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Nebraska...Our Towns

Smithfield schoolhouse built in 1916-17, closed in 1968, is now the home of Raymond and Sharon Hagan.
Main Street in down-town Smithfield, March 26, 1988, the day of the consignment auction.

SMITHFIELD -- GOSPER COUNTY

On May 28, 1890, a survey of the Smithfield town site had been completed and was filed. William Bellamy had originally homesteaded here in the early 1880s. He then sold his claim to Elbert and Nancy Smith. The Lincoln Land Company, agent for the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, purchased it from the Smiths. Since the town was platted in the middle of Smith's millet field, the village was called "Smithfield."

Smith had Walt Currier build a livery stable and manage it for him. Currier then built a large two-story house that also served as a hotel. This building is now owned by Veryl and Florence Dannehl. The first home in Smithfield was built by G.B.Chase, who was also the first postmaster. This home was located where Marvin and Sue Brand now live. In 1893 Chase was elected county judge, an office he held for many years.

A lumber yard was among the first buildings owned by M.T.Jackson and managed by Walker Smith. The first banking business was done by George C.Junkin in a small office of the lumber yard. In the early 1900s, George Junkin was elected Secretary of State. Walker Smith served as his deputy. Junkin also served in the Nebraska Legislature.

Smithfield had several early entrepreneurs. Richard Dowler built a merry-go-round, powered by a steam engine, completed in time for the 1899 Fourth of July celebration. In the early 1900s Lester Ryon invented air-cooling refrigerators and "Easy Way Ironing Boards," employing 20 men to manufacture them. H.K.Biesecker made cement blocks that were used to build four businesses, including the large Biesecker Building on the corner where the town hall is now located. Population in 1902 was 229.

The first school was a rural schoolhouse. A large two-story brick building was erected in 1916-17. The last senior class to graduate from this building was in 1949. Smithfield's school closed in 1968 when the district consolidated with Bertrand, and the building is now the home of Raymond and Sharon Hagan.

The Brown Addition to Smithfield, named for Charles Brown, a bachelor who was a drummer-boy in the Civil War, was part of his homestead located just north of town. He owned "The Brown Hall" which became the Hanlin Hardware Store. This is where Darrel Stark's garage is now located.

A beautiful brick bank was built in 1916. It was in this building, in the early 1930s where Mr.Mahlin, the banker, was locked in the vault by a robber who then stole all the money before fleeing south out of town. Local citizens pursued him with rifles and ammunition from Hanlin's Hardware. They never caught him and it was believed that he hid the money along Turkey Creek. It is said the robber threw carpet tacks on the road, causing those chasing him to have flat tires. Today the bank building is the post office-home of Pauline Coover.

There were three churches in Smithfield; the Baptist, Catholic, and Methodist. Only St.John's Catholic church is still active with a membership that includes 25 families.

Smithfield has had more than its share of destructive fires. A general store owned by Chase and Bolin burned in 1893, followed by a fire at Turner Bros. General Store a short while later. A livery stable owned by John Sutlief was destroyed in 1909, and the first grain elevator, owned by Knapp and French, burned in 1911. The round brick elevator, built in 1917, burned in 1930 when it was under the management of Russell Junkin, Perry Lumber Yard in 1933, and the hotel in 1935. More recently, the home of Tuffy and Lucille Hagan burned just before Christmas in 1970.

A harrowing experience occurred for the citizens of Smithfield in 1982 when the town was informed that four Dawson County prisoners had escaped and were somewhere nearby. A car they had stolen had been found wrecked just north of town. To the relief of everyone, the prisoners were captured that night in Bertrand after having hidden in the hay loft on the Junkin Ranch, just east of town.

For the most part, Smithfield is a quiet village with lots of memories and a population of 50. Plans are being made for a great centennial celebration in 1990.

 

By Illa Mae Anders, Smithfield, NE 68976