The first settlers in this area were George Eckley and his son-in-law, John Alderson, who filed claims near the south fork of the Elkhorn River in 1880-81. In 1883 Rufus Wry filed a claim three miles southeast of Alderson's claim. Numerous other claims were soon filed, but to quote Alderson,"...with the advent of Wry's Mercantile Store, a new era began in the history of southern Holt county along the South Fork Valley."
Wry's store also housed a post office. When the mail route was established in 1884, "Chambers" was born. It was named by a well-known frontier editor, W. D. Mathews, in honor of B.F. Chambers, registrar of the U.S. land office at Niobrara. By the end of the year there were more businesses: Fluckey-Barney retail store, Duffy Harness Shop, and the Hubbard Hotel and livery barn.
In addition to its mercantile beginnings, the town of Chambers owes much of its origin to the establishment of institutions and organizations. First and foremost were ten area churches, seven of which continue to serve the community today. These include the Memorial Baptist, United Methodist, St.Paul Lutheran, all in Chambers, and the Bethany Presbyterians east of town, as well as Amelia Methodist, St.Joseph Catholic, and Bethany Free Methodist, in or near a small community north and west of Chambers.
A fair has also been synonymous with Chambers' history. In 1886 the founding fathers organized the "Harvest Home Festival." This became the South Fork Fair in 1892, then designated as the Holt County Fair in 1935.
During the first 30-40 years, cultural interests were served by an occasional traveling Chautauqua show and a town band. A town band hall was built in 1911 and continued in use for nearly five decades. In addition to weekly band concerts and dances, home talent plays became "the vogue."
When the hall burned in 1916 the band promptly raised funds for a new building the next year. The band, under the leadership of Frank Dyke and Carl Lambert, made booster trips to neighboring communities to promote the South Fork Fair. During World War I (1917-18), the band traveled to the railroad station in O'Neill to see its boys off, "...to fight the Kaiser."
The Chambers school began its climb to prominence with the establishment of a high school during World War I. A sturdy concrete structure was built with WPA help in the 1930s. With population centers no closer than 23 miles, a large portion of southern Holt County consolidated into a well-financed K-12 district in the early 1960s with Chambers as its center. New classrooms and a gymnasium were built. The spirit of the old town band was reborn in the youth of the community. Under the direction of Duane DeVries, the school band has collected "Superior" ratings for well over a decade in both playing and marching competition.
Another claim-to-fame has to do with the great flying machine and "airplane mania" that gripped the town. Due to a number of veterans returning at the end of World War I, a young flying instructor from Iowa, and its location in the wide-open spaces far from hard-surfaced roads or a rail line, Chambers had more private airplanes, per capita, than any other town or city in the world in the 1930s. Names like Collins, Fees, Newhouse, Cooper, and Robertson still cause aerial flashbacks for many old timers.
Chambers has been well-served by its Legion Post and a strong volunteer fire department. Community events such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Veterans Day, and County Fair are all enhanced by the leadership and influence of these organizations. The Legion has a comfortable post home, and the VFD maintains a well-staffed and equipped facility.
Much more could be written about the light plants, wagon races, the bank robbery, revival meetings, temperance drives, and the coming of the Model T. Just show up in our town of Chambers sometime, and one of the old timers will be happy to spin you a yarn!
The citizens of Chambers continue to contribute to the good life found in our town, our state, and our nation.
By Stan Lambert, local scribe, HC 62, Box 27, Ewing, NE 68735
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: History of South Holt County and Chambers Area available from Stan Lambert; and Before Today , a history of Holt County, available from HCHS, 4th & Douglas, O'Neill, NE 68763.