RIVERTON -- FRANKLIN COUNTY
While many towns trace their growth to the influence of the railroad, Riverton is different. Riverton is a "town of bridges."
First claimed in 1870, Riverton was settled in the spring of 1871 by the Thompson Company. Laid out on the west side of a large, beautiful creek at its confluence with the Republican River, it gradually moved to the east side of Thompson Creek where it was officially incorporated in 1887.
The first bridge over the Republican River in Nebraska was built here in 1874 by D.S.Hasty. Built with timbers hauled by ox cart from the Hastings area, it stood for over 50 years and was used by people bringing produce and trade to Riverton from the south. It was replaced by a steel bridge in 1930 after a truck hauling oil field equipment went through the north span.
At the turn of the century there were up to 45 businesses and a population of around 700. Progressive from the beginning, a school had been built of willows on the creek bank as early as 1872, replaced by the limestone "Vinigar Hill" school about 1874. When this school burned in 1884, people immediately built a larger, modern edifice from locally made brick. By 1909 this school was too small, so it was razed and replaced by a still larger brick building presently used by K-8 students. A gymnasium was added in 1936.
In 1879 the railroad built a bridge across Thompson Creek in the south part of town, near the wooden bridge for wagons and riders. This was the third major bridge in just eight years.
In 1911 the farmers south and east of town decided it was too far to haul their produce to the bridge west of Riverton and expressed the need for a bridge closer to their area. The people contributed money and did much of the work themselves. Called the Farmers Bridge, it gave Riverton the honor of being the only town in the valley with two river bridges . This bridge is still in daily use.
Another bridge was added at the northwest corner of town. The Hackett Bridge made it more convenient for the people living in that area to get to and from town.
In 1915 "placid" Thompson Creek went on a rampage that devastated the town and left only a rickety, swaying railroad track hanging across the water. People on the west side of town could cross it on foot if they dared. The railroad immediately repaired the span, and a new wooden bridge was thrown across the gully washed out by the flood at the east end of town. This made a total of six bridges leading into Riverton, not counting the county bridges upstream.
Riverton's populace was not only hard working, but also God-fearing. Regular worship services have been held here since 1872, and churches were some of the earliest structures built. The Methodists built in 1881, the Catholics in 1882-83, and the Congregationalists in 1885. The Pentecostal people organized in 1918 and held services in homes and a rented building until they built in 1938. All were active through 1954, with three still serving the community.
In 1935 the historic Republican River flood played havoc up and down the valley and inundated Riverton's homes and businesses. Though the town was bruised and bent, Riverton came out on top as the west river bridge was the only bridge in the whole valley not washed out by the flood, giving residents primary access during the recovery.
The town was very active and continued to serve the surrounding community through the 1950s. Then, as in many rural towns, the economy slowed down and the town started to lose people and businesses.
In 1983 Riverton participated in the Community Block Grant Development Program. Private residences were remodeled, painted and repaired to give our town a "new shine". A new bridge over Thompson Creek was built, main street widened, dilapidated buildings were cleaned up, and general "spit and polish" applied that gave our little town a much needed "face lift."
In 1987 the gallant old West River Bridge was replaced by a low-profile concrete structure giving the town a more modern appearance. A park area and memorial are planned using the 1935 high water mark span of the old bridge.
Although we are a very small town, we still have a post office, school, a cafe, and three other businesses to serve the people. The town has an emergency group, the "first-responders," and 200 proud people who live in the prettiest place in the state of Nebraska -- with six bridges leading into it from all points on the map.
By Marilyn F. Hollis, Box 21, Rte 1, Riverton, NE 68972
Credits include: Beatrice Shetler Wright, Riverton's real historian, now 84 year old, who supplied nearly all the information used in this story; Riverton Village Board plus Robert and Veda Clements and Bea Wright for photos; and the Franklin County Historical Society for use of their newspaper files.
A History of the Beginning of Franklin County, Riverton, J. Peck
Franklin County Atlas, 1982
A History of Franklin County, Franklin County Historical Society
The Town of Riverton, Enterprise Printing Co, 1888
A History of Riverton, NE, 1971, Riverton Review
Experiences of a Homesteader's Wife, Mrs. S.J.Vincent
Memories of Pioneer Days, Elva Rawson Wentworth, Franklin Co. Sentinel, 1934
Trials of the Sturdy Pioneers Who Settled the Village of Riverton, Mary Oney, Riverton Review, 1930-31
In the Beginning,Or So They Say, Dessie J.Hawes Warriner, Franklin, NE
The History of Franklin County, M. O'Sullivan