Crookston, located in the Minnechaduza Valley in north central Nebraska, was named for W.T. Crook, yardmaster for the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad being built through Cherry County. Elvin Elliott and Edward Spencer were first section foremen for the railroad, completed through Crookston in 1885.
The government warehouses were moved from Valentine to Crookston and supplies were shipped in by rail, then hauled with horse and buggy to the Indians on the near-by reservation. Crookston became known as the "Gateway to the Great Rosebud Reservation."
The land in this region of Nebraska was good for both farming and ranching, and large quantities of cream were shipped by rail to the East. Fredrick Baumgartel, postmaster, collected and distributed the mail that was brought to town daily on the passenger train. Other shops soon opened for business and by April 21, 1890, the town filed incorporation papers.
In 1885 School District 16 was organized and a two-story frame building was erected. An addition was built in 1914 when grades 1-10 were offered. As the population grew, the citizens decided to add classes for a full high school. A new brick building was completed in 1930, with George Ohlmann the first superintendent.
According to a 1913 "Crookston Herald," one year's subscription could be bought for $1.50. Max Viertel's general store which carried furniture, hardware, sewing and washing machines, buggies, wagons, farm implements, plus hard and soft coal. The W.T.Strube ad reads "Tonsorial Artist, Barber Shop, and Rooming House". Dr. Vanden operated a drug store with "the finest 5 and 10 cents goods in the country; calls answered day or night." (A stone marker in his memory still stands in front of the post office.) W.M.Parker advertised a farm sale with "free lunch" with H.E.Schosser as the auctioneer.
The "Crookston News" states that in 1914 there were 600 people living in the town. Traveling men were going to and from the reservation with their wares. M.H. Overman & Son, owners of the Red Front Livery Barn, advertised "Good Rigs and Careful Drivers". News items included: "George Allard, owner of Allard's Garage, is driving a new Overland automobile." A new tool house at the Crookston cemetery was completed by F.B. Fehmerling at a cost of $23.
At one time the town supported two restaurants, two hardware stores, churches, banks, garages, and lumberyards. There was also a drug store, meat market, hotel, saloon, elevator, movie house, post office, and newspaper. By 1916 Crookston had a first class undertaking establishment, with Ben F. Wilkinson being the licensed embalmer.
A group of German Lutherans, who settled a few miles south of Crookston, built their first church in 1887. It was torn down and moved to a new location in 1907. That building was moved to Crookston in 1952 and is still being used by the congregation. In 1910 the Methodists built a church. While it is still standing, services are no longer held there. The Sacred Heart Catholic Church was built in 1917 but is no longer there.
Entertainment in Crookston was plentiful. Especially popular was the Chautauqua that came to town every summer with programs under a big tent. The Fourth of July was celebrated with baseball games, wrestling matches, horse racing, band concerts, moving pictures, dancing, and fireworks.
Indians from the Rosebud Reservation were frequent visitors. They would camp in tents at the edge of town and performed their dances on Main Street, much to the enjoyment of all.
On Saturday nights, business men showed silent movies outdoors on the side of Allard's Garage. A large crowd would gather and sit on planks or on the ground.
The depression years took their toll on Crookston. Eventually both banks closed, along with many other businesses. At the present time the population has dwindled to 90 people, with the only businesses being a post office, school, church, elevator, and liquor store.
To the passerby, Crookston may appear to be only a "wide place in the road," but to many who at one time lived there, memories are abundant.
By Lois R. Riley, 529 Haley Street, Valentine, NE 69201. Don and Ruth Allard supplied some of the photos.