Mason City, population 200, located in eastern Custer County, serves as the community center for a mixed agricultural area radiating five to ten miles. Many of the people are descendants of early German, Danish, and English pioneers who settled in the area and are known for their steadfastness and community spirit.
When the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad came through, it by-passed the town of "Algernon," and chose instead to establish its own town to the east. In April 1886 the Lincoln Land Company purchased the homesteads of Nels Anderson and Mrs. George Runyan, and platted half of the 320 acres into lots.
The town received its name from Oliver Perry Mason, a former Nebraska Supreme Court Judge. "City" was added by the post office to avoid confusion with Macon, Nebraska. However the railroad retained the shorter version of "Mason," leaving the village with two names. Incorporated as "Mason City" in 1886, the town took steps to chart its own future.
The first business in Mason City was the People's Bank, organized by H.B. Austin and Job Hathaway in February 1886. Tracks were completed and the first train arrived on July 25. Until then, people had to haul their produce and freight to and from Kearney, 45 miles away. George Runyan was appointed postmaster in August and school district No.169 was organized in 1887.
At its height in the 1920s, Mason City had a population of nearly 500. There were two banks, a hospital, flour mill, cement plant, and many other businesses. A decline in population that started during the Depression, drought, and the change to larger and better trucks and cars, continued into the 1950s.
In 1965 a vacant building was remodeled into the Community Building, which serves as the focus for numerous community activities and family gatherings. The 1970s saw Mason City take on a new look when the beautiful Memorial Park replaced the vacant opera house, and a new fire hall was built. In the 1980s the business district has a good assortment of shops, including a blacksmith, long gone from many towns.
The Beechville Band, founded in 1917, is one of the oldest community bands in Nebraska and continues to play for area town parades and gives concerts in Mason City during the summer. Ray Holm, area farmer, served as director from 1919-1984. The Muddy Creek Singers, started by Mason City residents in 1982, includes singers from Ansley, Litchfield, Broken Bow, and Loup City.
The decline in enrollment caused the high school to close in 1966. Mason City's K-8 elementary school had 45 students in 1987, while 21 secondary students attended high school in Ansley or Litchfield.
The cohesiveness of this tightly-knit community also declined as changes caused the focus of employment and shopping to shift to other towns. However, nearly 20 organizations involve the majority of Mason City area residents as they serve not only a social role, but also to meet very real needs of the community in providing for the health, safety, and education of the citizens. St. Thomas Catholic and the American Baptist churches are still active, with members of other denominations attending services in near-by towns.
The Harvest Homecoming Celebration started in 1919 as a three-day event the first week in August. The early celebrations featured programs in the morning and afternoon, with "important speakers" and political candidates in attendance. During the 1930s, as many as 20,000 attended the event and people running for state offices counted the Mason City festival as a "must" on their schedules. A new rodeo arena was developed in the 1970s and the facility is credited with attracting many of the top circuit cowboys.
Mason City celebrated its centennial in 1986 with events all through the year. A centennial marker was erected on Main Street and a wind sculpture along Highway 2. Other tourist attractions are the iron sculptures done by Richard Martin, a retired farmer.
In 1986 Mason City was pleased to be named a winner in the Nebraska Community Improvement Program for towns under 300 population.
By Joan Cox, Box 62, Mason City, NE 68855
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Pioneer History of Custer County, by Butcher, 1901; reprinted in 1960s; Mason City, published in 1976. Centennial Cook Book and Community calendars with pictures were produced in 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1989.