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Nebraska...Our Towns

Cook -- Johnson County

Recognized nationally as "Best Small Town in America" in 1992, this Johnson County town does us all proud! [Armknecht]

The Missouri Pacific Railroad, surveying for a line to run through northern Johnson County in the spring of 1887, accepted the offer of land for its right-of-way from John William Cook. This is when-n-where our town was established.

John Cook's father, Andrew, came from England in 1845, settling first near Racine, Wisconsin. He relocated to the Nebraska Territory with his family in 1858, moving to Johnson County in 1864 when he purchased a large estate in Spring Creek Precinct. Cook, a farmer and stockman, was the first to bring a harvesting and threshing machine to Johnson County.

The road bed was graded for the Crete Branch of the Missouri Pacific line in 1887. The town site platted that October was named for Andrew Cook, Sr. The rails, laid during the summer of 1888, carried the first train on November 2, 1888. For many years Cook was provided with both freight and passenger train service between Talmage and Crete. All rail service was discontinued in recent years.

A post office, established as "Spring Creek" on August 26, 1868, was about two and one half miles from the railroad. On May 21, 1888, a request was made to change the name of the post office to "Cook" and move it to the new town, with "probably 20-50 inhabitants." The office was located on the north side of the depot, "75 rods from the track."

Settlers came from the eastern states and from European countries. They were excited about the trees and artesian wells found in the area, some rising several feet above the surface. Called "spouters," these flowing wells could be found by drilling only a short depth into the ground. Cook, referred to as the "Artesian City," has always obtained its water from this type of well.

A doctor, locating his business in Cook in 1888, is said to have knocked down corn stalks to build his 16 by 20 foot frame office. The first elevator was also built at that time, but it burned in 1891. (This was Cook's first big fire.) A lumberyard was built about the time that the elevator was rebuilt. Cook still has a lumberyard and an elevator.

The first bank commenced business on May 1, 1890, in the building which still stands at the southwest corner of Second and Main. Cook was incorporated in 1891, with an organizational meeting held on June 11 to form a village board. The first newspaper, called "The Cook Weekly," was published on February 26, 1892.

The livery stable was built between 1890-95. A mill was established in Cook in 1893 as a stock company. Located near the railroad, flour was ground from locally-grown wheat. Farmers traded wheat for flour, with the excess sold through the grocery store. That mill burned in 1922.

Rural churches were built in the 1870s. The first church in the new town of Cook was the Methodist, erected in 1890. The community currently lists three churches: United Methodist, Lutheran, and United Church of Christ (Osage).

In 1865 school was held in a dugout. The seats were made of planks and built in the form of benches. A common wood-burning stove heated the cave-like space, and pupils wrote their lessons on slates. A small frame building was built in 1874. (This building still stands two miles east of Cook.) In 1890 a two-story frame building was completed for classes through the 10th grade; 11th was added later. In 1909 a three-story brick school was built and the 12th grade added. In 1923 Cook won the Nebraska State High School Basketball Tournament in its class. In 1958 a modern one-story brick school was opened.

In 1968, following the consolidation of the Cook and Talmage districts, the school has been known as "Nemaha Valley Schools". The school excels in academic contests and has received numerous honors in computer, mathematics, speech, business, and art. The 1987 school year also saw our team claim the runner-up trophy for Class C2 Boys State Basketball.

Cook's population, peaking in 1910 with 387 residents, is currently 341. As such, we have a good nucleus of businesses, and provide many services to our citizens and the surrounding agricultural area. A centennial, held July 9-10, 1988, brought people from a wide area.

Winning national recognition as "Best Small Town in America" in 1992 brought some well-deserved attention to our town, Cook, and the fine people who call it "home."

By Verona Scheer, Cook, NE 68329


ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Cook Centennial, now out-of-print, with copies on file with the Nebraska State Historical Society and the Cook Public Library.