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Nebraska...Our Towns

The brick schoolhouse at Cambridge, built 1888.
Shaw Bros, an early business in Cambridge, circa 1900
The view of Cambridge from the water tower, looking east toward Lake Lavonia.
The Cambridge Tourist Club, 1905.
People view the damage and debris following the Flood of 1935, Cambridge mill.
Men rescue people stranded by the 1947 flood in Cambridge.

CAMBRIDGE - - FURNAS COUNTY

Cambridge, in northwestern Furnas County, is on the gentle slope between the Republican River and Medicine Creek. Hiram Doing came in 1871, built a cabin, and named the place "Northwood." In 1874 a post office named "Medicine Creek" was established. Two years later Doing sold his claim to J.W.Pickle who laid out the town that people called "Pickletown." A dam on Medicine Creek and a sawmill with a corn burr for grinding grain were built. The mill served the area for many years, with improvements that included a four-story building on a solid stone foundation and modern equipment for improved flour-making. The mill was torn down in 1950 after being severely damaged by flood waters.

The Burlington Railroad reached the town in 1880. At that time the name was changed to "Cambridge." The station agent, W.H.Faling, also established "The Regulator," a large general store.

Cambridge was incorporated in 1885 with a population of over 200. The town's park on Medicine Creek was a gathering place for baseball games, G.A.R. reunions, Fourth of July, Chautauquas, and campers. While it has been damaged by floods, it has always been returned to its original beauty. Facilities include a new swimming pool in 1986 (to replace the one built in 1933), a golf course, archery, tennis, picnic area, one-room schoolhouse museum, horse arena, flower garden, and children's playground. The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce that started in 1888 as "the Board of Trade" now sponsors "Medicine Creek Days" each June. Activities include a barbecue, parade and outhouse races, and draws big crowds.

In 1874 a log schoolhouse was built with a dirt floor and branches for the roof. In 1878 a sod school was built and later a frame building, with the first brick structure completed in 1888. The present set of buildings serves over 400 students with an excellent course of educational opportunities as well as classes in adult education. Cambridge is proud of its high school athletic achievements. Starting with baseball, football was added in 1901. The football team won the state championship in 1920. It was later ruled that Clinton John was "ineligible to coach" since he had no degree and was not paid a salary. The football field was named in his honor in 1961.

The community established a number of churches in the 1880s. Five presently serve the town: Catholic, Calvary Baptist, United Methodist, Lutheran, and Congregational UCC.

When Cambridge enjoyed its first boom in 1884, the newspaper, "The Monitor," was founded. Through several changes in ownership the name changed first to "Kaleidoscope," then to "The Cambridge Clarion" the name by which it is currently known. It serves as an important source of communications and history and is especially noted for its sports coverage.

Cambridge has had two disastrous floods. The Republican River flood of 1935 that took many lives and left much destruction, and a flash flood that roared down Medicine Creek in 1947. This quiet little stream, swelled by weeks of rain, took 13 lives and destroyed or damaged many homes and businesses. A dam authorized several years previously was then funded, with the project completed in 1949. The reservoir, named Harry Strunk Lake, irrigates 18,000 acres and provides a recreation area for water sports, fishing, and hunting.

Cambridge's Memorial Hospital, Cambridge Manor, and a Heritage Plaza make this the center for medical services. The growth of these facilities have been made possible by the presence of the medical staff and others dedicated to taking care of people.

The Butler Memorial Library, honoring "Pap" Butler, has a collection of over 13,000 books and periodicals. A museum started in 1938 has a large collection of Great Plains relics, birds, fossils, Indian artifacts, and many local historical items.

The economic climate in Cambridge, with over 70 businesses, is healthy and ever-changing. The principal occupations are stock raising and farming. The town depends on the rural community, and shares in its financial ups and downs.

Cambridge has maintained a population of over 1,000 since the early 1930s. The 1980 census shows 1,206 residents. As it has been from early on, people are the most important factor in the community. We look back and try to imagine how early pioneers survived the Indian scares, sickness, drought, prairie fires, and floods. We look forward to the 21st Century in the hopes of leaving a legacy for the future generations who will call Cambridge "home."

 

By Dorothy Jones, Box 147, Cambridge, NE 69022

Pictures from Cambridge Museum, Loyd Thompson, curator and "The Cambridge Clarion," Allan D.Gaskill, editor.

 

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL:

"A Century of Progress", Cambridge, NE 1874-1974

History of Furnas County Furnas County Genealogical Society, 1987

Illustrated Handbook of Furnas County , C.S.Burch Pub Co,Chicago, IL, 1884