The town of Lamar, in Chase County, began with a different name and at another place, about two and a half miles from its present location. It was started in 1886 by a settler named A.S.Allen who named it "Allendale." Other settlers in their soddies resented Allen's fancy frame house, so they decided to change the town's name. The only name they could think of at that moment was Lenox, (taken from a box of Lenox soap). So the town became "Lenox."
The next year, 1887, when the Burlington Railroad ran a grade through the county, the Lincoln Land Company laid out a town site southeast of Lenox. They named it for Secretary of the Interior in Grover Cleveland's cabinet, Lucius Q.C.Lamar. Knowing the importance of a railroad, the people of Lenox quickly moved lock-stock-'n-barrel to the new site and changed their name again, this time becoming "Lamar."
The railroad, in spite of a grade completed to a junction at Holyoke, Colorado, never laid the tracks. Even without a railroad, Lamar survived with a population ranging from 100 to nearly 400 until after the Depression of the 1930s, when roads and cars improved. The nearest towns, Holyoke, 18 miles west, and Imperial, 21 miles east, became more accessible. Still, Lamar was the center of a large trade-area and the town and the community supported each other.
In 1910 Lamar had two grocery stores, a bank, hardware store, implement store, drug store, two livery barns, lumber yard, newspaper, hotel, blacksmith shop, two churches, a resident doctor, and a town band. In the late 1920s the livery barns were gone, but in their places were garages. The doctor moved to a larger town, but the town had a pool hall with a theater upstairs, showing silent movies. By then Lamar also had a barber shop, a creamery, filling station, and three churches in addition to a good school.
During the 1930s, when money was scarce and distances great, Saturday night in Lamar was the highlight of the week. In the summer, as soon as it was dark, a free movie was shown by using a huge sheet on the north side of the Christian Church as a screen. The vacant lot next to the church was filled with people, most of them sitting on the ground. (The mosquitoes and chiggers had a hey-day.) Saturday night was trading night for the community. People rushed through chores and hurried to town, in hopes of getting their marketing done before the show. The stores always stayed open after the show for those who didn't. More often than not, there was more visiting done than shopping. That was more affordable.
In the 1960s and early '70s, irrigation arrived in the farming area around Lamar. Land prices rocketed. People who had inherited their land from their homesteading parents or had bought the land for prices ranging from $2 to $20 an acre found they could get $300 to $500 an acre. They sold out, moving to nearby towns. The newcomers had to get their irrigation supplies and repairs in larger cities, and more often than not, they also went there for groceries and church.
Lamar began to fade. Oh, the town was still there, but the support from the surrounding community had weakened. Without that loyal patronage, local businesses had to close up, leaving the town with even fewer services.
Today Lamar has only a post office, two small churches, the school, and a fire truck.
Although it took years, the community spirit is beginning to expand to the new folks. The town celebrated its centennial in 1987. The 33 people still living in Lamar entertained some 1,500 people for that event. It was a huge success.
People have now renovated the old bank building for a community hall and are planning a new fire hall for their rural fire department equipment. Plans are being made for an expanded Old Settlers Day this summer.
Lamar has always been more of a community than a town. It still is.
By Wayne C. Lee, Lamar, NE 69035