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Nebraska...Our Towns

OTOE -- OTOE COUNTY

Otoe is a small town in Otoe County. Located 18 miles northwest of Nebraska City, it is just 40 miles southeast of Lincoln and 50 miles south of Omaha. Otoe typifies today's trend to peaceful small-town living and access to larger cities for employment and entertainment.

Berlin precinct, established early in territorial days, was probably named for pioneer and Civil War veteran E. D. Berlin. Churches and schools were the first concern of the early settlers, who were primarily of German descent. In 1860 -- long before we were a town -- a Methodist church had been founded. County records list District 78 in the school census in 1876, with a schoolhouse just west of the present town site. A Lutheran church was established in 1878.

Our town was founded in 1880 by Aureluis Bowen, who owned 160 acres in Berlin Precinct. At that time, the Missouri Pacific Railroad was building its line from Kansas City to Omaha. Bowen gave 20 acres to the railroad, and another 20 acres to a town, which he called "Berlin." The original plat -- only four blocks square -- was quickly outgrown, so the first of several additions were made.

The first passenger train made its entry in 1883. The railroad was an important part of our village life, with two passenger and two freights every day. The old schoolhouse had been moved into Berlin when the town was established. Soon, a larger school built and a high school was added. In January 1896, when the population reached the required 200, Berlin incorporated.

Our town has survived a number of disasters. The 1913 Easter Sunday tornado did great damage to our town. The entire business district was destroyed and 75 homes were in shambles. After flattening Berlin, the storm ripped through several other towns on its way to Omaha where hundreds of people were killed. The citizens of Berlin gathered up the pieces and rebuilt.

Then, in 1918, numerous fires "broke out" along Berlin's main street. After a full block was destroyed, thought to have been because of the intense anti-German feelings during World War I, a group of citizens petitioned to the town's name changed to "something else." The name "Otoe" was chosen, and became official on October 18, 1918, less than a month before the end of the war. (Postal records show no other town by that name in the United States.)

In the 1920s, Otoe was a thriving town with two churches, a bank, two grocery stores, a light plant, two elevators, a butcher shop, a hardware store, a blacksmith, a newspaper, a livery stable, and two barber shops. Even though passenger train service was discontinued in 1932, Otoe's population peaked in 1940 with 298 citizens. After World War II, various shifts in both the rural and urban population occurred so that in 1958 the high school closed its doors. The railroad abandoned this branch of its line in 1960.

There have been many changes since then. Today Otoe has a population of 196. Still governed by a five-member board of trustees, the community supports a 14-member volunteer fire department, with a nine-member quick response team, and a K-8 elementary school. A new Lutheran church was built in 1971 to replace the structure destroyed by fire earlier that year. In addition to our post office, we have a grocery-catering service, two taverns with eating facilities, a radio and TV shop, a construction company, a small plant that manufactures car crushers, a plumbing shop, and an elevator.

Otoe has a very nice park. The ball diamond was dedicated in 1982, in connection with the Otoe centennial celebration. An annual barbecue is held the second Saturday in September as a community-wide project, with proceeds going to benefit the community. A booklet written for the centennial provides more details about our town, Otoe.

By Verena Paap and Loris Roettger, Box 85, Otoe, NE 68417.