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Nebraska...Our Towns

Pickrell -- Gage County

A railroad station/siding, similar to this, gave a shipping dock for the Pickrell brothers, which then became a town. [Nebraska State Historical Society]
Gage County includes the lower two tiers of "old Clay County" and the would-be towns of Austin, Clatonia, and others.
Pickrell's main street, 1990. [Harris]

Edward Austin arrived in Nebraska from Ohio with John Pethoud and Henry Pierce in 1857, and settled in "old Clay County." Austin built a log cabin, then staked out 40 acres of his claim as the town site "Austin," which he hoped would become the county seat. Other settlers arriving that year included Hiram Parker, Fordyce Roper, Edward Charles, Homer Austin, and Orrin Steven.

A steam engine was hauled overland from Nebraska City to power a sawmill and a gristmill -- the first in the area. This immediately increased the traffic into the settlement, and resulted in the building of bridges and roads. This posed a threat to settlers in Beatrice, who feared that emigration would go through the Steven's Creek settlement instead of their town. So, they not only improved their road, but sent people to Iowa to "pilot" wagon trains to their ferry boat and on to the road through Beatrice.

By 1863, with still no viable town in the county, powerful politicians in Lancaster and Gage County got the legislature to divide "Clay" between them. This area became part of Gage County and all hopes for the town of Austin vanished.

In 1883, when the Union Pacific was building a line from Beatrice to Lincoln, a new opportunity for a town appeared. Sheep ranchers William and Watson Pickrell joined with Edward Austin and others to establish a siding and station. The depot was located on a hill, which allowed trains an "easy start" in either direction. This also placed the town, given the name "Pickrell," well above the flood-plain.

A Mr. Bashaw qualified as the first inhabitant by moving his house to the newly platted village. Ed White was the first to build a new house and Mrs. Edwards owned what was called "the first good building." The post office, established in 1884, was housed in the elevator's office, and there was a drug store and a few other businesses. Soon there were two of most businesses, as well as a bank, cream station, and a hotel.

A school was built in 1885. In 1912 the first consolidation occurred, and a red brick schoolhouse was built for K-10. Students wanting more education went to high school in other locations, primarily Beatrice.

By 1913 there was a real push to get the town of Pickrell incorporated. People wanted two things: to improve the streets, and have a saloon. An official census came up short of the 200 names needed, so, the railroad's "bunk houses" were quickly annexed, which increased the population to the needed amount.

The first action of the village board was to grant a liquor license to George Williamson, located in the Wardlaw building. When Beatrice "went dry" long before prohibition, people from that city would ride the train to Pickrell for a quick one or so, then catch a later train back home. Gambling was also prevalent, and Pickrell became a rather "wild town." Ben Ridgley was hired as marshal in 1915, but he resigned about a year later and no one could be found to take the job.

Soon after the first street lamp was installed in 1915 and the rowdiness in the street subsided, four more were put up. Electricity was installed in 1922. During the building of Highway 77 in 1930-31, gravel and concrete arrived in Pickrell by rail, where it was mixed and then delivered to the site. Main street, which connects it to the highway, was not paved until 1958.

Pickrell had more than its share of fires. One in 1890 destroyed five buildings, and the livery stables burned in 1893. Fires in 1910 and 1922 destroyed other businesses. The Omaha Elevator burned in 1925, Williams' garage and ice house in 1929, and the Farmers Elevator office was destroyed in 1954. A brick building replaced it. A concrete elevator was built in the 1960s, and two more silos were added in 1978.

A Methodist Church, organized early in our history, continues to serve the community. A United Brethren Church was very active for many years. The former members of this group, "Christian Endeavor," plus their descendants and friends, continue to meet annually.

Soon after Pickrell's centennial in 1984, life-long resident Floyd Schneider left nearly $110,000 to the village. In addition to playground equipment, a memorial was placed in the park in his memory. The remaining money was invested until the board decided the best way to use it. The current population of Pickrell is 170.

 

 

From material submitted by Dennis Winkle, former resident of Pickrell, currently living in Beatrice, Box 911, 68310.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: "Beatrice Daily Sun" newspaper, July 6, 1964, "Sunland" feature, May 29, 1984; and April 26, 1988.