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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nickerson

Dodge County

Summertime, during the early 1900s, was exciting for men and boys! Huge steam powered tractors pulling strange looking contraptions made the job of threshing "easy". A photo in the Nickerson Centennial Edition, 1971, includes a local crew that included Chris and Peter Knudsen, Pete Peterson, Ross Wickersham, Peter Raasch, and George Peters. This photo, with a row of little boys lined up on the top of an early-model threshing machine, is identified as "Dady Whites Threshing Crew," and was submitted by Max McNickle of Farnam.
Nickerson's main street on a Sunday afternoon, snapped from the windowof the F&EVR excursion train, November 4, 1990 [Graff]

Frederick Nickerson, charting the land in this part of the state prior to settlement, gave his name to the township where our town, Nickerson, is located. Settlers first appeared in the late 1850s.

Michael and Rosanna Herman, both born in Germany, came to Nebraska in 1859 from Wisconsin with their son George. They acquired a claim in Nickerson Township and built a log cabin and a lean-to shelter of poles and slough grass for the livestock before winter. They faced many hardships, but were successful in their efforts.

In 1870, when the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad started up the west side of the Elkhorn, a site for a refueling station was needed. The Elkhorn Land & Town Lot Company purchased the Herman farm, located 8 miles from Fremont, for $500. Long referred to as "the Nickerson area," the station was given that name.

The rails were in place before winter, and the first business, a warehouse for handling grain and livestock that was formed by a group of farmers, was built. John Blair platted the town on January 13, 1871, and the post office was established on April 5th, with O.B.Rippy, postmaster. Adam Niece started a blacksmith shop and Haven built a hotel. Other businesses sprang up to serve the growing town and the railroad workers, as they extended the line up along the valley.

The Dodge County Poor Farm was established near Nickerson in 1872. Run by a manager, the farm was intended to be largely self-supporting. People down on their luck and homeless were referred to as "inmates" and "indigents" and, if not sick or crippled, were expected to work in the fields, garden, or caring for the livestock to help pay for their keep. Claiming that people shouldn't expect to get free room-and-board, the commissioners asked that they be given the opportunity to work, saying "if they shall not work, neither shall they eat." The farm continued to operate until 1942 when this type of welfare was considered to be cruel and degrading, and the farm was sold. The expression, "...being driven to the poor farm," as the last place on earth a person would want to be, is still used by those who recall this form of welfare.

A school, located one mile west of the town site, served the community until 1883, when bonds were let to build a proper building in town. Emely Davis was the first teacher. Church was held in the schoolhouse until 1889, when the Methodist Episcopal people erected a building.

A fire in the spring of 1892 destroyed the hotel, a store, and the post office, but all were immediately replaced. The Torpin Grain Company built a large grain elevator, lumber & coal yard, and implement shop that year. The town, however, grew slowly.

In 1906, when the Sioux City & Ashland Railroad (now Burlington Northern) came down the Elkhorn Valley on the other side of Nickerson, several more grain companies were established. By 1910, when there were 200 people living in Nickerson, a petition was sent to the county board asking that the village be incorporated.

One of the first ordinances passed by the new village board was to charge an occupation tax. Barber shops, pool rooms, banks, etc. were charged from $1 to $15 per year, and nonresidents, including the circus, itinerate dentists, surgeons, or auctioneers, were charged $2.50 per day. The ordinance is still in effect and used to discourage peddlers.

Other notations from the early records include:

-- A flood on the Elkhorn and Maple Creek in 1912 took out the bridges in the area. A ferry was set up to get supplies to and from Nickerson until they could be replaced.

-- A two-story brick schoolhouse was built in 1916.

-- A fire in 1923 destroyed five main street businesses.

-- Unhappy with the care given to the fire truck in Fremont (in which the town had a one-quarter interest) the board voted to buy six fire extinguishers instead. A fire department was organized in 1939.

Nickerson celebrated its centennial on July 17, 1971. Since then a new fire station was built and the streets have been armor coated. The town, still growing, had a 1980 population of 254.

By Jane Graff from material submitted by Marvin Sexton, from centennial newspaper.