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Nebraska...Our Towns

RAGAN -- HARLAN COUNTY

When word was received in 1886 that the St.Joseph & Grand Island Railroad was coming through the area, a movement was started to establish a town site. After some discussion, part of Francis Johnson's homestead of ten years was selected. The Blue Valley Land Company purchased the land, but soon sold it to the firm of Cross & Johnson, who platted the town and laid out lots. This tract comprised the southwest quarter of Section 18 in Antelope Township, Harlan County. The village was incorporated in 1887 and named in honor of lawyer Ragan, attorney for the railroad company. Later N.B.Decker donated the addition named in his honor, located in Scandinavia Township. Additional tracts adjacent to it were sold.

The most prominent men in the early town were Jim Carr, Albert Cross, Alexander Johnson, A.M.Shumard, Francis Johnson, Emmet Clark, and Decker.

After completion of the railroad to the town, things developed very rapidly, with 11 businesses springing up within the year. A number of frame buildings succumbed to fire, but each time they were replaced with more substantial brick buildings which improved the appearance and safety of the business district. However when the livery barn burned in the early 1900s, it was not replaced -- primarily because of the coming age of the automobile.

During the horse and buggy era and the early period of the automobile, Ragan was a very lively village with a larger business center than a town its size ordinarily warranted. Its population surpassed the 200 mark by a considerable number.

In 1900 the Bell Telephone Company extended its line through Ragan. Soon farm lines from all directions connected with it at the Ragan central office, giving the townspeople direct communication with rural families. In 1962 this system was replaced by a modern "dial system."

The year 1920 saw five country school districts merge with Ragan, forming Consolidated School District C-2. Five buses transported the rural pupils to and from school. The people hired to drive the buses became very special to the children, much in the same way that certain teachers become "special persons." From a scholastic and comprehensive viewpoint, the Ragan's school program became second to none.

Around the turn of the century, the village of Ragan could boast of three churches: Methodist, Baptist, and Seventh-Day Adventist, plus a Lutheran Church a short distance northwest of town. At its most prosperous stage, the early 1930s, the town's business district consisted of 20 businesses.

Things were flourishing until the Depression hit the area. With the coming of the drought and dust storms, appropriately called the "Dirty Thirties," the village began to wane. When the bank closed in 1932, many people in the community were left without funds. It was felt by some that if Dr.Dan Rogers, who had been not only a good doctor but was also well-regarded as an influential citizen, had not died in 1931, he would have been able to save the bank -- or possibly derised a way to get the town up and going again.

The coming of the automobile also contributed to Ragan's demise. One by one, businesses closed their doors. What had once been a flourishing town, where farm neighbors who brought their cream and eggs into town would visit with the town folks while waiting for their produce money, took on the appearance of a "ghost town." Empty stores and unkept lawns made it look forlorn and unloved.

More recently the town has taken on a new look. Old buildings were moved or torn down, and those remaining and the homes are again well-cared for. The depot was saved by Jerry Reed of Funk, who arranged to have it moved and restored.

With a current population of 71, we are still a little more than a wide place in the road. A small grocery store also sells gas and oil plus miscellaneous items, and serves lunches during the noon hour. The old bank building is now the post office with Grace Black in charge. The Farmer's Co-op Elevator is the largest employer and does a thriving business.

The United Methodist Church is alive and well. The community spirit is evident, with the church as a nucleus for the activity in our town and the farming area surrounding it.

Compiled from Ragan's Centennial Book, and submitted by Elsie Walden, Rte 1 Box 15, Alma, NE 68920