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Nebraska...Our Towns

Martinsburg

Dixon County

The first mill built on South Creek at Martinsburg was destroyed in a prairie fire before it was completed and a second one inundated by a flood. A third one was completed and served the community until the 1920s, when repeated infestations of Hessian flies forced it to close. [Anderson, Harrisburg]
A classic ice cream parlor, complete with marble-topped counter, wire-backed chairs, tall potted palm trees, and Coca-Cola on tap. [Schilousky, Cedar Rapids]

Martinsburg is a quiet little town nestled in the rolling hills of Dixon County, eight miles south of Ponca. Jonathan Martin established the town that bears his name, the third oldest in the county.

In 1871, Martin, who had operated a mill at the mouth of Aowa Creek for several years, decided to look for a location where he could build his own mill. He selected a site a short distance down stream from where Daily Creek joins South Creek. While the mill was still under construction, it was totally destroyed by a prairie fire. Undaunted, he rebuilt again, only to see it engulfed in a flood. Following this, he took Martin Lockwood into partnership to help bring the mill into production.

Jonathan Martin also built a store which he ran for many years. Other early store owners were John Schultz, Ben Sherman, John Kneeland, Louie Wellenstein, and the Egan brothers.

In its early days, Martinsburg was a bustling little town with a full line of shops and businesses. Martinsburg had two banks; the State Bank was run by Fred Jeffery, and the Citizens' Bank was operated by James Patten. Mrs.Melvin was postmaster for many years, and Pat Burke was the blacksmith. Harley Jacobs ran an ice cream parlor, and Richard Stark was the barber. Floyd Jeffery ran the garage, and Mrs. Waterman had a millinery shop. In addition to a school, there was also a Methodist Church.

In 1875 Trinity Lutheran Church was organized. This was the first Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in northeast Nebraska and is said to be the mother church for the other MS congregations in the area. Rev.Eissenbeiss, the first resident pastor, also served churches in Ponca, Powder Creek, St.James, Logan Valley, and Altona in Nebraska, and Sioux City in Iowa. This is the only church in town at the present time.

From the beginning, a "Catechumen School" was required for all children for two years prior to confirmation in the church. First taught only in German, a day school was established in 1914, with a schoolhouse built in 1917. The school closed in 1942 and did not reopen after the war.

The Martinsburg cemetery was established in 1883 from land donated by the Martin and Lockwood families. The records show that it was agreed to locate a road from Daily Slough Road to the cemetery and "...plans were also made for building a bridge with donated supplies."

During the 30 years that the mill operated, there were several owners, including John Durin, Tim Hurly, P.G. Wright, and Nick Wellenstein. Under Wellenstein's ownership, the mill was known for its own brand of flour, pancake mix, white and yellow corn meal, and a breakfast cereal. It also manufactured by-products which included shorts, middlings, and bran. In the 1920s, when repeated infestations of the Hessian fly and other pests made it impossible for farmers to produce wheat, the mill was forced to close.

At one time, Martinsburg had a huge dance hall. Many big name bands, including Lawrence Welk's, played here. The hall went by the way, like most of Martinsburg's buildings, being destroyed by fire. The lack of water pressure and fire-fighting equipment contributed to these disasters, and was the primary reason for the decline of the town's population from nearly 300 in 1910 to 100 in 1980.

Martinsburg now has a fine volunteer department. In 1954, when it got a new fire truck, the department was considered one of the best in the state. A sanitary district was created in 1968 and a central water supply installed in 1978. Since then several new homes have been built.

Baseball has always been a big part of Martinsburg's activities. During the 1940s the local team drew especially large crowds. A city park near the school was laid out in 1981, and a tennis court was built. A shelter house, additional trees, and flag poles have been added.

Martinsburg's post office closed in the 1980s. After the school closed, the building was acquired by the village board. It is now the much-used town hall.

By Arlene Schultz, Martinsburg, NE 68750

 

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Dixon County History , 1982, by Lida Von Minden.