Hartington, like many Nebraska towns, was located where it is because of the distance a train could travel between stops to refuel and take on water -- seven to ten miles. Hartington is seven miles from Coleridge, in the rolling hills of northeast Nebraska on the extreme eastern edge of the semi-arid lands of the Great Plains. It was named for Lord Hartington of England.
The Northern Nebraska Improvement Company, with Frank Peavey from Wisconsin as president, purchased 520 acres for $6,720 from L.M. Howard and J.N. Lemon. The deeds were filed on August 6, 1883. A two-day auction was held September 18-19, with 80 of the 82 lots designated for business locations. They were sold with the stipulation that buildings must be erected by January 1, 1884.
Broadway and Main converged, with businesses lining both sides of each thoroughfare in four directions. There was a hotel, two banks, a land office, saloons, and merchandise businesses, as well as many smaller shops, and of course, a depot. As families arrived, churches and schools were formed.
The county seat was moved from St. Helena to Hartington by a vote of the people on January 20, 1885. The Cedar County courthouse was built in 1892 by area builder Henry Stuckenhoff at a cost of $19,999.
In September 1888 a fire started in the basement of Lynde's livery stable and swept north, destroying nearly two blocks of the business district. As a result, an ordinance was passed that required all buildings to be constructed of brick or stone, with fire walls between every other building. Many of the buildings on the north side of Main Street today are those that replaced those destroyed by fire.
A municipal water system was also inaugurated by the citizens. This provided fire hydrants in the downtown area and running water to all of the businesses and most of the residential area.
In 1898, with a population of 1,400, Hartington was incorporated as a second-class city. A.B. Gable, who ably filled the post for the growing community, was elected its first mayor.
The first school was built near the present site of the library. In the early 1890s a large frame school was built at the east end of the two-block area known as "the campus." That building burned to the ground in December 1895, and it was replaced by a brick building. In 1913 a high school was built on an adjacent lot. These were used until a new K-12 school opened in August 1973.
In 1900 Holy Trinity Parochial School built a K-12 facility a block south and west of the public school. In 1964 a consolidation of parochial high schools in Cedar County resulted in the establishment of Cedar Catholic, one of the largest parochial high schools outside of the Lincoln-Omaha areas.
The first library board met in March 1914, and applied for a grant from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation for a building. A house-to-house canvass for book donations was the nucleus of the first collection. It now ranks as one of the finest small town libraries in the state.
In 1919 a bond issue was passed for a city auditorium. William Steel, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, was the architect for the building, completed in 1922 at a cost of $65,000.
Over the years Hartington had Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, German and Scandinavian Lutheran churches. Currently churches include: First Congregational UCC, Grace Baptist, Holy Trinity Catholic, and Trinity Lutheran.
Hartington is among the towns showing a population increase between 1970-80, with a current population of 1,730. The community provides many job opportunities, in addition to county and federal offices. Major industries include Mid-Am Cheese and Hydraulic Component plants.
Under the guidance of progressive business and civic leaders, Hartington residents enjoy a fine educational system, more paved streets than most communities of its size, an excellent golf course, swimming pool, and two lovely parks. Hartington continues to be a trade center for a large area and shares its assets with rural as well as town residents.
Hartington is a good place to live and grow!
By Lee Rose, Hartington Librarian, Hartington, NE 68739, with the assistance of Alice Pommer. Pictures courtesy of John Eskins and Larry Swanson.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: 1899 Plat Book, History of Cedar County, McCoy; and the Hartington Centennial Book.