In the years following the 1857 treaty with the Pawnee Indians, the railroads extended their lines westward. The Lincoln Land Company platted towns along the Burlington Railroad, one of which was Ansley, in Custer County. It was established and surveyed in 1886, and remains today at the junction of Sandhills Highways 2, 92, and the north-south highway 183.
The town was named for Eliza Ainsley, for a lady who was visiting Col. Phillips, president of the land company. Her enthusiasm over the prairies and the pure air made her a super booster for her fledgling namesake. (Mrs. Ainsley, who pronounced her name "Ansley," was a second cousin of General George A. Custer, for whom the county is named.) She owned property and lived in the community for many years. The draughtsman who drew the plat, spelled it as it was pronounced and it was never corrected.
Ansley grew right along with the railroad and, with the influx of people from nearby communities, the population soon numbered over 1,000. The story is told that, in 1886, D.A. VanSant moved a livery stable to Ansley from Westerville, eight miles north, using 18 teams -- nine in front and nine in back. Logs were laid in rotation under the building to aid in the moving. This building is still in use as a garage.
In this bustling young town there were several banks, grocery stores, dry goods stores, garages, barbers, two movie theaters, a jewelry store, variety store, a dress and millinery shoppe, two drug stores (each with a soda fountain), a print shop that put out a weekly newspaper, two doctors, a dentist, feed store, hatchery, cream station, pool hall, elevator, lumberyard, and the post office.
The town's current population is 640, with approximately 30 businesses that include most services. The three oldest businesses include; Security State Bank, Shada's Grocery, and Ansley Lumber and Supply, the latter one still in the original location. Husker Homes, a low-rental housing facility, is an attractive addition to the town. Ansley has a K-12 school, township library, post office, volunteer fire department (active since 1895), and two rescue units.
The depot, once a center of activity, has gone with the passing of the passenger train. The Community Hall, a landmark building, is still in use. At one time it had the distinction of being the finest opera house between Omaha and Denver, and one of the first in Nebraska to have electric lights. Although the town's electrical power now comes from outside sources, Ansley's own light plant is on standby and capable of generating power in case of an emergency. Ansley had a light plant in 1892, and a public water system in 1893.
The Rebekahs Lodge, its hall the oldest building in town (1908), and the Woman's Club (1916), are the two oldest organizations still active. Ansley is the smallest town in the world to receive a Rotary Club charter.
Ansley has five churches; Baptist, United Methodist, Christian, Berean, and Catholic.
Years ago the park, located along Muddy Creek, had a sandy beach on Crystal Lake with a row of bath houses along the shore. The dam kept the water level high enough for light boating, fishing, and swimming. In 1935 a cloudburst caused a flash flood that took out the dam. It was replaced with an earthen one. Underground springs maintain the water level so that fishing is a still-popular activity. The park now has facilities for football, baseball, basketball, track, tennis, camping, playground equipment, as well as an outdoor kitchen with swimming enjoyed in the municipal pool.
"Firsts" for Ansley include: one of the first towns between Omaha and Denver to have a lighting system; plus the first high school football game to be played under lights (to a crowd of 2,000).
While Ansley has suffered at the hands of Mother Nature -- dust storms, floods, destructive tornados, crippling blizzards, and hailstorms -- it has always cleaned up, rebuilt, and rebounded. After 100 years, it continues to be a friendly place to live and is known as a "little street where old friends meet, and treat you in the same old way."
By: Ann Beckhoff, coordinator, Box 147, Ansley, NE 68814. Story by Dorothy Parks, condensed and typed by Karen Childers, pictures and information by Ann Beckhoff and Alberta Anderson
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: History of Ansley, a Bicentennial project, in the public library; and Muddy Creek Story, now completed.