The Homestead Act of 1862 and completion of the Union Pacific Railroad mainline in 1869 brought about a wave of settlement and rapid growth in population along the Oregon Trail.
The village of Elm Creek came into existence in August 1866 when the Union Pacific built their tracks through Buffalo County. Needing water and wood at regular intervals, they built a siding close to a creek which had Red Elm trees growing along its banks. The railroad crew named the creek "Elm" and the siding "Elm Creek Siding." Later, when a station was built, it was called "Elmcreek" Station, spelled as one word. It has not been determined exactly when it was officially divided into two words, however the Elm Creek newspapers used it as one word from 1886 until 1947.
In 1912 some of the residents became dissatisfied with the name Elmcreek, thinking the town would grow faster with a different name. An ad was run in the "Elmcreek Beacon," offering $25 to the person submitting a more suitable name. Evidently one was not found, as the name was never changed.
The railroad brought a steady stream of immigrants to the state. A great number took homesteads and made the Elm Creek area their home. In the early 1880s, for reasons that are unclear, the railroad moved its station (depot) a mile east of the original location. This is the present site of Elm Creek.
The village of Elm Creek was incorporated January 12, 1887. It had a population of 300 and a business district that included: three hotels, an eating house, bank, flour mill, drug store, five general stores, two livery stables, two farm implement stores, two hardware stores, three meat markets, two lumber companies, a post office, two lawyers, one doctor, two churches, a school, and a newspaper.
On July 1, 1906, a fire swept through Elm Creek, destroying 14 building. The buildings were of wooden construction, 20 years old or more. The village had no water system at that time. With a fire of that magnitude, pumping and carrying water in buckets was a lost cause. Many store owners were able to salvage only a small portion of their merchandise. The buildings were replaced with ones made from stone, with pressed-brick fronts. The next year the village put in a water works system, and a volunteer fire department was organized.
By 1908 telephones were installed, making life a little easier not only for the town but also for rural people.
Like most towns built near rivers and creeks, Elm Creek experienced numerous floods. In the late teens, after much rain, water came rushing down the Platte covering most of the lands in the part of the village south of the railroad tracks. In 1932 heavy rains brought water down the creek from the north and covered most of the town north of the tracks knee-deep in many places. In June 1947, with the ground saturated from days of heavy rain, several more inches of rain fell north of town, both Turkey Creek and Elm Creek overflowed into town. The water reached the three-foot mark in many streets. Businesses on Front Street, and up Tyler Street for over a block, suffered heavy losses.
Elm Creek, located in the Platte River valley just two miles from Interstate 80, is one of Nebraska's growing communities. In 1980 the population was 862. The present number is nearly 900. Highway 30 intersects with Highway 183, giving easy access to our business district for travelers and residents of the near-by trade area. The community supports a grocery, bank, post office, school, alfalfa mill, lumber yard, doctor, four churches, newspaper, two grain elevators, and many small businesses.
The proximity to three sizable communities, Kearney to the east, Holdrege to the south, and Lexington to the west, provides employment for many residents of Elm Creek. The old 1886 bridge over the Platte has been replaced by a sturdy, concrete structure. The railroad that gave our town life continues to provide a transportation main-line link with the world.
By Joan Kugler, Box 262, Elm Creek, Ne 68836, compiled from material collected by Icel Northrup, Barbra Saum, and Bertha Becker for the Elm Creek centennial book.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Centennial books are available from the Elm Creek Centennial Committee c/o Wayne Simmerman, Route 1, Box 6, Elm Creek, Ne. 68836 for $25.00.