ELWOOD -- GOSPER COUNTY
When you look at the lush pastures filled with cattle and the table-like irrigated fields full of grain, it is hard to imagine how the area appeared in May 1885 when the railroad and land company decided to start a town at this location. Elwood is the Gosper County seat, the home of Johnson Lake and the Elwood Reservoir, and provides the major grain handling center for area farms.
Elwood derived its name from a peculiar incident. The story goes that surveyors platting the town could not decide what to call the new station. The men agreed to name it after the first person they met. It was Elwood Thomas, a homesteader, who came wandering by hoping to find a plug of tobacco. So he received the honor of having the town named for him.
Elwood became a terminal for the railroad with a roundhouse was built on the west edge of the town. People flocked to the area and began to build homes and businesses. Two lumber yards provided the materials and before the end of the first year there were 225 people living in the community. Water was hauled from Reed's ranch and sold for 25 cents a barrel.
By 1883 a clamor arose to move the Gosper County seat from Homerville, an inland town by-passed by the railroad, to "the up-and-coming village of Elwood." A Jim Dandy county seat fight erupted.
A special election was held, but it was declared fraudulent and contested by the people in Homerville because of obvious ballot box stuffing. It was noted that J.C.Post, who managed the Gosper County Bank in Elwood, had such an intelligent dog that it was on record as having cast a vote. A news reporter commented, "...it speaks well of the livestock in the county that so many votes were cast." On the day when the two towns were to appear in court to decide the outcome of the election, "the rascals" from Elwood tried to steal the records. When the story leaked out, Mrs. Willard, the county clerk's wife, hid both the records and her children in the cellar.
The atmosphere was so tense that all of the county officials, except the deputy clerk, decided they would go to McCook for the day, (considered a safe distance away). Women and children watched anxiously as people from Elwood came riding into Homerville with drums, horns, and guns, but they found only a few non-essential ledgers that had not been hidden away. (The "minutemen" of Homerville were not on the job, but their absence probably saved the incident from becoming a battlefield.) Until another election was held and "the voice of the majority of legal voters had spoken," the people from Homerville held nightly dances in the courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse, while some of the men stood guard to see that no records were moved.
The final decision was in favor of Elwood. Gradually the buildings and homes in Homerville were moved nine miles north, across the dusty hills to Elwood, "located on the railroad."
The population of Elwood took a jump in 1940 when the town was filled with construction workers building Johnson Lake and the irrigation canal system that is now Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District (CNPP&ID). Irrigation brought with it the ability to weather the droughts. Agriculture income remains the primary economic base of the community. Records show that the 1980 census of 716 was the highest to date, with the current count approximately 750 residents.
The town is a proud, clean community with three active churches. It is the home of the Elwood High School Pirates. Commercially it has two banks, two grain elevators, a major implement dealer, two irrigation supply stores, a weekly newspaper "The Elwood Bulletin," and other businesses and services. In the past five years the area has suffered from the agriculture recession. It lost a grocery store, the lumber yards, and a service station. Recently however, it gained a new medical clinic, drug store, a gift store, and a new petroleum dealer. The railroad that gave Elwood its start still serves the town.
This past year the elevator burned, but plans are in place for rebuilding. The community recently invested $120,000 in its new senior center. Our town of Elwood shows that it has a strong heart and an ability to weather the storms.
By Cheryl Clark, Box 325, Elwood, NE 68937, coordinator. Carlton Clark, Don Gruber Photo, and Harriet McCormick