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Nebraska...Our Towns

Despite language barriers and cultural differences, horse-drawn vehicles lined the street in the 1898 view of Campbell's business district.
Campbell's "new look" as brick buildings replace wooden structures following the 1902 fire that destroyed many businesses on the east side.
The railroad played a vital role in Campbell's history. Passenger service was discontinued in 1941, but the train still arrives twice a week to transport grain.
Except for the brick post office, the west side retained its "old town image" until the late 1940s.
Today there are fewer businesses, but civic pride is evident in the business and residential area.


The Little Blue River that winds its way across the extreme northeast corner of Franklin County attracted settlers to this area in the early 1870's. The spring-fed river supplied them with water, fuel, and in some cases, logs for their homes.

The settlement soon expanded beyond the river as Civil War veterans, second generation Americans, and foreign-born citizens sought homes. Although people of various nationalities were scattered throughout the area, three ethnic groups established their own communities. (1) The Norwegians settled south along Thompson and Farmer's Creeks and in adjoining Webster County. (2) The French-Canadians homesteaded one mile east of the present town site in 1874 and soon were joined by 35 other families. (3) Land agents for the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad brought 14 German immigrants from Kolb, Russia, in 1876 and they settled directly west of Campbell. This was later to be known as "Roosha Town."

Life was very difficult during the 1870's and dozens of families were forced to relinquish their land during the grasshopper and drought years of 1874-76. However, a stalwart core remained and as conditions improved others arrived to reclaim the land. By 1880, the population of North Franklin precinct reached 410.

These early settlers had to travel 20 to 35 miles to obtain supplies or market their grain and they welcomed the news that the Burlington &Missouri River Railroad would extend its line from Blue Hill westward to Holdrege. The Lincoln Land Company, a subsidiary of the railroad, purchased the west half of Section 24 and platted the town of Campbell in May of 1886. The original town consisted of 17 blocks and was named for Alex Campbell, a supervisor of the railroad.

One year after the town was platted, H.M.Crane, owner of the Campbell Press and editor of the Bloomington Advocate, wrote of his impression of the town: [June 2, 1887, The Advocate]

"The country around Campbell is lovely; the situation, so far as artistic effect of the landscape, cannot be excelled. It is on the Little Blue, not far from its head. The stream comes from the northwest and just at Campbell it makes a bend that throws the whole valley for four or five miles into view. The country is well settled, for the soil is first class, neighboring towns are not inconveniently close and we see no reason why Campbell should not become a vigorous thriving village, or even a city. There are two hotels, two banks, two hardware stores, and two general merchandise stores, with perhaps 150 population."

Due to the large trade area, especially to the north and south, Campbell grew rapidly as two elevators, a flour mill, livestock buyers, and other farm-related businesses were established.

Before 1900, five denominations had established churches, with two of these congregations -- Catholic and Presbyterian -- still in existence today. Trinity Lutheran, established southwest of town in 1897, moved its church to Campbell in 1950. Each church has a large following.

Except for the depression year, Campbell continued to maintain an active business district into the 1960's. Larger farms brought a rapid decline in the rural population and all-weather roads lured residents to shop in large towns. As of 1987, about 20 businesses still active in the town.

Campbell celebrated its centennial on July 19-20, 1986. Over 80 per cent of the area residents are descendants of the early settlers who began the task of turning the community into a prosperous farming community. Our hope is that succeeding generations may acknowledge and justify their legacy.

By Ann Soucie, Route 1 Box 2, Campbell, NE 68932