Hallam, 25 miles south of Nebraska's capital city, has the distinction of being the highest point between Chicago and Denver on the Rock Island Railroad lines. In Buda precinct, it lies like a mesa, easing into the rolling hills in the southern Lancaster County -- which was part of "old Clay County."
Early in 1891 the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad surveyed its right-of-way across Lancaster County in preparation for construction. Fred and Wilhemena Schnieder sold the tract of land on which a village was platted December 28, 1892. Jacob Schaad, who bought the first lot, named the town "Hallau," for his native town in Switzerland. The letter "u" was often mistaken for "m," so the name "Hallam" was finally adopted.
In February 1892 the railroad became operational. Ed Lauterbach, A. L. Axthelm, and Jacob Schaad were the first to ship livestock to Omaha on the new line. The railroad contributed greatly to the steady growth of the town. Farmers shipped livestock and produce out, while townspeople received lumber, machinery, coal, and the mail. And of course, everyone traveled by rail!
Early in 1900 Hallam was a bustling, thriving hub of activity. There were two banks, and 20 or more businesses.
The first church was built in 1893, and another in 1917. A schoolhouse was built in 1901. The German Community Hall set the social standards and was the main source of activities. Hallam was highly influenced by the German and Czech immigrants who homesteaded in the area in 1868. The churches and the auditorium are still the center of activities.
Since 1961 children have been transported by bus to Crete for school. Civic clubs include a Booster Club, American Legion and Auxiliary, Service Circle, United Methodist Women, an an Extension club. Hallam has a volunteer fire department with an exemplary rescue squad and ambulance unit.
Hallam's population grew to 212 in 1920. Then during the 1930s it declined to 168. Not until 1950 during the Korean conflict, with the construction of the first atomic power plant in the state, did the community begin new growth. The Hallam power plant is now uses coal to generate electricity.
Fire was, and still is, a big danger for small towns. Hallam was nearly burned out three times. The south side of main street was burned in two separate fires -- 1929 and 1937. The old drug store and post office (Hitchin Post) burned down in 1981. There were many other fires in businesses and homes.
A tornado roared by in 1912, narrowly missing the town. In 1954 the Rock Island's crack passenger train, "The Rocket," thundered through Hallam at 90 miles an hour before derailing just one-mile north of town. It was one of the worst wrecks in Nebraska, with the unbelievable good fortune that no one was killed.
In 1950 residents of Hallam and the Booster Club joined together to build a new auditorium. Many people volunteered the labor, others helped in raising funds to buy material. One memorable event was a polio benefit basketball game. The men carried buckets around to the large crowd saying, "We don't want your dimes, we want your dollars." Almost $500 was collected that night, for this was in the terrifying era of polio, when many children from all over the country died or were crippled from the dreaded disease. Today, the auditorium is used for most of the community's activities -- dances, recreation, and meetings. This is a close-knit, caring town.
Mail routes were established in 1902, sidewalks built in 1908, telephones in the early 1900s, electricity installed in 1920, natural gas in 1930, sewer and water lines in 1959. There have been two bank robberies -- one in 1922, another in 1963.
Hallam, with a population of 310 people, is fairing better than many towns its size. While Hallam has many commuters, it is more than a "bedroom town." There are lots of retired people residing in the village. A county visiting nurse makes her rounds each week. The community support two churches, a bank, a post office, a gas station, a grain elevator, a welding shop, two beauty shops, a grocery store, a tavern, a cafe, and a repair shop. Besides paved streets, Hallam has a new fire truck and ambulance. Five ball teams use the new ball field and park.
Hallam celebrated its centennial June 19-21, 1992. A 288 page, hard-cover book on the first 100 years was published.
Written by Dale Fisser, shortly before his death in 1992. Others helping were Ruth Egner and Orin Schnieder.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The Little Town With A Big Heart , 1992, Hallam's centennial story.