The story of the early days of Belden is not unlike the house that Jack built. First, pioneers came to Logan Valley to settle, producing livestock and grain. Then the railroad arrived to transport products to market, which created a town with houses, businesses, churches, schools, and organizations. Many of the pioneers came from eastern states and some from European countries, all hoping to better themselves in the new territory where land was free, or at least cheap.
Some of the first people were workers on the new Pacific Short Line Railroad, the company that was running the high iron from Sioux City to O'Neill. When Scott Belden, in charge of the pay station at this location, yelled "pay-day," the rail crews quickly bellied-up to the paymaster's table to collect their money. The handful of railroad shacks and the new passenger and freight station near Logan Creek, became known as "Belden."
The name was not chosen without an argument, however. "Boughn" was also suggested, for Zachariah Boughn, an opportunist with a "sure eye for good land," however, the railroad's choice prevailed. A post office was established in June 1890.
Scarcely had the ringing of a rail hand's spike maul faded when Fred Kimball, a clerk in the Coleridge Bank five miles north of town, arrived on horseback with a gunnysack of money tied to the saddle-horn. He set up "a banking shop" in the front of the combination post office, drug, and general store.
There have been good times and bad over the 99 years since the town was established. The bad times always test the wisdom and soundness of what had been planned and what was accomplished during the years of expansion and development. At times, people have a tendency to become over-optimistic at times, deciding to enlarge operations too fast and too far to the point of gambling on unsound speculation. That is especially true if the economy is riding on an enthusiastic boom.
To hold back and proceed too slowly also effects a town's ability to provide a safe environment for its citizens. Following the Fourth of July festivities in 1909, a spark, fanned by a stiff southwesterly wind, ignited a fire that roared through an entire city block. With little more than a small town pump and a bucket brigade with which to fight, it nearly destroyed Belden, as it consumed the frame buildings like match boxes.
Out of the rubble, however, came buildings made of brick and block. Belden sprang to life again, as not only the burned-out block, but others that had been spared that loss, used the momentum of the moment to up-grade their facilities. Belden, a busy station where the trains stopped to take on water for their steam engines, was needed, so it overcame its near demise.
The 1920 census records a population of 285 with a full line of businesses and services. Stories of these early days tell of hardships and humor. For fun the men had horse racing and poker, and homesteads for work. Women enjoyed dances on the top floor of the Odd Fellows Hall for entertainment, and had their homes and the babies for work. Children went to school upstairs over the general store, sitting on planks set on nail kegs and using books donated by people in the community until better facilities could be provided.
The rail line through Belden, now owned by Burlington-Northern, still carries freight, but is no longer the vital life-line it was before improved roads, trucks, and cars made people less dependent on the rails to get to and from the outside world.
Belden, with a 1980 population of 160, is still a prosperous little community getting ready to celebrate its centennial, August 3-5, 1990. The money raised at this event will be added to fund-raisers to upgrade the community swimming pool. Having one of the oldest pools in Nebraska, we want to see that it is maintained for all the children and adults who get much enjoyment from it each year.
As we move into our second century, we look back with appreciation for the efforts of all those who helped establish our town, and forward with renewed enthusiasm for the future.
By Theresa Stapleman, First National Bank of Belden. Mary McLain, Box 32, Local coordinator, Belden, NE 68717
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Prairie Whistle Stop published for the 75th anniversary of the bank.