The Village of Maskell occupies a lovely setting on the east slope of Lime Creek Valley, which flows north to the Missouri River.
Maskell is not the first village in this location. Long ago other peoples considered the location to be strategic, and perhaps were also enchanted by its beauty. Remnants of an earlier civilization were found when the cemetery was expanded in 1950. Archaeologists from the Nebraska State Historical Society have determined from the pottery, tools, arrowheads, and other artifacts, that an Indian village (probably belonging to the Woodland Period) was here from about 1 to 900 AD.
In 1856 John Maskell came with his brother Zebulon to this part of Nebraska from Fayette County, PA. Their log cabin was built on the banks of Lime Creek near an Indian trail. Homestead papers were granted to John and his wife Martha (Helgeson) Maskell.
Several years later Maskell's son, Andrew, endeavored to have a railway extend to the farm, and on west to Wynot, so the people could get their lovestock and produce to market. In 1906 his efforts met with success. Using the old Indian trail through Dixon County, the Chicago, St.Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway chose Maskell's location as the site where locomotives could refuel and take on water. In 1907 the St.Paul Townsite Company purchased 33 acres on which to plat a town to be named in honor of his father, John.
The town's first building was a bank, followed by a hotel, meat market, general store, hardware and implement store, barber shop, elevator, stockyards, and the Red Dog Saloon. The post office was established in June 1908. Later businesses included a blacksmith shop, livery barn and garage, mercantile company, shoe repair, doctor's office, cafe, telephone exchange, beauty parlor, and two grocery stores. The schoolhouse was built in 1914, with the first high school class graduating in 1925.
The Methodists formed a Sunday school in 1908, meeting in the town hall until their church was built. The congregation is presently served by student pastors through the church at Wynot. A merger of the Lime Creek and Bethany churches, organized in the 1870s, became Zion Lutheran, which also used the town hall until their building was completed in 1914. This congregation remained active until 1980 when it merged with Wynot and Obert to form a new congregation, Faith Lutheran.
A tornado swept through Maskell on June 23, 1928, destroying the livery barn and badly damaging the Mercantile Company, as well as other buildings and homes. When the depression hit, and several years of drought, the railroad reduced service to the area and then abandoned the route altogether. The train made its final trip through Maskell on April 19, 1933, and the tracks were completely removed by 1935.
Maskell, however, continued to be an active and vibrant community even though the principal reason for its existence was gone. In 1936 the village enjoyed major modernization when its water system was built. It was actually a "case of dire necessity" since all the wells in the village had gone dry.
As happened to many small towns in America, Maskell's population began to decline during World War II. It continued downward after the war, due to the proliferation of the automobile and consolidation of the farms in the area. One by one the businesses closed their doors. Some buildings were destroyed by fire, some were razed, and others moved out of town, so that at this time, the only business in town is the post office.
The last class to graduate from Maskell High was in 1956, and the elementary school closed in 1968. Students now attend classes in Newcastle.
Maskell, however, is not forgotten. Our town is a quiet residential village with a population of about 75, served by the Village Board and the Lutheran Church. Every three years residents, past and present, and people from the surrounding farming community, gather for a reunion.
The Village of Maskell, although diminished in size and vigor, is beloved by its present inhabitants, and remembered with nostalgia by former residents.
By Raymond O. Nelson, Village Clerk, Maskell, NE 68751