The Union Pacific Railroad established a siding named "Overton" in the 1860s. The first depot was a two-section box car, with one end a ticket office, the other, living quarters. Named for either a railroad dignitary, section foreman, or government official guarding workmen constructing the railroad, the post office was not established until June 1873. There was not much here at that time -- a station house, post office, two or three houses, and a shiny set of rails. There were scattered farmsteads in the treeless Platte Valley, and lots of buffalo wallows, but very few buffalo by then.
The railroad employed many early settlers. It helped them keep food on the table while breaking the sod and trying to raise a crop. Farming was a major occupation and early businesses centered their trade around this vocation. As new folks came to Overton to live, the town added more businesses and services: a lumberyard, two-story hotel, butcher shop, barber, and later a bank and dry goods store.
The early residents were primarily of Irish ancestry. Soon the area was a melting pot, as the railroad brought English-Americans, Civil War veterans, and immigrants right from the boat to the middle of Nebraska.
The actual village of Overton was laid out in 1873. A sod and frame structure built in 1874 by a man named Boles served as post office and grocery store. Will Sear built a livery barn on what is now Highway 30. The first newspaper was published by L.D.Karr.
A schoolhouse was built in 1874 that served as school, church and community building. There were several more schools built during the next years, with the first high school graduation class reported in 1897. Today's schools has about 250 students.
Catholic Mass was held as early as 1867. There were at least six churches in the early years: Baptist was probably first, then Methodist, Catholic, Christian, and Community, in addition to the Presbyterian church south of the tracks.
Charles Neehan, son of Irish immigrants and who married a Negro woman in Canada, spearheaded the colony of about 12 Negro families who had fled slavery and escaped to Canada prior to and during the Civil War. Attracted by homestead laws, they settled north and west of Overton. They were educated and some were skilled artisans. They were good neighbors and strove to make their life and community a better place to live. Deeply religious, they worked hard in the church, and saw that their children were well educated, many going on to college.
After the drought in the last part of the 19th Century, the colony went to Cherry County to take Kinkaid land near DeWitty. There were nearly 100 families in 1917, but the drought and hardtimes of the 1930s brought an end to the dream as families sold out to ranchers.
Overton's first library was in the Worthing Drug Store in the 1920s. The soda-jerk was also librarian. Later, when the store was sold, the books were included in the purchase. A "traveling library," with books periodically sent from the Nebraska Library Commission in big boxes, was housed in individual homes. Beulah Ward Batie dreamed of a real library, and with the help of the American Legion Auxiliary, it grew from a room in city hall to a building of its own.
A volunteer fire department was organized in 1911. Equipment was purchased and updated over the years. A rural fire protection district was formed in 1953, and in 1972 a new fire hall was added.
What of the other many families who settled here, of events, train wrecks, storms, good times, and celebrations? The centennial edition of the "Overton Observer," July 5, 1973, contains many pictures and stories.
Overton is one of Nebraska's growing communities, with a population of nearly 650 in 1989. While most of the alfalfa dehydrating mills, big business in the 1950-70s have closed down, there are still two in this area, providing a market for alfalfa, and employment. Located between Kearney and Lexington, Overton's opportunities are limitless.
From material submitted by Mildred Heath, editor, "The Overton Observer", Overton, NE 68863. Pictures by Mildred Heath.