In the late 1850s trails, following the wide Platte River Valley on the "Council Bluffs" road, crossed Nebraska. In 1858 "Pap" Lamb established a stage station and post office called "Pawnee" just south of what is now Alda.
What appeared to be open country was instead the hunting grounds of the Pawnee and Sioux. Stories of conflicts with the Indians are true. The Union Pacific Railroad pushed through Nebraska in 1866-67. Trains soon became a common sight, as more settlers arrived to take up claims or buy railroad land.
In 1873 the railroad decided to "centralize" their stations to accommodate homesteaders hauling their grain to market. The little settlement of Alda was obliged to re-locate to a site eight miles southwest of Grand Island. Storage sheds were built by the railroad and the Mitchell family moved their merchandise store to the new station. Soon others moved or built businesses and homes near by.
The valley quickly filled with four to eight homesteads in each section. As many as four schools were needed in each township. With all the construction, the sound of hammering could be heard every waking hour. The sod was turned, crops planted, land fenced, and churches established in a matter of a few seasons. People riding through on the trains were heard to remark, "...what progress!"
John Schaupp built a grist mill between Alda and Wood River near the "new" Wood River crossing in 1876. This was near the stomping grounds of Indian agent "Eldridge." There are fond memories of Schauppsville school where programs, literaries, Grange, 4-H meetings, and Friends' Sunday school were held.
The economy went bad during the 1893 depression. Even so, the Quaker's built a church in Alda in 1894. The congregation later joined the Methodists who had built in 1895. There were no saloons in Alda, and still are none.
Hall County, with a road every section, won state honors for the "Better Road Contest" in the 1920s. A local farmer received $10 for an article he wrote for the Nebraska Farmer. However people made quite a fuss about the "mud tax" for paving, not to mention a tax on gasoline.
Alda's progress, closely linked with the railroad and agricultural ups and downs, did not change much until World War II. A munitions plant built north of Alda forced people to vacate 20 sections of farmland. Many new people came to work in the plant. The housing shortage was so severe that some people lived in converted chicken houses. This area is now the huge ag-industrial development site.
The increased population brought about an expanded educational system. A rural junior-senior high school was located at Wood River, with K-6 classes in Alda and the rural school districts.
Alda and Wood River communities organized a joint rural fire department, with the equipment housed in Wood River. Each town also maintains their own local volunteer fire department and trucks. A joint law/police enforcement organization is also being discussed.
Even with improved irrigation for area farmers, Alda's growth, with a current high population of 600, is largely due to the housing and industrial development in the area. Since 1968, eight manufacturing plants have been built near by, providing employment for many people.
What was once a lonely way-station is now a well-established town, served by ten businesses, the post office, and a Methodist Church. Alda has an interesting and colorful past, and looks forward to a bright future.
By Maxine Rathman, Rte 2, Box 245, Wood River, NE 68883, with pictures by M/M Glenn Powers, M/M Floyd Lamphear, and Martha Mayhew, Alda, NE 68810
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Alda by Violet Snyder; Hall County History 1890 - 1920; and material about southwest Hall County now being prepared.