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Nebraska...Our Towns


Box Butte County

Long lines of people waiting to sign up for more land during the Kinkaid lot sale. The large building in the background is the Phelan Opera House.
This line-up is not some Chicago gangsters, but the staff at the Alliance Telegraph office. Though the equipment was rather sparse, they got the job done.
A large crowd was on hand on May 5, 1917, for the flag raising ceremony at the new Burlington depot. Built at the top of Box Butte Avenue, it replaced the one that burned down. The size and impressive construction design places this building high on the list of memorable depots. It was torn down by the new owners, Burlington Northern in 1980.
The grand two-story Alliance depot was built around 1890 and stood on top of Box Butte Avenue. This building burned down in about 1906.
The Alliance National Bank Block, owned and run by Dr.F.M.Knight. Anybody who was anybody hung around this block in early Alliance. The bank is still in the family, being run by great-grand nephews, only in a new building.
An enthusiastic crowd fills the grandstand at the Sandhills race Track. Photograph taken at one of the annual pari-mutuel horse races held in Alliance.
Downtown Alliance, 1956, looking north from 1st Street. Box Butte's county seat has wide streets and substantial buildings.
Downtown Alliance, 1986, as it looks today. Improved traffic patterns, flowers and trees enhance the view, and make it easier for pedestrians.
The city's Municipal Building, a WPA project during the Depression, is shown here decorated for Christmas, circa 1950s.

Our town...Alliance is "one of a kind." Located in Box Butte County, so named for the unique box-shaped buttes that jut up from the surrounding sandhills, its primary existence is due to one factor -- the railroad. In 1886 when Box Butte County was organized from land formerly in Dawes County, there were only a few white settlers, all looking to the day when the steel rails would arrive in western Nebraska from Grand Island.

A post office called "Broncho Lake" at the Philip Grover home, northwest of where Alliance is today, was registered in 1886. In June 1887 a town was founded and given the name "Grand Lake." Early in 1888 when the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railroad arrived, it was decided the town should consider a simple, one-word name. The railroad superintendent, G.W.Holdrege, suggested that "Alliance" embodied all these ideas and would place it alphabetically near the top of the list for Nebraska towns. The fact that an engineer, J.N. Paul, came from Alliance, Ohio, may also provide a link to its selection, as does the fact this was to be the junction point of two rail lines, also making the name an appropriate choice.

The new village was incorporated in the summer of 1888. Within eight weeks of the founding, 250 buildings were built, mostly of wood and tar paper, all of which was shipped in by rail. Although a town well was established very early, three fires swept through Alliance between August 1892 and July 1893, leaving a healthy respect for bricks and an improved waterworks. By August 1893 Alliance had established a water tower, a volunteer fire department, and a clay brick factory.

Four years from its founding, Alliance had a population of more than 1000 people and boasted a U.S. Land Office, and a division headquarters for the CB & Q Railroad. In 1899 it won the election contest with Hemingford for the county seat. By 1900 another 500 people had moved to this location. The population remained relatively steady until 1942, during World War II, when there was an influx of people connected with the Alliance Army Air Base. After the war the population fell to about 6,000, but peaked again in 1980 at 9,869 due to the activities of the Burlington Northern Railroad. The town has remained at about 9,000 population.

Although the railroad was its primary reason for existence, the importance of agriculture and ranching cannot be ignored. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided 160 acres of free land to homesteaders who could "prove up" their claim after five years. An additional 160 acres could be acquired as a "tree claim" as the Congress attempted to forest the Plains. In 1904 Moses P. Kinkaid of Nebraska sponsored a bill changing the number of acres in the semi-arid regions to 640 acres per homesteader. With that bill, farming came to western Nebraska. Popular crops included potatoes and wheat. Dairy farming in this area was very popular and the Alliance Creamery was established to process cream and butter.

Ranching was equally important to Alliance. The Nebraska Stock Growers Association, founded in Alliance in 1889, was to protect stockmen from illegal rustling. The Alliance Livestock Commission Company bought and sold market cattle locally until December 1976.

Alliance was the first town in Nebraska to adopt the city manager form of government. Iniating this innovative system in 1921, it is still in use today.

Downtown Alliance is an old town, where many beautiful brick buildings carry the names of past owners and early-1900 dates. Older homes with elegant designs, from Sweetwater to Cheyenne Avenues and 1st to 8th Streets, bespeak of gracious living and citizens with much community pride. Alliance has survived the drought and grasshoppers, business booms and busts, and many social changes. The town's history is at times comical, joyous, and tragic. But throughout the years, the steadfast character of the true pioneer comes through. The stories of the strength, integrity, and love for Alliance carries on!

By Deb Dopheide, Knight Museum, 908 Yellowstone, Alliance, NE 69301