This town of 813 hardy individuals on the South Loup River was not founded by a town site company, but was the work of one man, Richard Allen, who came from Iowa in the spring of 1880, seeking land. He filed a homestead claim near the headquarters of the Arnold & Richie Cattle Company. Mail for this area was being handled by George Arnold.
After the cattlemen were driven from the area by the "hard winter of 1880-81," Allen asked to have the post office in his sod home, giving it the name, "Arnold." He also stocked a small supply of goods to sell to nearby settlers, all hauled from the nearest railroad at Cozad, 50 mile away.
As more homesteaders filled the valley, he realized that they had need of services that only a town could provide. So, in 1883 he platted six square blocks of his land for a town site. This too, he called "Arnold." A call went out through the county paper for "good, honest, square-toed men of family" to come and settle in the new town. Lots would be given away.
They came, lured by the generous offer, and the promise of a railroad -- if not that year, then the next -- and by the assurance that Arnold, with its location on the western edge of the big Custer County, would surely be the seat of government for the new county "when Custer divided."
First building to go up was Allen's own general store and post office, followed quickly by a mill, livery stable, church, blacksmith shop, drug and hardware store, and a print shop. No saloon was allowed to open. In 1884 another 16 square blocks of Allen's property was platted with lots no longer given away, but sold.
Plans for the division of the county soon faded, and the railroad failed to build the long-promised extension from Kearney to the Black Hills via Arnold. Instead, the line stopped at Callaway in 1890, leaving Arnold isolated for another 23 years.
Freighters worked the dusty trail down to Callaway one day and back on the next, carrying marketable produce and bringing back the things needed in the community. One observer reported seeing "...17 loads of freight in sight at one time, mostly heavily loaded four-horse rigs."
The town struggled for survival. Some business men left for towns nearer a railroad. The drought and depression felt not only in Nebraska but nation-wide in the 1890s severely taxed the will of those who were holding on for "better days." In 1909 Arnold was incorporated as a village, and the reins of government turned over to a village board. Their first order of business was to take action to continue the ban on saloons and pool halls. The sale of liquor didn't become legal until 1938.
Finally, in 1912, the Union Pacific Railroad extended its line though Arnold and on to Stapleton. The town came to life. Although the first train whistled into town in March, its coming was not celebrated until June, when a reported 6,000 people jammed the streets for a boisterous day of festivities.
Soon, Arnold had over 60 businesses and boasted two banks, and two or three of every other business, or service one could imagine.
The building-boom lasted about 15 years, during which time frame buildings were replaced by brick ones, and larger homes replaced the small ones built from freighted-in materials. The population reached 936 in 1950.
After waiting so long for a railroad, branch lines had served their purpose and the rails were taken up in 1985. Arnold settled back into the quiet farming community it is today. With a population of 813, a new grade school was added to the existing high school when rural districts merged. A 16-unit apartment complex and two churches have been built recently.
The town had a three-day centennial celebration in 1983. Annual events include an Easter egg hunt, chili cook-off, house tour, and a fall festival.
Arnold is easily reached by good highways. A swimming pool, ball diamond, tennis courts, bowling alley, and golf course offer recreation for residents and visitors. A State Park on the south edge of town has become a favorite for camping and fishing. North of town is the scenic Devil's Den and just beyond one enters the unique Sandhills area of Nebraska.
By Norene Hall Mills, Rte 1, Arnold NE 69120
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: One Hundred Years on the South Loup, by Norene Hall Mills, 1983.