Perhaps Calvin Blanchard Hartwell envisioned the area near Junction Ranch along the Platte River as a thriving community when he and his family arrived April 1, 1865, to operate a stagecoach stopover and trading post. It did attract settlers, as did the area three miles west, chosen by the railroad as the location for its station the following year.
In the fall of 1866, when the Union Pacific laid rails through the area, a town was platted and named for Silas H.H.Clark, a superintendent on that line. For a time referred to as Clark's Station, the post office, established in 1869, called it "Clarksville." The name was changed to "Clarks" in 1880. Postal Rural Free Delivery (RFD), that began with four routes in 1900, currently provides mail service to over 360 families in Clarks and on two rural routes.
Religious services were first held in 1869. A Methodist Episcopal minister, Rev.David Marquette, held services at Junction Ranch, and Father Ryan of Columbus conducted Catholic services at John Higgins' home. Although other churches existed for short periods of time, the United Methodist, St.Peter's Catholic, and the Congregational Church which was organized in 1878, are still very active today.
The first general store opened in 1871, as did the Clarks school district. The first school, a one-room frame structure, was located south of the railroad tracks. The 100th anniversary of the first graduating class was celebrated with true "Blue Bomber" spirit by the Clarks High alumni in 1987. The area's rural schools have all closed their doors and now hold only fond memories of fun-times and quality education.
In the 1900s Clarks was a thriving community of over 600. The opera house was the scene of musicals, lectures, dances, graduations, and basketball. In 1912 Clarks hosted the Merrick County Fair, which is said to have ranked among the best in the state.
-- Wm.Douglas & Co., begun as a general merchandise store but today specializes in the grocery line, has been in continuous business under the Douglas family's ownership since 1888.
-- Beginning in 1908 when Otis Bittinger purchased the Clarks Telephone Exchange, three generations of that family have provided phone service to the area. Today the latest equipment, using Digital Central Office Equipment, makes custom calling features available.
-- Pollard Propane & Oil of Clarks, founded in 1917 by J.H.Pollard, continues under the ownership of his great-grandsons.
-- Until Leonard Strobel sold his share in January 1990, three generations made up the corporation of Strobel Industries, which was purchased as a blacksmith shop in 1946 from W.O.Golder.
Other Clarks businesses include: Trickee's Bar & Grill, McQuinn's Garage, Sweet's Electric, Luana's Drive-In, Diane's Decorating, Clougherty Packing, Shorty's Bar, Brown's aerial spraying, J-K Trucking, Clarks Agri-Service, Guilford's meat processing, plus the Kuhn and Caley insurance companies, a veterinary clinic, a lumber company, a bank, four beauty shop, and an auto repair shop. Together they provide many goods and services for the community, which currently numbers nearly 450.
With easy access to neighboring towns, we now rely on their medical facilities, dentists, and pharmacies to fill our health needs. Our fire and rescue unit, with 16 dedicated EMTs, is available for quick response in emergencies.
The Business Peoples' Association remains an active organization in Clarks and sponsors the popular "Bean Days," when ham 'n beans and the hand of friendship are shared with folks far and wide. Many organizations and facilities provide our citizens with opportunities to grow spiritually, emotionally, physically, and intellectually, and help our town to continue as a progressive village in the peaceful Platte Valley.
A granite marker, placed on the site of Junction Ranch, presently owned by Ronald and Dorothy Glasser, commemorates the foresight of the Hartwells and the important role they played in the settling of Clarks 125 years ago. While Clarks has suffered its share of disasters -- floods, fires, cyclones, droughts, and depression -- its citizens have always worked together to face the future with courage and a positive outlook.
By Ronald and Dorothy Glasser, Rte 2 Box 7, Clarks, NE 68628
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Heritage of Clarks, Nebraska , Clarks Bicentennial Heritage Committee 1865-1976; History of Merrick County Nebraska 1981 and History of Merrick County Nebraska, Volume II, 1987, by Merrick Co. History Book Committee, (Available at Clarks and Central City libraries, and NSHS); and Perkey's Nebraska Place Names.