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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Harbine -- Jefferson County

The Kiddie Parade featured in the Harbine centennial celebration, June, 1986. [Wrigley]

The little town of Harbine, with a population of only 50 people, was a flurry of activity on June 14, 1986, as its 100th birthday was celebrated. Named for a Col. Thomas Harbine, this is not the only Nebraska railroad town which he established and then named for himself. The other one is in Thayer County, which later selected another name, "Byron."

The Colonel, a financier and promoter from St. Joseph, Missouri, established a bank at Fairbury and organized the Nebraska Land & Town Company, whose primary purpose was to promote emigration and development in Nebraska. He established towns all along the St. Joseph & Denver City Railroad. From information available, however, we do not find that he was ever a resident of this village.

The railroad was a very important means of transportation, and towns were an essential part of what made railroads profitable. Nearly all incoming supplies and freight, as well as outgoing produce and livestock, were shipped by rail. People traveling any distance at all did so on trains.

Harbine's depot was built in 1886-87. It was a two-story building with living quarters upstairs. A Mr. Parker was the first agent. Railroad towns kind of "grew on their own," with a full array of goods and services found in nearly every community. The highest population on record for Harbine was 242 listed on the 1890 census.

A post office was established June 21, 1887, and located in the general store. Over the years it was in various buildings and homes. Harbine no longer has a post office, but has been served through the Jansen office since 1972.

The school and churches were, for many years, the central focus for social activities in the community. The first school was built in 1888, with 18 students enrolled the first year. The highest number listed at one time was 89 students. The two-story brick building was built in 1931. After the 1968-69 term, Harbine School District 87 closed its doors, and patrons joined one of several K-12 school districts.

Harbine has had three churches. In the 1900 Jefferson County Atlas, it shows both a United Brethren and a Congregational church for this community. A tornado in 1903 destroyed the Congregational Church building. Soon thereafter a group began to solicit funds to build a Baptist Church. After the church was built, a parsonage was bought and moved onto the lot next door. For many years it was a Mission Church, receiving aid from the Nebraska Baptist State Convention. In the late 1930s, however, this little church closed its doors and disbanded. Although there is no church in Harbine at this time, there are two rural churches nearby.

With the coming of the automobile and improved roads, people became less dependent on the local services that a small town provided. With diminished traffic, railroads cut back services even further. Trucks replaced trains for hauling freight and buses provided transportation links not available by rail. Then as farms got larger, the population shifted away from the rural areas into the cities. Eventually diesel engines replaced steam locomotives, and then trains stopped going through Harbine altogether. Later, when the tracks were removed, the evidence of its existence all but disappeared.

Time was when both the north and south sides of Main Street were lined with businesses. The bank was built in 1905, but closed for the "Bank Holiday" in 1933, never to be reopened. Harbine also had its own electric plant, a cheese factory, and a ball field with electric lights.

In March 1946 a fire wiped out the entire south side of the street, destroying the Jordening Store and the post office. Harbine still has the Bangert Store and Oil Company, a bar & grill, and the Farmers Co-op Elevator. Harbine has a new community building and a city park complete with playground equipment and a tennis court.

Time changes things and we must go forward, but it is interesting to stop and reminisce about the past.

By W. H. Wrigley, R 1 Box 47, Diller, NE 68342