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Nebraska...Our Towns

Edgar

Clay County

The sod house built by Henry Gipe and his family in 1872.
Edgar High, built in 1909, now houses K-6 students. [Harris]
The UP Depot in 1900. When the standpipe leaned too far, it was replaced.
Main Street in 1905. The names of the businesses have changed, but even the buildings look about the same.

Edgar's first settlers, many of them Civil War veterans, emigrated from eastern states, especially Illinois. Named "Eden" by the St.Joseph & Denver City Railroad, the exact origin of its present name is controversial.

In March 1872, Henry and Sarah Gipe filed a homestead claim. In July, when the tracks crossed Gipe's land, their sod "prairie palace" became the first home in the new town, surveyed, but not recorded until the following year. Andy Ritterbush also sold land for the original site.

Smith Caldwell was first to "set up store" on the depot platform. Dreams of a metropolis encouraged an incredible array of professions, services, factories, and businesses -- even a Chinese laundry -- but no saloon. The trade area extended beyond the Kansas border.

'Hoppers, hail, and drought plagued the settlers. Cash was short, but the people were tough. Osage-orange hedges soon marked homestead boundaries, and tree planting was a high priority.

The 1873 schoolhouse stands abandoned, passed by elementary students on their way to classes in the 1909 building, part of the Sandy Creek system. Many of the graduates from Edgar High return home over the Memorial Day weekend to rehash youthful victories and pranks.

All the original churches are gone. Worshipers now attend First Church of God (1944), Lutheran (1953), Presbyterian (1967, in union with Methodists), and Christian, the latter just completing a new structure. A multitude of civic, charitable, fraternal, and social clubs provide people with "some place to go" and generate worthy civic projects.

A second railroad, the Burlington & Missouri (1886), made Edgar a "lay-over" point for train crews, prompting the label "railroad town." Old timers recall the thrill of boarding a caboose to Angus, Sedan, or Deweese, tagging the mail cart to the post office (eight times daily), the dray freight team, or a herd of livestock being driven to the stockyards.

Gone are the blacksmith's forges, board walks, ten-cent movies at the Lyric, nickel haircuts in the basement-barbershops, pickles from a barrel, sawdust on the butcher shop floor, and -- we hope -- dust storms.

Now Union Pacific coal or container freight trains rattle windows almost hourly. Burlington trains transport the abundant crops produced with the aid of deep-well irrigation.

Landmarks have been important to our heritage. The cylindrical standpipe (1889) no longer signals "welcome home," and the Opera House (1899) shows its age. The schoolhouse still boasts its distinctive Edgar-made "pink bricks," as do the blocks in "Graham's Castle." Once tree-lined Main Street is graced by the white tile-faced bank (1883) and the library with its unique windows. The cemetery's stone arches stand sentinel where 3,000 rest, including veterans of four wars. The ghost-factory, Blue Valley-Star, recalls corn canning, poultry processing, or building hog confinement units. However, the town whistle still blows, marking the time o'day, morning, noon, and night.

Edgar's population peaked at 1,100 in 1890, then stabilized at about 1,000 until the Dust-bowl Depression exodus of the 1930s. The 1990 census shows a current population of 600.

In its centennial year, 1972, Edgar looked back proudly on years of change and improvement. Municipal electrical, water, and sewer systems; playgrounds, parks, paved streets, garbage pick-up, and natural gas service; volunteer library, fire department, and an EMT-staffed ambulance are benefits not to be taken for granted. Both Centennial Pool and Bethesda long-term care facility were dedicated in 1972. Tennis courts and ball fields have been added.

In 1984 the council chose to keep the second-class city status, with elected mayor and council, since that system had functioned well. The pioneer spirit, however, is very much alive. Business firms provide the basic needs of agriculture, the town's life blood. A new firm is producing organic food items. Local boys served in the Gulf War.

A shock wave of surprise and excitement rolled through the community in 1991 when it was learned that Mike Sugden, son of pioneer parents, had bequeathed $1 million to Edgar for civic improvements. Edgar's second century promises to be as interesting as its first.

By Beth Mort Springer, Box 266 Apt 8, Edgar, NE 68935

 

Based on 100 Years, 1872-1972 , by Orvis C. Lindgren.