"....verily Laurel is a 'magic city', less than a year old, backed by energetic and enterprising citizens with upwards to 30 substantial buildings and numerous others in the course of construction..." This quote, found in a 1892 booklet, A Sketch of Laurel added, "...all conditions are favorable for further growth."
Laurel was first called "Claremont Junction" platted at the crossing of the North Western Railroad and the Pacific Short Line Railway, just over a mile from the depot of "Claremont." The railroad did not take kindly to a change in location, so both towns were at a standstill for some time.
A town site company for the junction was formed by Martin, Kline, and Stewart, a store opened for business, and the agent for the Short Line was obliged to sleep on the floor for the first six months. The store was, in fact, living quarters for everyone while they built homes for their families.
The first sign of victory was the closing of the post office at Claremont and establishment of one in "Laurel," named for William Martin's daughter Laura. However, North Western trains refused to stop or drop the mail at Laurel until ordered by the state railway commission to do so. Soon the depot, water tank, elevator, and section house were moved to the new town.
Laurel was "loosely organized" and on low ground. Streets consisted of stakes driven in the ground, but the people usually followed the cow trails that ran in all directions. Everyone wore high boots when it was rainy. Even so, they incorporated in 1893.
A bond issue in 1894 resulted in the building of a substantial two-story schoolhouse. The first high school graduation was held in 1900. Laurel's school has always been fully accredited and an NCA member since 1923. This community is intensely concerned about the education of the youth, and proud of their accomplishments.
Houses of worship were also established early. Current denominations include Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Evangelical, and Church of the Open Bible.
Civic organizations keep Laurel a progressive community. The Commercial Club, Lions Club, and the Development Company play a vital role in the town's growth. Laurel's Veterans' Club (made up of the American Legion and V.F.W.) has recently established an Avenue of Flags at the cemetery. The Woman's Clubs (GFWC), organized in 1901, remains active. Extension clubs, plus social and volunteer groups also work for the betterment and harmony of Laurel.
The "Magic City" did experience some bad moments. A major fire in 1900 destroyed 12 buildings, leaving four families homeless. Reconstruction included a new hotel and restaurant to accommodate workers and newcomers. Another tragedy occurred in 1918 when a gun battle with two robbers left Dr.C.C. Sacket and H.C. Crownover dead, and John Newman wounded.
While the town did not grow into a big city, it did evolve into a prosperous little community of 1,100 people. In addition to an alfalfa mill, there are three commercial elevators, feed stores, and livestock buyers. The community is served by three physicians, a dentist, and a veterinarian. Laurelites can buy many items from well-stocked grocery and convenience shop shelves. A full array of professions and other sundry shops meet the needs of a large trade territory. Two motels and some excellent cafes serve clientele from a three-state area.
Located on U.S. Highway 20 and NE 15, the town continues to be at the "junction" even though one of the railroads that was the heart of its origin is long-gone. The Burlington Northern still sends grain, coal, and building materials on its freight-only line.
Camping facilities, a shelter, tennis courts, playgrounds, and a golf course are enjoyed by young and old. The town also supports a library, parks, and community center where the public may gather for reunions, receptions, dancing, meetings, and dinners. Laurel has a very active senior center, low-income housing, and a modern care center.
The people of Laurel continue to be energetic and enterprising, much as those described in the old publication about Laurel and Cedar County. This attitude has indeed made Laurel a "magic city."
Story by Ella Larsen. Ruth Ebmeier, 313 Elm Street, Laurel, NE 68745, coordinator.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: "Laurel Diamond Jubilee" 1968; History of Cedar County , McCoy, 1937; History of Cedar County", Anderson, 1982; and the "Laurel Advocate."