Set on an hill overlooking the Logan Creek Valley, Wakefield, with a 1980 population of 1,130, lies on the southern edge of Dixon County. A portion of the community now extends into Wayne County.
A sketch about the town, written in the mid 1890s, states in glowing terms: "The magnificent agricultural region lying west from Sioux City contains no more fertile or beautiful country than that adjacent to Wakefield. For beauty of location, the town is unsurpassed. The town was founded in 1881 and now has about 1,000 inhabitants. All conditions are favorable to the future rapid growth of this town. The buildings compare well with those of much larger towns and there are now many building enterprises of importance in progress or in contemplation. It is indeed a live town, backed by energy and enterprise."
The community was named for C.D. Wakefield, the man who surveyed the town site for the Chicago, St.Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad. Perhaps the name should have been "Graves" instead, for Willard Graves, who received the patent for the land on which Wakefield is located from the United States government in 1859 and 1870. His son, Philo, who later owned the property, was responsible for many of the significant developments.
Philo Graves built and donated the first building used for a school. He also donated money and assisted with the building of local churches. He provided land for the cemetery, established the Graves Public Library as a memorial to his son, and created Graves Park, still existing today, with scores of walnut trees. A subdivision of the city is the Graves Addition. In 1895 Graves moved to California where little is known of his life. The sad ending to the story is that Philo Graves died penniless. Wakefield friends of this man who did so much for our town took up a collection to have his body returned to the area for burial.
While agriculture was the initial lifeblood of the community, Wakefield has seen an interesting growth in industrial development. In the early 1900s, Wakefield was the home of a pop factory. At nearly the same time, the Wakefield Manufacturing Company was making pliers. A 1913 excerpt from the "Wakefield Republican" stated, "Let us all boost for Wakefield and Shark pliers, which before another year will be known in every state in the Union and will soon be the watch word in the plier line." Unfortunately, the statement was more optimistic than what was actually realized.
In 1950 Milton Waldbaum began a small egg-processing plant with 23 employees. Daniel Gardner soon joined the company and continues an active leadership role. It is now one of the largest such companies, and serves a world-wide market. From its central location in Nebraska, shell, frozen, and dried eggs are delivered across the country to a variety of markets and ultimately reach consumer shelves in numerous forms. Waldbaum, while maintaining an active interest in the business, entered the medical profession with his practice in Omaha.
One of the most notable names in Wakefield's history is that of Clarence E. Swanson. A 1917 graduate of Wakefield High School, Swanson later attended the University of Nebraska and starred on the football team. In 1921 he captained the team and received All-American recognition. He was inducted into the National Football Foundation's College Football Hall of Fame in 1973. While president of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, Swanson was given much of the credit for luring Wyoming football coach Bob Devaney to Swanson's alma mater at Lincoln. Few Husker fans need to be told the significance of that action.
Railroad service that established our town in 1881 on the branch line out of Sioux City ended in 1977, but not so the vitality of the citizens of Wakefield. Having met its first century of challenges enthusiastically, its people will continue every effort to make Wakefield a good place to call home in the days that lie ahead.
By Merlin E. Olson, 302 Main Street, Wakefield, NE 68784
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Seedlings in a Shoebox , a history of Wakefield by Lynn Holm.