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Nebraska...Our Towns

VERDIGRE -- KNOX COUNTY

While the land had been homesteaded in 1870 and continuously occupied, there was not much to suggest that a town would ever emerge when George Quimby purchased it in the spring of 1887. Quimby was certain, however, that he could get the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad to extend its tracks beyond Creighton and up along the Verdigris Valley.

Quimby platted his streets on July 12, 1887, and several buildings sprang up that summer: a saloon, general store, lumberyard, livery stable, and a post office. In his newspaper, the "Hornet," printed in Creighton, Quimby advocated a bond issue in favor of the railroad and elections to acquire the county seat. The bond issue won, but county voters kept their county seat where it was at Niobrara. The first train arrived in 1888, and for the next 14 years it was the terminus of the rail line.

Named for the Verdigris Creek with its greenish-blue pigment, Verdigre was incorporated in 1889. It grew rather slowly due to the agricultural depression of the late 1880s, the drought of the early 1890s, and the financial panic of 1893 that caused a number of merchants to fail. There were 130 residents in the 1890 census, with 200 listed in 1900.

When the original merchants (many of whom had come from other towns) moved on, they were replaced by others, often of Czech extraction. This is the predominant nationality in the area today.

The village, following Main Street fires in 1906 and 1907, took on a brick facade. By 1910 the town had grown to 400 residents, this due in large measure to a number of old settlers retiring and moving into the village. During the next decade water, sewer, and electric systems were added, and wooden sidewalks gave way to concrete.

The First World War brought prosperity, especially to the farming sector. This ended, however, at the beginning of the 1920s. By then the age of the automobile and movies had come, and radio was soon to be added. The citizens of Verdigre increased the pace of their lives and participated in the new leisure activities -- such as beating prohibition. Depressed agricultural prices kept the town from "roaring" with the times, but in 1930 the population was at an all-time high of 618.

Verdigre was plunged into a deep depression in the 1930s, exacerbated by the severe drought. Conditions were mitigated only slightly by government programs. The rains returned in the 1940s, and while World War II brought an end to the manpower surplus, there were now shortages, dislocations, and honored dead. When that war ended, many of the town's old businessmen retired. They were replaced by returning servicemen. There was a baby boom and enrollment in the school skyrocketed.

Early in the 1970s there was a remarkable burst of activity as Verdigre acquired a new primary school, a park, a dental clinic, and a nursing home. These improvements and others brought Verdigre recognition as an All-America City in 1972. The railroad was abandoned in 1978, but a livestock sale barn, built in 1953, made Verdigre more than ever a "market town," largely dependent upon the farmers living in the vicinity to maintain its business community.

Other improvements and a semblance of prosperity continued during the '70s, but in the 1980s, a tight-money policy brought a recession to the village and surrounding area. In 1984 the bank was closed. While it was reopened with a new owner, many large outstanding loans had passed into the hands of the FDIC. With the realization that formerly prosperous farmers had no money, food and grain pantries were formed. The community lost many long-time families and friends.

In an effort to put the economy back on a firm footing, Verdigre obtained grants to weatherize existing commercial buildings. It also worked with the farmers and urged diversification of crops. In addition, its development corporation explored the possibility of building a flood-control dam, looking to the development of recreation and a future economic base that would include tourism.

Caught at high tide in 1980, the town numbered 617 residents. A somewhat lower population figure will be recorded in 1990.

By Ron Dobry, Box 177, Verdigre, NE 68783

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The Diamond Jubilee book, Panorama of our Heritage, 1962; A History of the Czechs in Knox County, Nebraska 1980, by J. J. Van Hoff; St. Wenceslaus Parish, A Century of Memories , 1984; and the Verdigre Centennial Book , 1987, by Ron Dobry.