Shickley -- Fillmore County
When the first settlers came to this part of Nebraska, all they saw was a vast, level prairie. There were no large rivers and few trees. It was 20 miles north to the Big Blue River and about the same distance south to the Little Blue. While small streams provided drainage to the south and east, the area north and west contained many large shallow ponds, wetlands used by waterfowl.
The first immigrants to the southwest corner of Fillmore County arrived in the 1860s from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois. During the 1870s a group of Swedish people took homesteads in Bryant Township. These families founded a church and school. The resulting community was known as "Stockholm."
In 1885 the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad surveyed for a branch line to run from Beatrice to Holdrege. The stakes marking the right-of-way were within a few hundred feet of the Swedish church. Excited over their good fortune, the people of Stockholm began to make plans for a depot, post office, and a town site.
About three miles east, however, were the farms of William Kline and Robert Campbell, who wanted the village to be located on their land. They promised to sell lots cheaply to newcomers, and offered to give many lots to the company in exchange for having the town site on their land. Since their land would place the depot "the right distance" from the proposed stations of Ong and Strang, and "the price was right," their offer was accepted. Once the town site was determined, a store and blacksmith shop were started immediately.
The new village was named in honor of the county judge, Benjamin Shickley. With the arrival of the railroad and glowing reports of the good crops that could be grown in the area, the farm land was quickly taken up. Each year saw several new businesses added to the village, thus increasing its value as a trade center. Although the Swedish people were disappointed that the town was not located at Stockholm, they became loyal supporters of Shickley.
By March 20, 1888, the town had the necessary 200 residents and was duly incorporated. For many years the development of Shickley, like many other rural Nebraska communities, had its ups and downs, due primarily to the fluctuation in the amount of rainfall. Since this area is purely agricultural, drought, especially when prolonged, greatly affected the economy of the town. In 1896, after several very dry years and the resulting "money panic" as Eastern investors pulled out, a bumper crop of corn, producing a whopping 70-bushels to the acre, broke the market. Farmers were lucky if they could find buyers at 13 cents per bushel. The Shickley community lost many pioneer families and a number of businesses during that time.
The long drought of the 1930s, aggravated by a worldwide depression, found Shickley at its lowest ebb. Unable to survive, many families farms were lost. With fewer people and little or no cash-money available, businesses had to close their doors.
The recovery from this condition came in the form of a change in "farming climate," with the development of deep-well irrigation. Geologists had long-told of a vast lake of water underlying this area. In 1936 the first deep well was drilled on the Charles Flory farm. Others quickly followed. The Shickley trade territory is now dotted with hundreds of deep wells. Much credit goes to John Alfs, who pioneered in the irrigation well-drilling business in Fillmore County with equipment he designed and made.
With an abundant source of water and improved hybrid seed, chemical fertilizing became a necessity. This gave rise to new businesses. As yields zoomed upward, larger storage facilities were needed. Two huge grain companies now stand as testimony to the value of these changes. All this has been reflected in the businesses on Shickley's main street and the increased value of local property. Shickley is truly a "big little town."
On May 28-29, 1988, Shickley and its citizens celebrated the town's 100th birthday. It was a grand event complete with a parade, quilt show, and displays of items used by the early residents of the community.
By Kathy Berg and Ethel Johnson, Shickley, NE 68436. Historical pictures by Jan Benson. Copies of the centennial history books available at the Shickley State Bank.