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Nebraska...Our Towns

BURR -- OTOE COUNTY

Burr can identify its beginnings to those of other "railroad-towns" that were established along the lines being built out across the prairie. However, even before Burr was a town, it was a community with its own postal address. A post office was established on July 15, 1869, named "Burr Oak," for the oak groves in the area. Later, it was spelled as one word -- "Burroak."

Surveyors charting a route for a railroad through Otoe County in 1886 crossed land settled by Levi Wilcox, George Strong, Cyrus Bassett, and Captain Ben Pindar. The route was resurveyed, with grading started in 1887. At that time, a town site was platted on the land owned by Winfield and Sarah Holden. One writer suggests that the town's name was chosen by Sarah Holden, whose maiden name was Burrell.

The first train to arrive brought mail and passengers to the depot in September 1888. According to Elton Perkey, the railroad had shortened the name to Burr, to avoid confusion with Burr Oak, Kansas. When the line was completed there were four trains daily -- down and back. There were also occasional excursions to Omaha -- with round trip tickets costing $1.

Barney Goerke built the first store. Other businesses established in 1888 included the Holden House hotel, a saloon, a hardware store, a general merchandise store, a lumberyard, and two elevators. Various meeting places mentioned over the years include Wilcox Hall in 1889, followed by Landwehr Hall, with Panko Hall listed in 1911. In the late 1920s, Kenneth Chase built a large quonset-type building which was used to present "picture shows" and other gatherings.

The first school for district 101 was built in 1889, with the notation, "....Preaching and meetings were held in the school until the churches were built." A large brick building was constructed in 1935. The last high school graduation, 12 students, was held in 1959. A K-8 school continues to serve the community.

The earliest church, called the "Rockford Charge," was organized in the 1860s and built of rocks on Cyrus Bassett's homestead near the south branch of the Little Nemaha. Rebuilt of lumber on higher ground, the little white church was moved to Burr in 1891 using "home-made equipment." Beer kegs were used to help float it over the creek west of town. Currently known as the Burr United Methodist Church, it celebrated its "centennial plus" in 1971.

The Hopewell Presbyterian Church, established in 1874, was destroyed in the 1913 "Easter Tornado" that ravaged a wide area across southeast Nebraska before striking Omaha where it killed hundreds of people. The church was rebuilt at that location, which is in the center of the Burr-Unadilla-Douglas-Syracuse area, and next to the Hopewell Cemetery. The Hope Lutheran church was established in 1891, and in 1950 the old frame structure was replaced by a large brick one.

The large percentage of settlers of German descent is noted in the names of early residents, and the American German Bank, which was organized in 1892 with capital of $9,500. Managed by local stockholders, the bank's name was changed on April 18, 1919, to "The American Bank" due to the anti-German feeling during World War I. A new brick building had been completed earlier that year.

Burr's peak population, 133, occurred in 1920. As rail service declined and was finally abandoned, the need for an all-season road to Burr was evident. After nearly 20 years of work to get the state to provide one, the highway board agreed to build a hard surfaced road "...if the population of Burr reached 100 by 1970." That goal was achieved when the Don Parde family moved to town. This brought the total to 101, which is also the current population. The completion of the Burr Spur on June 8, 1975, was celebrated with a ribbon cutting, a barbecue, a ball game, a street dance, and a fireworks display. Many streets are now paved, and all are graded and maintained.

A quick response team of 14 persons completed training in the 1980s. "This is just another example of how our town exemplifies people-helping-people, to make a better place for all," said Village Clerk Nancy Thormahlen when writing Burr's history for the Otoe County History Book.

From material gleaned from records at the Nebraska State Historical Society, Perkey's Nebraska Place-Names , and the LNM handbook.