The year was 1885. The railroad was coming through and the recently-founded town of "Dawes City" would soon be the metropolis of the area! Its name would seem to secure it as the county seat of Dawes County but, unfortunately, it lost the election by a small margin.
When the Fremont, Elkhorn, & Missouri Valley Railroad arrived the next year, it stayed on the north side of White River so a new town called "Earth Lodge," after a large Sioux ceremonial lodge nearby, was platted near the railroad.
Dawes City residents promptly moved to the new town, taking along some of the original buildings. Some of the citizens felt, however, that name would discourage prospective settlers. Since Peter Whitney was head of the townsite company and an official of the railroad, the name "Whitney" was selected in hope he would use his influence to bring the roundhouse to the town. This was not to be and while the post office immediately made the name change, the railroad refused to recognize it for two years.
Whitney was incorporated in 1888. According to the Board of Trade brochure, Whitney had seven retail businesses as well as a Methodist Episcopal Church and a schoolhouse. A short time later two newspapers were started. The citizens were enthusiastic about the climate, the crops, and the future of the town. Then came the dry years of the 1890's. Many businesses closed as settlers moved away and the incorporation was allowed to lapse.
Still some citizens continued to be optimistic. This confidence was rewarded with the coming of rain shortly after the turn of the century. Whitney revived and new businesses started. Local citizens organized a bank, a telephone company, and set up a water system. By 1922 there were two general stores, coal sheds, a grain elevator, confectionary store, newspaper, hotel, wagon and blacksmith shop, and post office. The Community Club had a membership of 200, which included many rural residents.
In 1927 Whitney again suffered a setback. A disastrous fire destroyed all the businesses on the west side of the main street except the bank -- six buildings in all. None were rebuilt. Then another cycle of dry years came and the grasshoppers moved in. The bank closed and many people moved on. Whitney never recovered, economically, from these blows, but the residents remained loyal to their town.
Through the efforts of local people, the Whitney Irrigation System began operation in the 1920's. This also suffered when the people moved away but it remained solvent and locally owned. The resulting Whitney Lake is well known for its good fishing. During the heavy rains of 1942, high water threatened to breach the dam. Soldiers from nearby Fort Robinson and concerned men from Crawford and Chadron joined with local volunteers. Working together, the efforts of these muddy, soggy laborers were able to save the dam and lake.
That same year the high school, in operation since 1921, was forced to close because of the depressed local economy. Secondary students attend school at either Crawford or Chadron with K-8 students still taught locally.
In 1985 Whitney celebrated its centennial with a community picnic at the schoolhouse. One hundred forty people from five states attended. "Miss Whitney," one month old Whitney Erin Hensley, was introduced. The program centered around local history and memories of the past. After the scheduled program, many others shared their memories of years gone by.
The United Methodist Church celebrated its centennial in 1987. Special Sunday services brought nearly 200 people to participate in the festivities.
Whitney is still an incorporated village whose present population is 70. There are five blocks of paved, well lighted streets, plenty of good water and other municipal services. Many residents commute to Chadron or Crawford to work. The town maintains a good number of services and although Whitney never became a metropolis, it is still alive and well with optimistic citizens proud of their community.
by Mabel L. Kendrick, Box 56, Whitney, 69367
Additional information about Whitney may be found at WHITNEY REFLECTIONS