Whether traveling north on Highway 27 from Kansas or east on Highway 34 from Colorado, the first town in Nebraska is Haigler, population 230. It is the state's "cornerstone."
A cafe on the corner of Porter and Nebraska Avenue welcomes you. The grocery store on the opposite corner is always a busy place. Turn north onto Porter Avenue and you see the little park with a gazebo and a wooden sculpture of Uncle Jimmy Gray, the first white man who lived in the area. The placard says that he came here in about 1869 after serving in the New York Cavalry in the Civil War.
Across the street, the flag is waving in front of the post office, now located in the old Drovers' and Traders' Bank building. The American Legion Hall is next door with another sculpture -- an old cowboy carrying his saddle -- representing the hundreds of cattlemen and farmers who settled the area.
On the corner of that busy block you see a recreation hall. Across the street is the Co-op and its large grain elevators, a butchering plant and locker. You make a U-turn to get back on the highway and get gasoline at the town's only filling station. If something is wrong with your car, there's a mechanic at the garage next door who will take care of it for you.
The Golden Inn community center is on Noble Street. A block to the west puts you on King Avenue and you see Zion Lutheran and United Methodist churches.
The school and gymnasium are on Norman Street and Logan Avenue. Your tour shows you a tennis court, a ball field, some well-kept yards and homes, and the town park.
Now, my friend, you have seen our town of Haigler.
But wait. You don't know that the townsite was the homestead of James and Arabelle Porter, the first family to settle here. They built a mercantile store while other pioneer families came to take up ranching, farming, teaching, construction, and printing. The town had store keepers, doctors, lawyers, school teachers, bar tenders, and cattle rustlers, too. Haigler had every type.
The Burlington Railroad extended its lines from Indianola to Denver in 1881-82. The mail was dispatched at Jake Haigler's ranch house two miles west, so the railroad called it "Haigler's" station. Jake's office was equipped with four soap boxes marked NE, NW, SE, and SW. Any rider who came along would take all the mail in the box for his vicinity, and distribute it as he went along.
It was five years later that the Lincoln Land Company bought the Porter homestead for $4,000 and platted a town. The first newspaper was printed that same year, 1886. The last paper came out in 1955.
A two-story wooden building was erected in 1887 for a schoolhouse. Replaced by a brick building in 1914, it has been remodeled several times and is still in use today. A gymnasium was added in 1936. K-6 students are taught in Haigler, but as of 1986, the junior and senior high students attend the Dundy County School in Benkelman.
Haigler had two banks which closed with the stock market crash in 1929. The peak population was 533 in 1930.
The Methodist Church, organized in 1888, built and dedicated a church in 1889. As the only church in town for many years, it was the community meeting place, and other congregations also used it for worship services. The Lutheran Church was organized in 1910 and built a church in 1949.
A sale pavilion was built in the early 1900s. Huge cattle sales were conducted there. It was razed in the mid 1930s, after the railroad moved its line further north.
Circle irrigation has made a great change in the Haigler area. Much of the sandhill grass land to the north has been planted to corn, alfalfa, wheat, soybeans, sunflowers. Adjoining farm land in Kansas, which has always been a part of Haigler's community, has also benefited from circle irrigation. It means, however, that there are bigger farms, fewer people, and as result, a smaller town.
On the first weekend in August 1986, one thousand people gathered for a weekend school reunion, barbecue, street dance, and community church service in the park in observance of Haigler's centennial.
by Laura Pearl Wall