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Nebraska...Our Towns

Naponee -- a town of churches. Almost before there were roads, people built their houses of worship.
Main Street in Naponee, 1908. Natural dirt was fine for most traffic unless it rained. The automobile made its appearance the following year, and right away, people wanted "something better."
Approaching dust storm, 1935, pictured against the water town and eight sided Congregational Church, that now houses the Naponee Historical Society.
Naponee school in the 1930. School enrollment was high and a sizable staff was needed to meet the needs.
Annual July Canoe Races draws participants from all over Nebraska.


It's a pretty place. The Republican River winds its way southeast through gently-rolling hills and borders the southern edge of the village of Naponee. Before white settlement, buffalo, deer, elk and other wild game abounded, and Indian villages dotted the landscape. Trappers were the first to take up residency at this location, and a contingency of soldiers were stationed in the area. Two of these soldiers, Pat Leonard and Colin McRae, returned as settlers in 1871.

The following year Robert Dow arrived and wrote to his fiance, "All that is here is a post office in a dugout." He later wrote, "I have got a dugout stable built on my land, but I don't keep my horses in it. They have school in it on weekdays and church on Sundays."

The first settlement, "Perth" was in the valley east of Turkey Creek. Later, people built on the hill to the north, and called it "Naponee" in honor of the hometown of a Canadian settler who fought in the Civil War. Settlers had to travel 45 miles to Lowell for supplies, a trip that took several days.

In the late 1800s the railroad established a depot in Perth. At the peak of service, four trains were welcomed daily. Tom Moore's dray wagon hauled supplies to local businesses.

By the turn of the century Naponee was a thriving community of about 200 people, surrounded by farms, with a busy main street lined with neat wooden business houses. Mail deliveries were made on foot and horseback, later with a two-wheel cart complete with wooden cab to protect the precious cargo. Mud, snow, or dust storms did not deter the regular delivery of mail. Nor does it in 1988, as the present carrier must also combat the weather that turns rural roads into bogs or almost impassable strips of ice and snow.

In 1909 Perth and Naponee incorporated into one village and called their town Naponee. Telephone service was also initiated. The operator not only directed calls but advertised store sales and community events from the "central line."

Soon four churches served the village. Presently there are two active congregations, the Catholic and Wesleyan Church. An eight-sided Congregational Church, one of only three such structures in the country, now houses local artifacts and is maintained by the Naponee Historical Society.

Turkey Creek, once the site of a flour mill with a capacity of 90 barrels a day, now provides a waterway border to the town park. A 1906 news item states..."The Naponee Milling Co. billed a carload of flour, Tuesday, to London, England."

Naponee enjoyed many successes, but also its share of trouble. In 1874 grasshoppers roared in..."like a heavy loaded train...turned the sky dark, and cleaned us out in a hurry..." In 1920 a fire destroyed the Clampett Hotel and adjoining buildings. The dust storms of the 1930s ravaged the area, and powdery fine dust can still be found in the attics of old structures. The 1935 "great flood" sent a ten-foot high surge of water through the Republican River valley carrying everything before it. Livestock, homes, and many lives were lost in the tragedy.

The building of the Harlan County Dam in the 1940s, four miles west, spurred a sudden growth in Naponee. The population grew to over 400 people and cafes stayed open 24 hours a day to accommodate dam workers.

The school that started in the dugout graduated to wooden structures and finally a two-story brick building. It closed in 1984 and students are currently educated in nearby Alma or Franklin.

While many small towns are dwindling, Naponee is a survivor. Main Street sustains a good number of businesses. An auditorium, built with volunteer labor in 1929, serves as a community hall. The population, listed as 160 in 1976, is making a slow but steady increase as families move from larger cities or other states to our town. New residents purchase homes as recreational get-aways or because they are employed in the area.

Naponee's centennial year, 1976, was a time to honor the past and herald the future. Prominently situated four miles east of the Harlan County reservoir and bordered by the Republican River, Naponee welcomes summer tourists. Each July, canoe races attract nearly 200 participants and hundreds of viewers. The proximity of the Republican River first drew settlers to the area, and now as a recreation area, continues to be a prime attraction for Naponee's future.

By Dorothy Potter, 301 Jefferson Street, Box 123, Naponee, NE 68960