The town's namesake is indicative of its reason for existence. "Elsie" was the daughter of Burlington & Missouri River Railroad official Charles Perkins. Perkins County is named after him. The streets in Elsie were given such names as Perkins, Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Avenues.
The Elsie depot, run by Gene Johnson, was a salient feature of the community for years. The railroad began laying rails through Perkins County in 1887, in anticipation of tapping the agricultural riches of farms being peopled by new homesteaders with names such as Allen, Cutler, Hanson, Olson, O'Conner, and Coppersmith. The huge Robert Taylor sheep ranch north of town was reflective of the open grasslands beginning to give way to the farming frontier.
Frank S. Pearson was the first postmaster, a position now held by Lillian Hanson. Early businesses included Pearson and Henderson's general store and the Atlas Lumber Company. J.B. Symond ran the drug store, the same business later operated by Vern Allen, the Walters, and the Harbesons. The weekly "Elsie Journal" came off the press in 1888, followed by sporadic issues of "The Elsie Leader" and the "Rustler."
The Elsie Opera House and barn dances in the countryside lent a musical flavor to the scene. There were two hotels and two hardware stores. The Lohse Bros. Roller Mill opened in 1890 and the State Bank in 1891.
The depression of the 1890s hit hard. Drought came and the bottom dropped out of everything. Businesses and farmers alike were hurt. Political action through the Populist Party seemed the only remedy for some.
Revival began during what one historian has termed "The Good Years" of the early 1900s. W.H. Brodbeck's Crown Bottling Company, offering flavors from Root Beer to Sasparilla, started in 1910. The Equity Elevator opened the same year. Soon William Schweer was operating an auto livery and Brodbecks put in gas pumps. The automobile had arrived!
The population grew from 120 in 1911 to 150 in 1917, recovering somewhat from depression losses. Citizens incorporated the village in 1915.
The 1920s and 1930s was a time of new and expanded community services. Elsie's population in 1930 of 262 marked the high point. The Shafer and Hanson Store was typical of business activities. Therman Coleman operated a Ford garage. John Allen's grocery store (later operated by Coley Allen and then Arnie Stransky) was a feature on main street. Leo Tilsley owned a barbershop. In 1927 the first twelfth grade high school graduation took place. Raymond Allen was custodian at the school for a number of years.
The crash of 1929 affected everyone from Wall Street to Main Street. The Depression, coupled with the drought, put the economy into a tailspin until F.D. Roosevelt came along with his "New Deal." Recovery was slow, but it came. Soon alphabetical agencies, such as the AAA farm programs, CCC workers, and REA electrification, brought change and improvement to little towns.
Change seemed good then, but in the long run, consolidated farms and a depopulated countryside had dire consequences for small towns such as Elsie. World War II saw a new generation of young men go off to distant lands to fight for their country and others move to larger communities to work in factories supplying war materials.
The post-war years witnessed a further decline in Elsie's population, but also the paving of city streets, construction of a new Methodist Church, and a school consolidation, with Wheatland Elementary at Elsie and Wheatland High School at Madrid in 1967. While, alas, the Bulldogs gave way to the Spartans, the consolidated system brought educational strength to both communities and insured a quality program for all children in the area.
Following the agricultural washout of the early 1980s, stability seems to have returned to the community. Harvey Brott's Commercial State Bank, the H.& B Insurance Agency, the Sundown Saloon, the Country Cafe, the Hi-Line Co-op, and Sisco Fertilizers are present businesses.
Young people settling in and around Elsie give the town a new demographic stability. Hopefully their energy, enthusiasm, and activities will lead to renewed life in the little town of Elsie, with a 1980 population of 133.
By Allen Shepherd, Chadron State College, Chadron, NE 69337
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Elsie Memories, 1887-1987, Elsie Centennial Committee, Henderson Service Press. 1987.