The town of "Lone Tree" came into being in 1866 a few miles from the landmark by that name on the north bank of the Platte River, on the overland trail, as the Union Pacific Railroad laid tracks through Merrick County. J.H.Berryman erected the first substantial building in 1868, which served as a store, hotel, bar, court, revival meeting hall, and his home. Lone Tree was named the county seat, and soon became the largest town in Merrick County. A courthouse, built in 1871, was replaced by the present structure in 1912.
In 1875 a vigorous battle ensued. A petition was presented to the Merrick County Court asking to change the name of the town from Lone Tree to "Central City." Those promoting the change said, "...Lone Tree, gives the impression that the area is so desolate that it can afford support to only one solitary tree, and that the inhabitants are a wild, rough, uncouth, and uncivilized people." That image would not bring settlers, thus limiting growth to the area, which they felt "would hold agricultural bounty for those willing to work for it." A counter petition was also circulated which claimed that Lone Tree portrayed a "beautiful spot and is a name dear to the pioneers." On July 1, 1875, however, the name was officially changed.
By 1880 a second railroad, the Burlington & Missouri River, had arrived. Central City enjoyed a "boom," during which time many brick buildings were built. There were three banks, a wholesale hardware house, a roller mill, two newspapers, three lumberyards, a cracker factory, a cigar factory, a new brick school, nine churches, and a college.
Originally built in 1885 as a Methodist college, the Nebraska Central College was operated by the Society of Friends (Quaker) from 1899 to 1953. The college served many students and contributed greatly to the educational and cultural climate of the area. Built just west of town, Old Main still stands and is now part of the Nebraska Christian High School campus.
Around 1900 T.B. Hord's enterprises contributed greatly to the economy of Merrick County. Hord, whose home-ranch is located east of town, arrived in the 1880s, and began building his empire, feeding cattle and sheep. His business interests grew to include grain elevators, lumber yards, feed, and farm supply houses in Nebraska and Iowa.
Wright Morris, regarded in literary circles as one of this country's most gifted writers, was born in Central City in 1910. Morris received the National Book Award in 1956 for Field of Vision and the American Book Award in 1980 for Plains Song.
The first meeting of the Lincoln Highway Association was held in Central City in October 1913. (All other meeting were held in Detroit.) Dr.H.E. Glatfelter of Central City, chairman of the Platte Valley Good Roads Association, strongly encouraged the Association to use the central Platte River route. His efforts brought the transcontinental highway across Nebraska. The east-west Highway 30, and Highway 14, running north-south, through Merrick County makes Central City "a convenient crossroads" just 20 miles from Interstate 80.
Merrick County's first irrigation well was put down in 1924. In 1986 there were 3,896 registered wells, the highest number of any county in the state.
The friendly people of this community have a diversified background. The early settlers were a microcosm of the United States' melting-pot. Many cultures found their way to the bountiful Platte River Valley, and more than a dozen religions still active in the city attest to this fact.
Educational and cultural growth continue to enrich the lives of those who call this place "home." The positive work-ethic that prevails provides an opportunity for modern industrial growth, as new farming techinques continue to evolve. Through the ensuing decades, the town's economy -- based upon retailing, light manufacturing, and agriculture -- has grown and prospered with the times. The present population is just over 3,000, and growing.
On the Fourth of July weekend in 1988 a new community celebration, "Lone Tree Days," was introduced. To be held annually, the Lone Tree symbol of Central City's heritage stands majestic and proud.
Nancy B. Johnson, 1111 - 17th Avenue, Central City, NE 68626
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: History of Merrick County, Dallas: Taylor publishing Company, 1981. History of Merrick County-Volume II. Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1987. Merrick County Book Committee; and Persinger, C.E. A History of Merrick County, Nebraska. Central City: The Nonpareil Press, 1898.