Marsland is not out of this world -- it's where it has always been -- in western Nebraska where people live longer and enjoy life more.
The discovery of gold in the Black Hills drew many settlers to this area. Augustine McLaughlin is said to be the first to locate here, four miles from where the first post office was, where five trails criss-crossed the prairie.
Named for Thomas Marsland, general freight agent of the CB & Q Railroad, it is on the Niobrara River in southwest Dawes County. The first buildings were the post office, railroad station, and Presbyterian Church.
A town well was dug in the center of Main Street. Later a windmill and tank were installed. The Village of Marsland still has trouble keeping this hole in the paved street filled, as it keeps sinking.
The first school held in Marsland was in a small frame building in 1890. It was replaced by a two-story building with a basement. This building would tremble and shake when the wind blew, which was most of the time. In 1949 the top story was removed. The high school closed soon thereafter, but an elementary school still remains in 1987.
The Belmont railroad tunnel, located eight miles north of town, played an important role in the development of Marsland. Without this tunnel the railroad was at a standstill. Carved out of the rock by men and horses, it took two years to finish, opening for traffic to the west in 1890. That is the year the newspaper, "The Marsland Tribune," started and the first store opened. Money was scarce so people traded meat, butter, and eggs for groceries.
The town grew rapidly and at one time had about 800 people. It was the site of many rodeos and large 4th of July celebrations, Marsland had a winning baseball team, community band, and singing group.
Potatoes were one of the main crops with a large storage cellar located in Marsland. A stockyard was also located near the railroad. Cattle were driven to town and sent off to be sold, usually to Omaha.
Around 1900 the railroad contracted with Bill and Charley Gregg to furnish ice for refrigerator cars. A big dam was built so the water from the Niobrara River would back up and then freeze. From 200 to 300 cars of ice were shipped out each season. The thaw after the blizzard of 1949 washed away the dam, and with more modern means of refrigeration available, ice harvesting was discontinued.
Marsland was the victim of many fires. In 1911 fire swept the town. A bucket brigade was organized but the flames were beyond control. In 1913 another big fire took many businesses, and again in 1914, fire destroyed nearly all structures on the north side of the business street. The grain elevator burned in 1928, which ended grain sales in Marsland.
During the flu epidemic in 1918, all public gatherings were banned. The hotel was full of sick people and cared for by the Milne family. The drought and grasshopper plague took a heavy toll on everyone and people started moving out. The bank went broke in the Depression, and the thriving potato business ceased. By the end of 1943 at least 35 houses had been moved out of the town to "greener yards." The Methodist church was the last to close, May 1967. The post office, 100 years old in 1986, is the only business in town.
Livestock are no longer shipped by rail and the last passenger train to go through Marsland was in August, 1969. However, the rails have since been improved to accommodate 20 to 30 coal trains that pass by daily.
Life in Marsland continues normally for all who still live here. The small grade school furnishes entertainment for the entire area with numerous parties and dinners. Every two years, a big reunion is held. Several hundred people come as anyone who ever lived in Marsland, or is interested, is invited. There is a large card club which involves the whole area, two extension clubs, a large 4-H Club, and Bible study is held at the schoolhouse each Tuesday morning. The 1980 census registered 27, but only nine people live in Marsland today.
The mail comes and goes, new babies arrive, and weddings take place. There are few burials in the Marsland Cemetery anymore. With the older people in the community, the saying is "no news is good news."
By Opal Hinchley, postmaster, Marsland, NE 69354