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Nebraska...Our Towns

Main street, Stockville in its prime, circa 1900.
In 1988, many buildings stand empty. The Regulator building was last used as Pete's Grocery.
James and Lucy Bailey by the sod house they lived in when coming to Frontier County.
The Phoenix Pharmacy, circa 1925, run by R.D. Logan. He couldn't afford to complete medical school, but served as the "only doctor" in town, never charging for his services. His daughter, Gail, was Stockville's postmaster.
Robert Van Pelt and his mother in front of her cafe, 1915.
An interior view of Sara Van Pelt's cafe. Note the supply of books and comfortable chairs.

STOCKVILLE -- FRONTIER COUNTY

Stockville had its beginning as a trading center for the ranchers in the south central region. Organized in 1872 and laid out by W.L.McClary as the county seat of Frontier County, Stockville grew rapidly when homesteaders arrived.

Nearby Medicine Creek was an important waterway for the region. Its valley served as a natural highway between the Republican and Platte Rivers, first by migrating Indian tribes, then soldiers from Fort McPherson as they protected the frontier, and later by homesteaders.

When the railroad came through, it missed Stockville. However, since it was the county seat, the town continued to grow and prosper. In 1890 Stockville's population was 227. By 1900, even without a railroad, Stockville had grown to 269 residents with a well rounded collection of businesses.

The big events of the year were district court and the county fair. Stockville also hosted the week-long teachers' institute each summer. This "inservice" for 50 to 70 school teachers, mostly women, was taught by instructors from Kearney and Peru Teachers Colleges.

Early district judges of distinction were George W.Norris (who later became a U.S.Senator), E.B.Perry, and Charles E.Eldred. Robert Van Pelt, of national prominence, tried his first case in the Stockville Courthouse as a young attorney.

The location of county seat has been questioned but survived several attempts to be relocated to Curtis, ten miles to the northwest. County elections reaffirmed its Stockville location in 1920, 1930, and again in 1950. At one time the men of Stockville armed themselves to stop an attempt to seize the county files by force and set up shop in another town. The incident, luckily, ended without bloodshed and the county files remained in Stockville.

The frame courthouse, built in 1889, continues to serve the public. Frontier County's courthouse has the "distinction" of being the last in the nation to get indoor plumbing, and was also the last to have a paved road leading to it. However, Stockville was not settled by people who were from "the backwaters of civilization." They were conscientious, respectable, and God-fearing persons seeking a better life for their families. The "business tragedy" of their lives was that the railroad missed their town. They did not, however, let it be their undoing!

A number of former residents achieved state and national prominence:

Heading the list is former Governor Frank Morrison and his wife, Maxine. Morrison began his law practice in Stockville.

-- Former Governor Ralph Brooks grew up here. His father lost an election in the 1890s to become county treasurer.

-- Loyal M.Graham, who introduced in the Oregon Legislature the first gas tax law in the United States, started his law practice in Stockville.

-- Harry B.Fleharty, prominent politician and Omaha lawyer, also practiced law here during the 1890s.

-- Living on a farm near Stockville, W.F.(Doc) Carver, recognized in the 1880s as America's greatest rifle shot, joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show as top marksman, returning in 1883 after leaving the show.

-- Robert Van Pelt, (b.1897, d.1988) became Nebraska's senior federal judge and never forgot his home town of Stockville. U.S.Chief Justice Warren Burger said "this man is one of the greatest jurists in the country." Much of the material for this article is from Van Pelt's writings.

The village of Stockville currently has a population of about 35 persons. Many civic duties, obviously, must be handled by a few. Good examples of this are the Crawfords. Joe served about 20 years on the village board, the last five years as mayor and chairman. His wife, Margaret, served as village clerk for ten years, and is presently the county clerk, register of deeds, clerk of the district court, election commissioner, and jury commissioner.

Today, many are devoted to the memory of those who first settled in Stockville as well as the history of this pioneer village. Much of the glitter and promise of this unique frontier town may be gone, but the pride still prevails.

By Bernard G.Logan, 2310 Bretigne Drive, Lincoln, NE 68512

 

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL:

Stockville, Nebraska History Quarterly, Fall, 1984, by Robert Van Pelt