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Nebraska...Our Towns

CENTER -- KNOX COUNTY

Center could well have been named Compromise. Unhappy with the county seat at Niobrara, voters went through five ballots until the geographic midpoint was chosen. The literal center of Knox County, originally L'Eau Qui Court County, was created to end a 40-year dispute.

The compromise extended right down Main Street along the fence line between two cornfields from which William Wischendorf and James Lovell donated land. Lovell also platted the village (1901) and later gave land for the church and parsonage. The village was not incorporated until early 1904.

County records were moved from Niobrara in 1902 to a two-story frame building on the northeast corner of the courthouse block. According to the "Niobrara Tribune," about 25 teams of horses and wagons were needed to move the county records. It also stated, "...the county clerk refused to go until the vaults were perfectly dry and the vault doors put in."

The present three-story brick courthouse was built in 1934. Noted at the time as "a Mighty Slab of Concrete...100 feet long, 68 feet wide, and from two and a half to 16 inches thick," the first floor took 800 sacks of cement and four times that much gravel. In front is the familiar large World War I veterans' memorial, with two new bronze plaques added in 1987 for the Knox County veterans killed in World War II and in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.

The town's original plans called for two churches, but only one materialized because of the small population. A Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) was founded in 1901. Before the church was completed, services were held on the second floor of the courthouse. By 1910 pews had replaced kitchen chairs and a parsonage was built. For many years ministers were shared with other towns. Early ministers came by horse and buggy for evening services from Bloomfield, Plainview, Crofton, or Creighton, with Yankton College seminary students occasionally filling in. In 1946 the church started its Pilgrim Fellowship youth group and joined with the Creighton Congregational Church. Many regional and state officials attended the golden anniversary celebration in 1951.

On April 17, 1902, the bank opened with $25,000 capital. On that day it transacted $305.50 in loans. During the Depression it was taken over for three months to be reorganized. Upon his father's death in 1971, Keith Crosley at 21 became the youngest bank president in the nation. The bank was recently absorbed by the Bloomfield Farmers and Merchants State Bank.

Early businesses included two lumber yards, two hotels, five stores, a doctor's office, and, briefly, a newspaper. Predating drive-in theaters, outdoor movies were shown on Saturday nights on the side of the bank or, during winter, inside the town hall. Formerly the Hoferer Hotel, the town hall also was used for banquets, dances, plays, and basketball. The population of Center peaked in 1920 with just under 200 residents. In its best days, 1940-50, Center had 18 businesses, including the only two abstract offices in the county.

Winter storms are not uncommon to northern Nebraska. In the long winter of 1948-49 blizzards blocked all roads, isolating Center for two weeks.

Successful high school basketball teams went to state in 1957, when they were runners-up for the Class D title, and again in 1963. Center lost its high school in 1963, its grade school in 1976. Since then the school on the hill has been razed, and the gymnasium-auditorium, new in 1953, has become the general store.

Like the Indian pow-wows once held north of town and a way-station two miles to the south, most of the town's original western-movie false-front buildings are now gone. However, the library continues in the rear of the community building. The Center town park now has a new shelter next to the playground.

Just as the community successfully mounted its diamond anniversary celebration during the nation's bicentennial in 1976, the 123 citizens of our little town of Center look forward to its 100th birthday in 2001.

By Gary Don Luckert and Velma Luckert. Center, NE 68724