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Nebraska...Our Towns

NEWMAN GROVE -- MADISON COUNTY

Bluestem grass, as high as a horse's back, covered the prairie when Lewis Warren and his family came to Shell Creek Valley. He told of planting his first sod corn with an ax. When Sioux Indians killed some of his cattle, the settlers asked that soldiers help protect the families in the area.

Warren's son, Newman, helped plant a large grove of cottonwood trees on their timber claim. After Newman's death at age 21, his father was instrumental in naming the post office, established in 1874, "Newman Grove." Located near that grove of trees, it was housed in the stage station on the mail route from Columbus to Oakdale.

The coming of the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad in 1887 presented an opportunity for a town, complete with stores, businesses, and all that transportation could mean for the area. The Western Townlot Company, formed by pioneers, Pike, Searle, Burrows, Hale, and Bordwell, platted the town. Five streets carry their names.

Early settlers came from a variety of eastern states as well as Scotland, Denmark, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Russia, with the majority coming from Norway and Sweden. They established schools and churches almost before their homes were completed. These institutions continue to be important today.

The town continued a steady growth, with nearly 300 people by 1888. The Arcade and Commercial hotels provided rooms for travelers and salesmen, and were known for their fine dining rooms.

For many years Newman Grove was "the place to be" on the 4th of July. Passenger trains brought people from neighboring communities, and everyone within a 40-mile radius came to the celebration. The military band opened the festivities. The Declaration of Independence was read, political speeches were given, and there were contests for young and old, floats, and fireworks.

In the 1890s water power for a roller mill was supplied by a dam on Shell Creek. "The New Era," the first and only newspaper, was published by H.R. Ellsworth, and businessmen included: Searles, Dimock, Olson, Young, Anderson, Smith, Saare, Guenther, Lind, From, Ninman, Randall, South, Gustavson, and Johnson.

Thomas Ostergaard established a park at Shell Creek, with an area for swimming, fishing, and picnics. Known later as part of Acorn Valley, the trees are still very beautiful.

The population was an all-time high, 1,260, in 1920. This was reflected by the number of businesses, paved streets, sidewalks, and electric street lights, supplied by Nebraska Gas & Electric Company.

During the Depression and drought, people continued to "pioneer," trying to find new ways to keep their homes and land. It was not an easy task. After World War II, farms became larger, so the population decreased.

In 1974 the Newman Grove hospital, no longer able to meet the demands of state requirements and Medicare, had to close. It is now a fine medical clinic. Loss of the local creamery and a tire assembly plant, plus a decline in employment at a nearby factory made fewer jobs available. This caused further erosion of the population, currently estimated to be 980.

Over the years there have been activities, such as the annual "Free Fair," and later, Customer Appreciation Days. Since 1975, when Newman Grove was declared "Norwegian Capital of Nebraska," the annual summer celebration is Norwegian Days.

Newman Grove's centennial, held in 1988, focused on the creation of a new mini-park that includes a mural of early businesses, and a band stand resembling one used in early-days. A marker was dedicated, a time capsule buried, a cook book published, and a pageant of the first 100 years was presented. The event was capped off with a parade, contests, and a quilt show.

The history book recalls stories of early settlers seeing as many as 1,000 Indians camped not far from town, on their way to Oklahoma. Others remembered seeing thousands of long-horn cattle pass through the Shell Creek Valley, driven by "wild cowboys." These stories and more are the heritage we leave to new generations of young people who now call Newman Grove "home."

By LaVern Welburn, 210 North 5th Street, Newman Grove, NE 68758

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Our First One Hundred Years, 1888-1988, the centennial history, LaVern Welburn, chairman.