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Nebraska...Our Towns

Bloomington Mills, early 1900s
Old Settlers Picnic in 1909. Schobel Store in background. William Jennings Bryan on the podium, making a speech.

BLOOMINGTON - - FRANKLIN COUNTY

Bloomington, once a thriving town, is today a small village overlooking the scenic Republican River valley. The town is on the north side of the river, on the gentle slope extending on to the "upland prairie."

Just after the Civil War the government established a route from Fort Kearny and built Indian stockades at strategic points. The route followed the 99th meridian and was called the Brookline (or Brooklyn) Road, used by the stage-coach line, mail route and freighters. One of these stockade was called Anteitam Post not far from what was to become our town. In 1867 surveyors established township lines and Franklin County was formed.

The railroad surveyors staked out a right-of-way and a town site they called "Waterloo" in 1868. When a town was finally organized in 1872, one of the settlers, Sol Males, suggested the name "Bloomington" after his home in Illinois. A post office bearing that name was established in 1873. The following year, when the United States Land Office was moved to Bloomington from Lowell, the village began to expand rapidly.

The town was thronged with land-hungry people eager to claim property and establish businesses. The land office building used at this time has been moved and is now displayed at Pioneer Village at Minden.

The Burlington & Missouri River Railroad was completed through the area in 1879. The business and residential portion of the early village was nearly a mile from the railroad. Only the depot, stock yards, and grain elevator were on the level valley area. The town soon filed for incorporation and after a brief political battle, built a courthouse on the town square. Business buildings, offices, and homes were erected and the area became well known as "a thriving community." Several newspapers served the town.

After the railroad extended westward, the period of wild growth was over, and Bloomington was a more orderly and quiet community.

The early settlers worshiped together in schools or homes. The Methodists were the first to construct a church. It still serves the community and the congregation held its centennial celebration in 1971.

At the first Fourth of July celebration, held in 1872 at Cottonwood Grove on J.F.Pugsley's farm, about 120 were in attendance.

The first school, built in 1874, was destroyed by fire, but another soon replaced it. A Normal School was established and trained many teachers. The present brick school was built in 1925 and still serves the elementary students but, the high school was discontinued in 1967.

Social events were a big part of the life in Bloomington. The banker, Mr. McGrew, who had three Negro servants, would have lavish parties and dances. Stock companies presented plays weekly, summer Chautauquas were held on the courthouse square, and there were band concerts every week. The bandstand still remains at its location in the city park, along with the rock jail house.

Bloomington was known as a big gambling town and had a fine race track north of town.

An all-steel bridge, designed to withstand floods, was built over the Republican River in 1875. It was replaced by a concrete bridge in 1983.

A city water system was installed in 1906 and city lights added in 1913. After another round of elections in 1920 the county seat was moved to Franklin. This loss was a bitter pill to swallow, but Bloomington didn't roll over and die. Soon the town adjusted. Streets were paved in 1928.

The post office, a repair shop, garage-filling station, and tavern continue to serve the area. Recently, under a governmental grant, several of the old buildings were restored and now serve as a community center. The center is equipped with a kitchen where "meals on wheels" are served two days a week. The building has room for town meetings and social activities, and a public library is also housed in the complex.

The American Legion and its auxiliary, organized in 1949, play an active role in Memorial Day services as they honor the many veterans who have a final resting place in the Bloomington Cemetery on the edge of town.

Bloomington's peak population was over 500 in 1910. Currently this dedicated community of 138 people is actively striving to keep the town alive and well, and to serve one another. It is the place they call "home."

By Meta Obering, Bloomington, NE 68929.

Pictures by Elsie Waring.