Was Coronado the first white man to walk upon the town site that now is Chapman? The log kept by this Spanish explorer in 1541, described the terrain and streams in such detail that many of the citizens of Chapman feel..."it could be none other than Warm Slough, Silver Creek, and Prairie Creek." If so, he left no lasting mark to indicate his presence. (Current historians, however, doubt that the Coronado Expedition made it to Nebraska.)
The first official white settler in Chapman Township was James Vieregg, who proceeded by two hours Jesse Shoemaker and Charles Eggerton. The first house was probably that of the John Donovan family. Donovan, local railroad section foreman, had a sod house in the vicinity in 1866.
The history of the town really dates only from 1869, three years after the Union Pacific Railroad staked its right-of-way, locating its town sites approximately 11 miles apart. The UP section house served as a depot, post office, and a store. At Donovan's request, the station was named "Chapman" for the company's roadmaster at that time.
There was little development until construction was completed down the line. In 1871 a general store was built by L.Reed and C.A.Leake, and Hannah Aurand organized a school for local children in her home. It was another ten years before there were enough people and businesses to support a newspaper.
An I.O.O.F lodge was organized in 1883, and a Masonic Fraternity in 1894. Their buildings added to the prestigious look of main street. Two churches -- Methodist and a Baptist -- were organized in the mid 1880s.
"During the years the Lincoln Highway went through the Main Street of town, the streets teemed with activity and dust," commented June Vipperman in her story of Chapman in a Merrick County history book. "A favorite pastime of the young set was to go to the old hotel and meet overnight visitors from faraway places."
In due time the town became incorporated. The school went from a one-room schoolhouse to a two-room brick building in 1887. This served the community until 1917, when it was torn down to make room for a K-12 building.
In the years from 1900 to 1965 or so, Chapman was a busy village. Farmers brought butter, cream, and eggs in to town to sell, and then purchased groceries, dry goods, shoes, and other necessities. Even during the Depression the community pulled together and provided home-spun activities, such as band concerts, ball games, and free movies to attract customers.
During World War II the role of the community started to change. Workers were needed in the defense plants in near-by Grand Island. There was less dependency on an agricultural-based economy, and more emphasis on jobs, education, and housing. Chapman changed from a service-oriented town to an urban residential community. During the 1970s, with supermarkets in Grand Island and Central City, the lumber yard closed, as did the meat market, locker plant, and the grocery stores. Only the bank, post office, and repair garage now operate on main street. When school enrollment finally started to decline in the late 1960s the high school closed, and Chapman became part of a Class VI high school district with its own K-8 elementary system.
Chapman did not dry up and blow away, but instead, started to grow in new directions. Hard-surfaced streets, a sewage system, a good school system, and active churches have made this a good place to live.
Since the Bicentennial in 1976, there has been a new addition to the school, additions to the park, lighted ball fields and restrooms, and a new fire station. The 1980 population was the all-time high of 343.
With employment opportunities available, the population continues to hold fast and even increase a little. New homes add to the town's potential, another sign that Chapman will be here for years to come.
By Jane Graff. Photos by C.R.Johnson and June Vippermann, Rte 1 Box 7, Chapman, NE 68827.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The story of Chapman in the Merrick County History, 1982, by the MCHS; Merrick County's 100th Year 1858-1958; A Word and Picture Glimpse into the Past of the Chapman, Nebraska Community, 1976.