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Nebraska...Our Towns

Berwyn

Custer County

Dierks Lumber and Coal Company, 1897.
Interior view of the Berwyn State Bank, 1913-22.
Stanton's Hardware Store, ca. 1910. The house at the right was Dr. H.G.Nichol's office, 1914.
Main street of Berwyn looking south, ca 1913.
John Lee home built in 1909. His daughter, Mayme Lee, postmaster 1942-1957, lived here for 70 years.
K-8 school with 49 students, 1988.[Harris]
Berwyn is proud of its wide paved streets. Park and firehouse on right. 1988. [Dale Thomas photo]

On May 10, 1886, our town was laid out on the north side of the railroad grade by a surveyor for the Lincoln Land Company whose name was "Berwyn." The village is completely level except for the "schoolhouse hill" which forms the northern boundary.

The Burlington & Missouri River Railroad had chosen a route about four miles west of a settlement called "Janesville." Track was completed and the first train arrived on August 26, 1886. By November, the Janesville post office closed and the mail was sent to the new office at Berwyn, with Postmaster McKnight in charge.

Among the early businesses were Denman & Wayne, who handled heavy iron merchandise such as stoves, pumps, and pipes. E.A. "Lon" Foster operated a store for his father Azro before 1897 and told of buying cottontail rabbits by the wagon load. The rabbits, from wagons well-packed with straw, were then skinned and dressed and re-packed into barrels for shipment to eastern markets.

When H.Smith Waterbury was appointed postmaster July 22, 1897, he built a new store which had a bullet-proof post office. This was to prevent hold-ups and shoot-outs by gunmen of the time.

In 1913 Berwyn had two main mail routes, 38 homes, several merchandise stores, elevators, a hotel, blacksmith shop, restaurant (meals were 35 cents), bank, implement store, livery barn, butcher shop, city hall, central office, drug store, billiard hall, barbershop, hardware store, doctor's office, lumberyard, garage, and bandstand. There were two churches, a Methodist Episcopal and Church of God. The school had an enrollment of 40.

By 1916 Berwyn had a population of about 225 and was considered a prosperous village of modest proportions. As a result of several disastrous fires, the business failures of the 30s, and the drought, Berwyn's population was greatly reduced.

At the present time there are 42 homes and a population of 110. The post office, school, and United Methodist Church still serve the community. Local businesses include the Pirnie Brothers Grain Elevator and the Brand honey-extracting plant.

The railroad has played a very important role in Berwyn's history. At one time, Berwyn was one of the largest shipping points on the line, drawing livestock for market from long distances to the north and south. Groceries, lumber, and farm supplies all came by rail. Then, in the 50s, rail traffic slowed to a snail's pace with only two freights in each direction on an average day. The depot was discontinued July 3, 1950, with passenger and express service terminated in 1960.

The coal boom of the 70s revived rail traffic through Berwyn, requiring extensive construction that included double tracks and new crossing gates. Now, freight and coal trains rumble by almost every hour, day and night. The railroad has made a substantial contribution in Berwyn through property taxes to support the school.

Despite the dwindling population and the absence of local businesses, Berwyn remains a community of people who are proud of their heritage and strive to improve their village. In 1970, a building was erected to house the fire trucks and provide for a meeting place. Another example of the town's cooperation and perseverance is the community park which has a recreation court, playground equipment, shelter, grills, sidewalks, and a drinking fountain.

The present school building was built in 1915. The first class graduated in 1916, the last in 1950 when the high school was discontinued. The elementary school is still an integral part of the community, with four teachers and about 50 students.

Berwyn celebrated its centennial July 4-6, 1986. Highlights of the three-day celebration included a parade, a production by the Berwyn Touring Company, plus church-in-the-park followed by a community dinner. A monument, built to commemorate our centennial, is a striking piece of masonry work.

A "Berwyn Fun Day" the following year featured a kiddie's parade, "Anything Goes Contest," a pit barbecue, and a play by the now-famous Berwyn Touring Company.

All the citizens of Berwyn are proud of our history and look forward to maintaining the same pride in the community as our pioneer forefathers had before us.

By Rosa Tiff, Box 195, Berwyn, NE 68819. Pictures by Marceil Millsap, Marie and Dale Thomas. Typist, Linda Dowse.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Muddy Creek Meanderings, 1979.