In 1871 surveyors J.N. and N.J.Paul decided the fertile valley at the forks of the North and Middle Loup Rivers was an ideal spot for a town. They decided on the name "St. Paul." The first building, a town hall, was built in 1871, about the time that the new town was made county seat for Howard County. The first bank in the Loup Valley was started by the Paul Brothers, and their descendants are still involved in its operation.
School was held in the city hall with Lizzie Cooper, as teacher. (She later lost her life in the blizzard of 1873.) St.Paul has always had excellent public schools, and had a parochial school until 1986. That building is now used for continuing education programs and parish activities.
A newspaper, "The Advocate," began publishing in 1873. Later it became the "Phonograph," now the "Phonograph-Herald," and it has kept its readers informed for more than a century.
St.Paul, on the military road, was a supply stop for all north-south travel; stage coaches, wagon trains, and cattle drives. By 1880 the population reached 800. There were several hotels, saloons, and doctors in addition to the usual frontier town businesses, plus a good brickyard.
These were the Wild West years! Travelers, cowboys, and pony drivers frequently ended up in saloon fights. The railroads, both Burlington and Union Pacific, reached St.Paul in the 1880s. The railroad construction gang headquarters was near town, while branch lines were constructed west and north. Saturday nights in 1885 saw the G.A.R. (Union Civil War veterans) patrolling the streets to keep drunken gangs from taking over the town.
During the Gay Nineties, cultural and social life improved. Church, civic, and fraternal organizations, a lending library, an amateur theatrical school, horse racing, bicycle clubs, and weekly performances in the opera house, furnished leisure activities. The St.Paul Business & Normal College drew students from a large area. World War II forced its closing as both students and teachers went off to war or to "war work."
Frank Iams came to St. Paul from Iowa early in 1882, bringing several prize stallions. During the next 35 years he became well known as an importer of the French and Belgian draft horses. In 1910 he imported the largest single shipment, for which he hired a special train that ran straight through from New York City to St.Paul. World War I put an end to importations and after the war, most farmers were using tractors.
St.Paul had its ups and downs through WW I, the Roaring Twenties, the drought and depression of the thirties, and World War II. Hard times forced some small businesses to close and turned people to new kinds of industry, but he town continued to provide for the wants and needs of its citizens.
Spiritual needs are met by the First Methodist Church, Grace Baptist, First Presbyterian Church, Christ Lutheran and St.Mark's Lutheran Churches, the Catholic Church, and the Happy Church.
St.Paul is fortunate to have a 36-bed hospital, two doctors, several dentists, and an optometrist. The Heritage Living Center provides a care-home with facilities for 72 residents, and Parkside Plaza and Parkside Annex offer low-cost housing. A senior citizen organization's new downtown building has space for meals, meetings, and activities.
St.Paul, with a current population of over 2,000, has an excellent library, an active art guild, a theater guild offering dinner-theater productions, and a community chorus which presents Christmas and Easter concerts. A children's theater gave its first performance in 1987. A well-kept park and picnic area, the municipal swimming pool, the Grover Cleveland Alexander Baseball Park, and the St.Paul club offer ample opportunities for recreation. The Chamber of Commerce also sponsors a flea market in June and "St.Paul Days" in July.
The Howard County Historical Society maintains a historical village, preserving records and artifacts in buildings of historical importance. A visit to the village is a graphic portrayal of the progress the community has made through the past century, and a challenge to continue that growth through the next 100 years.
By Ellen Kiechel Partsch, 1003 Nelson, St. Paul, NE 68873. Current photos by Frank Partsch of Omaha.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Howard County, The First Hundred Years." Newspapers and government records.