bring honor to my name, among them being Nancy Foreman, Miss Nebraska of 1961.

Patriotic I have always been, for among my first settlers were more than 50 Civil War veterans from New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Five of my citizens served in the Spanish-American War, about 150 in each of the World Wars, seven in Korea, and nine in Vietnam. The names of those who gave their lives are engraved on a bronze plaque displayed in the courthouse. On Memorial Day I view through tears the fluttering border around the court yard, comprised of the casket flags of those who have kept me free. And I give thanks to God!

Religion, significant throughout my life, arrived in 1871. W.J.Nelson (a "fourteener") reminisces: "On Sunday morning we hitched S.P.Bollman's young horse team to our wagon and put my big oxen team in the lead. Dressed in broadcloth suits and silk plug hats, riding high on the spring seat with fishing gear attached, we drove to Maricles to church." I'm grateful that Bollman was such a broad-minded Christian, laying a foundation that enabled 14 denominations to function harmoniously during my zenith years. Today nine congregations meet.

In 1972 I celebrated my centennial: pageant, ball, book, and parade! Already in my second century, highrise apartments, a senior citizens' center, garbage compactor, new fire hall, fluoridation, sports complex, community center, and a new high school have appeared.

Yes, I am Albion, alive and well. This is my story -- from the billowing waves of endless prairies to the crystal fronds of spiraling pivots.

 

By June R. Bentley, Rte 2 Box 261, Albion, NE 68620

 

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Boone County Early Residents , Compendium of History, Reminiscence & Biography, Alden, 1912; Boone County History, 1871-1985, BCHS, 1986; History of the State of Nebraska, Andreas, 1882; "History of Nebraska," "Nebraska Pioneer," Nebraska, the Land and the People Sheldon, 1931; Sod House Barns, 1930.