It is said that Indian Hills, located near the river not far from Palmer, was once the site of the Pawnee "Morning Star Ceremony," a sacrifice of human life to assure bountiful crops for the Indians who made their home in this part of Nebraska.
The first white settlers arrived in 1872, homesteading north and east of the present town. When the railroads pushed across the prairies in 1886, an ambitious project was designed by the Lincoln & Black Hills Railroad Company. Near the edge of Merrick County the route would divide, with one going to the Black Hills and the other to the "great Northwest."
There were great plans for the division point named for Major H.E.Palmer of Plattsmouth, one of the L&BH officials. In 1887 the Lincoln Land Company purchased 480 acres from Wes Templin, Robert Lambert, and Mrs.Samuel Lambert. In anticipation of the scope of the project, the railroad built a huge water tank, a big coal shed, several switching tracks, and "the finest depot west of the Mississippi River." A 40-stall brick roundhouse was laid out. However, adverse circumstances caused the bubble to burst, and track-laying ended at Burwell and Sargent. Only five stalls of the roundhouse were completed.
Many businesses and homes were built in 1887. Joe Hays built the first store, and Dr. Hoshaw hung out his shingle. The first newspaper was published in October of 1887, and the Christian congregation built the first church in 1888.
In 1900 brick buildings began to appear. A telephone system was installed in 1902. In 1911 Bill Heck and his father built the first light plant. About 1918 the town assumed ownership of the plant and built a larger unit at the west end of main street. City water was introduced in 1919.
Soon after the first opera house burned, Mark and Thomas Lambert built a large brick building that housed the Loup Valley State Bank and several offices on the main floor, with a larger opera house upstairs. The building was used for silent movies, school plays, home talent, traveling theatre company performances, dances, and commencement exercises. Community dinners were held in the basement. The building was used for various purposes until the 1950s.
Dr.C.S.Minnich, local doctor, dentist, oculist, and pharmacist, was also interested in astronomy. Designing a lens-grinding machine, he obtained two 12-inch glass "blanks" from Germany. After months of work and numerous trips to see Dr.Swayzee, director of the physics department at the University of Nebraska to make optical correctness checks, the instrument was pronounced perfect. The lenses, with a 19-foot focal length, was donated to UN for an observatory. While supports were cast, no structure or housing was built, and the lenses later disappeared from a safe in the administration building.
A hospital and sanitarium was built in 1916-17 on land donated by Charles Coolidge. Revisions in the law caused the status to change to "rest home" in 1957. After acquiring the assets, Darr Avenue Partnership built a new Cooledge Center in 1975-76.
A cooperative creamery opened in the 1920s with Charles Fitzpatrick as manager. It provided a market for dairy farmers within a 15-mile radius until 1964, when it closed.
A bridge over the Loup River north of Palmer provided a safe crossing for settlers wanting to get to the rail terminal. The original wooden structure was later replaced by one of steel, and now a concrete bridge links the two sides.
School district 49 was organized in 1885, even before the town was platted. Improved roads and modern transportation provided the opportunity to consolidate small rural schools into a larger one. The present building, built in 1961, serves the entire Palmer area. Basketball has been a winning tradition for many years, with 1984's team putting together a perfect season, winning 23 games and the state championship.
The Burlington Northern still serves Palmer, but the rails beyond have been abandoned and removed. Palmer reached its peak in 1920, with nearly 600 residents and a trading population of about 1,200. The 1980 census placed the population at 487. A spur off highway 92 currently serves as a primary link to the town.
By Darlene Gee, Rte 1 Box 167, Palmer, NE 68864