Some called it foresight, but others considered the establishment of Minden as the county seat to be stealing, pure and simple. The town was only a stretch of open prairie in 1876, without a single inhabitant or building, when settlers voted 165 to 67 to remove the courthouse from Lowell to the more centrally-located "Minden."
Early settlement had concentrated in the northern part of Kearney County, where the Oregon Trail met the Platte River. Fort Kearny was established in 1848 to protect travelers along the route. By 1872 Lowell, in the northeast corner of the county, claimed both a railroad and a brick courthouse.
Yet because much of the good land in the vicinity was already owned by the railroads, homesteading shifted to land south across the "divide," around Fredricksburg. The brothers Jens L. and Jens H. Jensen were operating a store there in 1875.
Following the election authorizing relocation, a large number of settlers from the divide area went to Lowell to get the county records. When they arrived they found, tied with a red ribbon to the door of the county clerk's office, a note saying that his wife was ill with a very contagious disease so it was dangerous to enter the office. "Besides," the note continued, "there is no suitable place in Minden where the records can be kept."
The warning was ignored. The records were loaded into waiting wagons and carried off to Minden. By then the new town consisted of a schoolhouse, a courthouse building, a post office, and a general store.
With the courthouse issue thus unceremoniously resolved, Minden grew rapidly. By 1882 the population was nearly 300. In addition to the usual stores for general merchandise, grocery, and such, the town boasted five physicians, and six lawyers. The Burlington & Missouri River Railroad came through in 1883 and the Kansas City & Omaha line in 1887.
The idea of a great canal and irrigation system was conceived by Joel Hull in 1889. The Kearney County Canal, constructed to produce both electrical energy and water for irrigation, ultimately grew into the Central Nebraska Irrigation and Public Power District's Tri-County system. Minden community leaders promoted the project tirelessly for nearly half a century until it was finally completed in 1941. Kingsley Dam, the project's primary component, is named for Minden banker George P. Kingsley, Sr.
Minden's economic base, still primarily agricultural, is diversified by several manufacturing businesses: Burgess Fiberglass, Grayson Tool, Piester Manufacturing, and Royal Plastics. The Fort Kearney Feedlot operates north of town, and Minden Beef Company employs 113 at its facility just east of the community.
Since 1915 Minden has illuminated its courthouse each December with over 10,000 lights, giving the community its title as "Christmas City." In 1946 Reverend Arthur Johnson and Clayton Morey produced the Minden Christmas Pageant, which is still performed annually on the courthouse lawn the first two weekends in December.
Minden's sense of tradition is nowhere more evident than at the Harold Warp "Pioneer Village." Established in 1952 by the son of Kearney County pioneers, the Warp Foundation has grown into a very large museum, displaying historic buildings and artifacts of everyday life from the pioneer era to the present. The Village plays a leading role in Minden's burgeoning tourist industry. Several organizations meet in Minden annually. Pioneer Farming Days, a working display of antique farm machinery, is presented at the county fairgrounds each summer.
In recent years Minden, with a population of about 3,000, has developed an active program of summer entertainment in its Band Shell Park that has included performances by the Great Plains Chautauqua, the Strategic Air Command Band, the Lincoln Community Playhouse, and its own Minden Community Players. Cultural life in the community will be further enhanced in 1988 when the town's Jensen Memorial Library breaks ground for a $200,000 addition to its present facility.
By Christina C.Z. Jensen, Box 71, Minden, NE 68959