In 1871 a homesteader chose the verdant land along the Beaver Valley on which to stake his claim. Soon others followed and built their homes-of-sod. A post office called "Beaver" was established. The name was later changed to "Waterville." As the settlement developed, the population was mostly of German, Swedish, Irish, and Polish descent.
Early in 1872 surveyors from the St. Edward Land and Emigrant Company of South Bend, Indiana, arrived and platted a town site. They gave the town the name "St. Edward," for Rev.Edward Sorin of Notre Dame, the only town in the United States so named. Renaming the settlement, however, was not prophetic until a strong dike was built to control the flooding along the Beaver Creek in 1984. Citizens of the town were far more acquainted with water (in vast amounts) than with saints.
The first business was the Waterville Mills which operated its grinding stones with power from a ten-foot fall of water. This pointed the way for the business emphasis of the town. St. Edward has been and is now an agricultural town, catering to the needs of, and benefiting from commerce with, the area farmers.
Soon after the Union Pacific Railroad built a line northwest from Columbus in 1883, the settlement was ready to incorporate. Two short of the required 200 population, the citizens "built" the needed two from sand and lime. They were known thereafter as St. Edward's infamous "Stone Men."
A school, used as a church and community center, was built in 1872, but was soon replaced by a two-story building. Larger facilities were erected in 1972. Education has been a high priority in the community as evidenced by the number of college graduates and professional people who call St. Edward their home town, and by the strong and active alumni association.
St. Edward has always been a community of many churches. They include Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, and Jehovah's Witness congregations.
Land for a park was purchased in 1896. Brush was cleared and trees planted. In 1929 after several children had drowned in the Beaver, a swimming pool was built. Today the park is a beautiful, well-kept part of the community with a ball diamond, football field, picnic facilities, up-to-date playground equipment, and spacious shade trees. The band shell, which is used as a picnic shelter, was for 30 years or more the center of weekly summer "concerts in the park."
In the early days business interests centered around the moving of agricultural products. Grain companies were formed around the turn of the century. Today the towering elevators of two grain companies delineate St. Edward's skyline. The UP still hauls vast amounts of grain from the area.
A well-equipped and staffed medical and dental facility has replaced the doctors who made their rounds in horse-drawn carriages. Filling stations and garages have replaced livery stables. The bakery and the meat markets, with their sawdust floors, are no more. Electricity, natural gas, and the telephone all became part of community life. Local banks were established and, though they all failed in the '30's, a strong bank now exists. While the hotels are gone, a cafe and tavern do a brisk business. The movie theatre closed, but the grocery store and liquor store feature video tape rentals, and a computer company is now on the main business street.
Many changes have come to this little town! But one vital element has remained constant -- the spirit of the people.
St. Edward has seen it all! Many businesses have come and gone. The town has survived numerous flash floods, several damaging tornadoes, crippling blizzards, and watched as the crops burned in the fields during a drought. The people have persevered through epidemics and the loss of loved ones in the century's wars. Some sought their fortunes elsewhere, and a number of families left the community and migrated to California during the Depression. Many have "come home" to retire or return annually for a St. Edward picnic.
Located 30 miles from Columbus on Highway 39, St. Edward is a bustling, energetic, progressive town of about 900 people. It has attractive, well-kept homes, tree-lined streets, and a thriving business district. We believe it to be "the garden spot of the Beaver Valley!"
By Virginia Whidden, coordinator, Rte 1 Box 53, St. Edward, NE 68660. Written by Marie Whidden with information by Ray Dawson, Helen Grapes, Margaret Briese, and Sherwood's Computer Service. Pictures by Bess Price, Fern Smith, Clarisa Stevens, Marian Schrader, Bonnie Nordeen, Jane Chase, and Erwin Westmore.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: "St. Edward Sun Goldenrod," 1905; Early History of St. Edward,, Nebraska 1871-1881 , 1928; St. Edward's Centennial Book, 1971; and Boone County History, 1886.