Unlike the towns on the great plains that were founded by the early settlers, Anselmo was founded by the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad at the spot where they needed water, fuel, and switching facilities. The railroad then built a depot in which to conduct its transportation business.
The town was platted on the confluence of two dry streams in November 1886 by Anselmo B. Smith, a civil engineer in the employ of the Lincoln Land Company. Smith, who platted many town across the state of Nebraska, liked the beauty of this little valley so well that he requested the town be named "Anselmo."
In November 1886 Anselmo was the end-of-the-line until the next year when rails were extended to Whitman. Many of the first residents were employed by the railroad, which contributed greatly to the economy and development of the community. As the town added new businesses, Anselmo became the trading center for a wide area. The City Hotel, with a double-decked porch, provided "modern" accommodations for travelers.
The "dry creek" overflowed following a sudden downpour in the early 1900s and ran knee deep down main street. A momentary diversion, it was not a life-threatening event, since the boardwalk and most businesses were above the waterlevel.
In the 1920s the population was nearly 500 and Anselmo boasted many thriving businesses. Over the years Anselmo had elevators, a roller mill, livery stables, seven doctors and dentists, several general mercantile stores, restaurants, and barbers, and many other small businesses.
Banks in Anselmo included the First Bank of Anselmo 1886-92; Farmers and Merchants Bank 1888-92; Anselmo State Bank 1903-32; Peoples State Bank 1914-21; and the Anselmo Cooperative Credit Association in the 1930s.
The first newspaper, "The Anselmo Sun", was published in a tent in 1886. It was followed by the "Anselmo Enterprise" in 1906.
Anselmo has had a number of churches. Those still serving the spiritual needs of the community are: Methodist and Christian Churches, established in 1887; Catholic Church, organized in 1905; and the Open Bible Church, started in 1953.
School was first held in Anselmo in 1887 at which time a two-story schoolhouse was constructed. A brick building was constructed in 1915, and in 1927 a new high school was built. Nearly 200 students attended the Anselmo school in the early 1930s. The drought and depression of the 1930s caused the population to decline. Anselmo and Merna schools consolidated, with school now held in Merna, but carrying the Anselmo-Merna name.
The lighted softball diamond and recently-constructed tennis and basketball courts furnish recreation for the youth of the area.
Anselmo is located on Nebraska Highway 2, 100 miles northwest of Grand Island and 170 miles southeast of Alliance. This places it on the line between the croplands to the east and south, where corn and alfalfa are the main crops, and the sandhills to the north and west, where cattle raising is the major enterprise.
Before the railroad came through and established a depot at Anselmo, there were other towns in the area. The "Dale" post office, established in 1882 seven miles south of Anselmo, served a wide area for many years. St.Andrews, the first Catholic Church in Custer County, was built at Dale in 1886-87. Now their cemetery is all that remains. The people of Dale tried to get the railroad to build through Dale Valley, but to no avail.
A post office called "New Helena," six miles east of Anselmo, was established in 1875 and served a large trade area until the railroad passed it by. It still had a population of 67 in 1900. Victoria Springs State Recreation area is now located where New Helena once flourished. The original log store and post office remain.
These two brave little towns held out for many years but finally yielded to "the town with the rails," Anselmo -- the town that no one but the railroad wanted.
Anselmo held its centennial celebration in 1986. While the business district in Anselmo is not large, it does include a post office, two elevators, a cafe, market, bar, filling station and repair shop.
By Irene Christy, Box 56, Anselmo, NE 68813. Committee: Ruth Lindly, Harold Curtis, and Leila Johnson.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Custer County Republican; Custer County Chief; Anselmo Enterprise; Pioneer History of Custer County, by Solomon D. Butcher; History of Custer County, by Gaston and Humphrey; Victoria Creek Neighbors, by Anselmo Historical Society.