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Nebraska...Our Towns

EMMET -- HOLT COUNTY

In 1881 the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad made its way west from O'Neill, passing William Malloy's homestead, eight miles from that station. A town was platted by Judge Malloy, his son Tom, and one of the Nightingale boys on Tom's timber claim in 1882. The day of its completion was the birthday of an Irish patriot, Robert Emmet, thus the name "Emmet" was bestowed on the new town.

Pioneers struggled to "make it" against all that nature could throw against them: prairie fires, floods, grasshoppers, drought, and sickness. They were a hearty group, and in time they found time to play and ways to be entertained: ball games, quilting, local contests of all kinds, and a Lyceum Club to improve their minds and "keep up with the times."

Haying has been a primary industry in Emmet. Early settlers cut, baled, and shipped native prairie hay as a cash crop. The Emmet-Elkhorn Valley Hay Company was started in the 1920s by J.B. Ryan and Guy Cole, aided by banker Dailey. Cole shortened the name to Emmet Hay Co when he became sole owner. Sons George (Bud) and Bob ran the company until selling it to Don Kloppenborg in 1970. Today he and his sons, Kirby and Kelly, operate the business.

In 1915 Emmet boasted a population of 225 with three churches, a school, and a dozen stores and businesses, in addition to the hay office and the depot. The town's population remained about the same until after World War II. As farms increased in size, people left to find employment elsewhere. The decline in population caused a number of businesses to relocate. Several buildings were destroyed by fire, some were moved away, but a few are still here -- the old bank building which is now the post office, for instance.

The Emmet Civic Improvement Association was formed in June 1964 to improve the community, instill pride in its citizens, and prepare for Nebraska's centennial celebration. Honors were received for establishing roadside parks, organizing Whoopee Day celebrations, and erecting a sign in honor of Dan Finnegan (the man from Emmet who, among other things, won a foot race with a horse). Clean-ups of many parts of the village were also organized.

In 1963 the Circle E Extension Club was formed. It currently serves the famous "Election Day chicken-noodle dinner." This tradition originated with the Methodist ladies group and has been continued by Circle E with the help of the Altar Society.

The Kountry Kids 4-H Club, organized in September 1972, provides a base for individual achievement, as well as social and community activities for the young people.

The Emmet fire fighters not only serve Emmet, but also help when called to neighboring areas. A fire hall was built in 1978 with a community room added in 1988. This is where school functions, dinners and pancake suppers, as well as many other activities, are held. Emmet has a three-room schoolhouse and is becoming accredited. Secondary students attend either O'Neill or Atkinson high schools.

Emmet, current population 75, is a town with good people, good land, and good clean air -- three reasons people choose to live here. Kloppenborg, whose four children all have their homes in Emmet, recalls Guy Cole telling him, "Emmet is as good a place as there is to raise your kids. If they get in trouble in one end of town, someone will take them home and get things straightened out."

The years have seen many changes.

-- "Hayburners," introduced in the 1880s, were "modern way" to heat homes. Now homes use natural gas, piped in during the 1960s, or are all-electric.

-- Hay that sold for $2 a ton in 1893, and as high as $4.25 during the Great Depression (if you could raise any to cut), brings over $70 a ton now.

-- Wells, dug by hand to a depth of 7-10 feet, would provide water for a home in 1910. Recent wells have been 115-125 feet deep so that nitrates are not a problem.

As time goes on, things will continue to change.

Where will our town be in 50 years? Right here, I hope, providing a quiet place to live for all who call Emmet "home."

By Dorine Campbell, Box 26, Inman, NE 68742, with material from Bertha Winkler, Ethel Cole, Helen Martens, Don and Toby Kloppenborg, Grace Brewster, and Merle Foreman. Pictures by Winkler, Foreman, Campbell, and Ag Services, Inc.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Candlelights of History by Thomas Archibald Graham, 1951, the history of Emmet area; and Before Today by Nellie Snyder Yost, 1976, history of Holt County, sponsored by the Holt County Historical Society.