LEWELLEN -- GARDEN COUNTY
Lewellen, population 380, is rich with history. It lies in the valley of the North Platte River, once plied by French traders in their buffalo skin boats, and closely followed by Mormon hand carts, Oregon Trail wagon trains, and California prospectors. Nearby Ash Hollow provided a camping place for weary travelers.
Today Ash Hollow is a State Historical Park where interested travelers may learn of ancient Indians, early emigrants, and events such as the Battle of Blue Water. They may visit the 1849 grave of Rachel Pattison, the beginning of Ash Hollow Cemetery, and Ray Brown's sod house, a remnant of the stupendous Ash Hollow Centennial Pageant of 1967. They may climb Windlass Hill where Oregon Trail ruts are still visible. Looking to the north past Lewellen, one sees the Sandhills ranch country, or toward the east, Lake McConaughy, Nebraska's unique "inland sea."
Early settlers were attracted to the Lewellen area by lush grasslands, open ranges, and plentiful water. The first settler, Samuel P.Delatour, arrived in 1884 and established a ranch on Blue Creek. Other settlers followed. In 1886 Frank Lewellen, using lumber from a raft used to carry immigrants across the river, built a small store and post office in Keith County about four miles east of the present site. Mail and supplies were hauled to this outpost from Ogallala.
A bridge built in 1891 gave area settlers better access to the nearest railroad at Big Springs. This encouraged more settlement. The post office, carrying Mr. Lewellen's name, was moved to Bob Graf's sod store near the southwest corner of the present town site, then part of Deuel County.
The town evolved along an east-west wagon trail, skirted by a small frame schoolhouse (1890), Methodist Church (1899), Lewellen Merchantile (1901), and Lutheran Church (1906). The store burned and the schoolhouse was replaced by a two-story frame building, but the churches are still in use today.
J.C.McCoy heard rumors that the Union Pacific Railroad was coming to Lewellen, so he purchased land from Graf and platted a town, making a wide main street from north to south that intersected the old trail and ended at the station platform. When the first train arrived in 1907, McCoy's Hotel was ready and easily accessible to railroad travelers.
The settlement flourished. Lewellen became a busy livestock market. Thousands of hogs, cattle and sheep were shipped out every year. Long lines of grain wagons waited the length of Main Street to unload at the elevator.
In 1910, without moving a brick, Lewellen became part of Garden County when Deuel was divided into two counties. A successful corn show that year became the first of what is now the annual Garden County Fair. Early fairs were held on Main Street. About 1915 when roping and "cattle cutting" were added attractions, the fairs were held on pasture land at the south end of Main and the schoolhouse was used as the exhibit hall. About 1920 the buildings and the fairs were moved to the grounds at the southeast edge of town. The grounds are also used for the Old Timers' rodeos.
In 1921 fire threatened Main Street when three frame buildings burned. These were replaced by brick structures that were recently remodeled into a supermarket named "The Store." A 1940 fire destroyed the Blue Creek Mercantile.
In 1940 Carl Beard enriched the town's facilities by giving Lewellen a free swimming pool, a park, and playground equipment for the enjoyment of all. In 1946 his sister, Mary, established the Volunteers of America, and she provided food, clothing, and shelter for the needy. After her death in 1978, her will provided funds for a building for that organization. Dedicated in 1985, its exercise equipment and health programs have attracted nation-wide attention. Community involvement and interest keep them up-dated and in excellent condition.
In 1977 the town erected a community building which houses the fire department and a well-equipped recreation hall.
Lewellen remains deeply rooted in the past, making the most of the present, and constant in its faith in the future.
by Mae Rose King, Rte 1 Box 16, Lewellen, NE 69147