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Nebraska...Our Towns


Butler County

The Bell homestead, as it looks today. The Bell family moved to Nebraska in 1878, taking up residence on a full section of land in Butler County. He negotiated a deal with Burlington officials to put in a siding and be the "only station between David City and Columbus." [Graff]
Bellwood depot in 1960s, photographed by William F. Rapp. The building, once painted "Burlington Red" was removed in 1972.
The Burlington Northern "Centennial Train" at Bellwood, July 10, 1980. Crowds, in appropriate garb, re-create the arrival of the first train. Above: View from the cab shows the well-wishers on hand to greet it. Below: Children, young and old, taking a tour of the engine cab. [Photos by Jim Reisdorff]

The primary landmark in Bellwood, now more than 100 years old, is the J.D.Bell homestead, situated one-quarter mile west of the town on the north side of Spur 64. Today, the fifth generation of Bell children are being raised in this home.

Bell moved his wife, Hattie, and daughter, Lorena, to the new home on a barren prairie in 1878. He owned a section of land and wanted to start a town on its southeast quarter. So, he offered the railroad 200 feet of right-of-way and $400 to build a station and siding on his land, with only one stipulation: that it be the only station between David City and Columbus.

That matter settled, the town was laid out in March 1890, with a park down the middle of its main business street. Seventy-five feet on either side of the center line, three blocks long, trees -- catalpa, hackberry, sycamore, black locust, and elms -- provided shade for the horses at the hitching rails, and later for autos and the people throughout the years. The elms succumbed to disease some years back, but many of the other trees continue to shelter all under their broad branches.

Before there was a town of Bellwood, Sunday school was held in the Garrard schoolhouse located west of the old farm home of Sadie Wagner. It was recorded that the first Methodist Church service was preached by Reverend Taylor on September 22, 1875.

Prior to the time when St. Peter's Parish was organized, a Benedictine monk called upon the Catholic settlers. Hattie Bell donated the ground for the site of the church in 1889.

These churches have remained. The old opera house and the Bellwood Hotel are both gone. In 1890 the population of Bellwood was 413. In 1990 the population was 426. True, there have been many times when there were less than half that number of residents, but its location has been an important factor in providing a stable atmosphere. Among the present residents is Loren Schmidt, State Senator for District 23.

Bellwood ships half a million bushels of grain per year to Lincoln through the Bellwood Co-op. This corporation supports a grain office, a feed mill, a fertilizer plant, a hardware and lumberyard, and a service station. On April 7, 1981, the town was rocked by a grain dust explosion at the elevator in which two employees lost their lives and two others were injured.

Bellwood has a good volunteer fire department and a village auditorium for town activities. In addition to the two churches, a state bank, a barber shop, and an elementary school help to hold the community together. Didier's Grocery has been serving the townspeople under the same name since 1958. There is also a man that raises exotic birds, and a newer business (reminiscent of olden days) is the Clear Creek Tack, a combination saddle/leather shop, with a horseshoe specialist on hand "to make house calls."

Traveling ambassador Irene O'Brien advises, "This town, with its park in the middle, is worth a visit. Stop by and see it for yourself."

From material gathered by Jane Graff and from Irene O'Brien's Hardee's Salutes. Photographs courtesy of Jim Reisdorff, David City.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Bellwood, Nebraska, the first 100 years, 1980, Bellwood Centennial History Book Committee.