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Nebraska...Our Towns

Ohiowa -- Fillmore County

A post office started in 1870 was called "Ohiowa," for Ohio and Iowa from which the first residents had come. The railroad didn't arrive until 1887. [Silvey]
Ohiowa's main intersection, with Clemons' bank on the left and the opera house and Paul Gunderman's drug store on the right. [Silvey]
Main Street of Ohiowa, looking south. Rachel Hotel on the right. ca. 1920. [Silvey]

On February 19, 1887, having the "required number of residents," Ohiowa was incorporated. The location, given in the ordinance book, places it squarely in the center of Section 8 in Township 5 North of Range 1 West of the 6th P.M.

Before it was a town, it was a postal address. That is when it got its name. In 1870 a post office, to be located in the R.L Clemons home, was approved. Said to have been the first post office in this part of the county, a group of settlers tried to have it named for the state they had come from, Ohio. Another group of settlers who had emigrated from Iowa, however, were opposed to that idea, so a compromise was in order. They combine the two names, making it "Ohiowa."

A school also preceded the town by many years. Built not far from the post office in the 1870s, it was actually the first building on what was later to be part of the town site. A two-story school was built in 1881.

People were very excited when the preliminary survey for the Burlington Road was made in the spring of 1886. The officials selected a portion of the farms owned by William Sieckmann, J.H. Luke, E.D. Babcock, and R.L. Clemons as a town site. Streets and lots were platted, and Ohiowa was on its way.

The Clemons brothers built the community's first building in 1886, which housed their banking business and was later used as a post office. Several elevators sprang up along the right-of-way, and the main street was soon lined with many wooden shops and business houses. At its peak (1920) the population was 433.

Several disastrous fires are remembered by early residents. The original hotel, a pool hall, and a shoe shop were consumed by fire very early in our history. The only water for fighting the fires was from a two-handled pump in the middle of the square, over which a windmill was erected. People handed buckets of water along the line from the pump to those nearest the fire, who threw it at the fire. It was not very effective, but provided people with "something to do."

In the early 1930s another fire destroyed the two-story opera house, a landmark of the town. Other buildings on the block that also burned included a drug store, an implement business, and a barber shop. A cement block plant built in Ohiowa helped the people to rebuild with fire-proof material. Even with more modern equipment, another fire burned the Pyzer & Hurley Garage, and in 1958 fire destroyed the Farmers' Co-op elevator.

Members of the Baptist and the Methodist societies erected churches shortly after the town was started. A Lutheran church, established two miles east of town, was moved into town, and a new sanctuary was built in 1954.

A church built just over two miles south of town in 1887, known as the St. John's German Lutheran Church, is still a landmark in the community. This church stands prominently in view of the surrounding countryside.

Early events, drawing large crowds to Ohiowa, were "Poultry Days." Organized by the firms of McFarland & Sons and Robert Muir, and lasting two days. Several "poultry cars" located on the siding near the depot were filled and shipped to market. The price was boosted, but tokens or "chips" were given to be used instead of cash. These were busy days for local merchants.

Business also boomed during World War II when the Bruning Air Base was operating. With 4,000 men stationed at the base, 1942-47, training in P47s and Liberator bombers, local businesses extended their hours. Often there was a continuous line of customers from the door to the check-out counter. The land has now been leased to farmers and a large cattle-feeding operation, Mid-America Feed Yards.

A brick school built in 1921 is still in use. It served K-12 students until 1982. From then until the present, K-6 students attend in Ohiowa, with 7-12 attending various high schools in the area. We have marched to the State Capitol in Lincoln, on more than one occasion, to save our small school.

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The auditorium, built by the W.P.A. during the 1930s and still in near-original condition, provides space for roller skating, movies, dances, plays, banquets, and community elections.

Even though Ohiowa is a small town of 135, people continue to work to hold the community together. Our centennial held June 20-21, 1987, was a big affair. Softball games, a road rally, a flea market, a parade, and suppers each evening highlighted the event. A large crowd attended each day, bringing back many memories of the early days in Ohiowa.

 

By Gaylene Gaston and Barb Dunse of Ohiowa, NE 68416