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Nebraska...Our Towns

Ruskin -- Nuckolls County

Ruskin's founders didn't intend to homestead in Nuckolls County, but "liked what they saw," so they stayed. "Jensen the Paintman" was an early shop.
Ruskin's main street after the 1912 blizzard.
The residential area of Ruskin prior to 1900.

In April 1869 five men from Racine, WI, newly-arrived from Denmark, came to Nebraska to find homes. They first considered settling near Lincoln, but they went on to Beatrice where the federal land agent accompanied them west into Nuckolls County. Liking what they found, four of them filed homestead claims in Spring Creek Precinct. One returned to Denmark, but the others built dugout homes for their families that arrived soon thereafter.

For several years, rainfall was plentiful and the fertile soil produced good crops. But in June 1874 clouds of grasshoppers came, eating everything that was green. When the 'hoppers left, the settlers planted some pumpkins, and managed to raise enough to keep them alive through the winter.

The fear of crop failures, droughts, and 'hoppers continued. The threat of prairie fires was also a concern, but worst of all was serious illness or accident. The frontier had few real doctors and many pioneers died, especially young children. Whole families were lost during epidemics of diphtheria or scarlet fever.

In 1875 a mail route was established between Hebron and Red Cloud. A post office, opened in the home of Thomas Johnson, was named for his daughter. "Henrietta" became an active little trading post until 1887, when a town was established not far away by the Kansas Town and Land Company as the terminus for the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad out of Horton, KS. The town was named for the famous English author and art critic, John Ruskin. The Henrietta post office was moved to Ruskin on June 23, 1887. The original building is still standing west of the school house.

The first business in Ruskin was an elevator, closely followed by a livery stable. Soon there was a hotel, a doctor's office, a bank, and a number of businesses and shops. The Rock Island depot was built in 1886.

A large windmill was erected at the main intersection of the town, and a large cistern was built to provide for "a reserve of water." In 1925 the windmill was replaced by the present standpipe, and a water system was installed.

These were the golden years for Ruskin. Many families settled in the community, bringing the population to over 350. Grain and livestock farmers created a large trade area. Amusement, for the most part, consisted of "going to town on Saturday night," where there were band concerts, ice cream socials, Chautauqua, and silent movies.

After World War I the town and surrounding area prospered. Then in the 1930s, the Depression hit. Our Ruskin State Bank closed on June 16, 1932, taking with it the life's savings of many people. During the drought and dust storms there was literally no money, but there was a great deal of sharing and "making do" with what we had.

After World War II there was a renewed interest in community life. In 1948 the Hutchinson building was remodeled into a community center, which houses the library, party room, a modern kitchen, and a good gymnasium. The annual "homecoming" for Ruskinites -- the Decoration Day Dinner and Service -- is held in the gym.

By 1959 Ruskin had 83 houses and a population of 212. The town formed "CAP," whose membership consists of representatives from all the organizations in town. This group promotes many community projects including the Fun Fest in August, the Halloween party in October, and the Christmas party with the firemen bringing Santa Claus to town.

Ruskin's present population is 224. The business district supplies a good number of everyday items. We were sorry to see our high school close in 1982, due to a small enrollment, but we have a fine accredited K-8 elementary school. Ruskin has been fortunate in having many young people stay here and return after college to make their homes in the community and raise their families.

On June 12-14, 1987, we celebrated our centennial. People worked hard and had fun getting ready for the event. Many people "came home" to help us celebrate this historic event. Between 400-500 people attended the Ruskin High School Alumni Banquet. Our theme was "A Century of Living in Ruskin 1887-1987."

 

By Geraldine Schultz, Ruskin, NE 68974