Skip Navigation

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  • Virtual Nebraska Logo

Virtual Nebraska

Nebraska...Our Towns

bertrand1jres.jpg (20764 bytes)BERTRAND -- PHELPS COUNTY

Bertrand, in Phelps County, is built on "railroad land." The east half of town stands on land that C.J. Carlson purchased for $3.50 an acre. When the railroad was surveyed through the county from Holdrege in 1884, Carlson's land was one of the locations selected for a station by the Lincoln Land Company. He sold it for $1,700. The land for the west part of town was brought for $15 per acre.

Although there were other post offices in the vicinity, they ceased to exist when Bertrand was established. The village was incorporated December 22, 1885. B. Buswell was chairman of the trustees, and the town was named for Alonzo Bertrand Minor, an official of the land company. The main street is named Minor Avenue.

The fledgling town was nearly destroyed in March of 1886 when a huge prairie fire came roaring down from the canyons south of town and swept over the area. The fire destroyed several houses, the blacksmith shop, and a grain elevator near the railroad tracks. A passing train was derailed because heat had warped the tracks. Fire was the greatest fear in the tiny town.

Swedish immigrants settled the area east and north of Bertrand, and German immigrants took up homesteads to the west and north. Marriages finally crossed the line between the two ethnic groups, but it took a long time.

Churches played a big part in the settlement. The Methodist Church and Immanuel Lutheran Church were first. Now there is a second Lutheran church, and three others in the immediate vicinity of Bertrand, (Hope, Adullam, and Westmark).

From the beginning the school was the central point around which the area revolved. This is still so. The first official school building was erected in 1888. It was replaced by a brick structure in 1909. Subsequently, this gave way to the present structure in 1958. All three were located on the same lot.

Bertrand people are builders. When they want something, they form a committee, gather funds, and build it. Using this system the town has a park with a sonotorium, a swimming pool, a fine football field surrounded by a track, a rodeo grounds equipped with excellent bleachers and chutes, as well as all-weather streets that are curbed and guttered. The school has two gymnasiums, a wrestling and weight room, modern classrooms, a fine computer set-up, and many other improvements.

With the passing of the pioneers era, the community settled down to farming and livestock producing. The Tri-County Irrigation Project in 1935-1939 helped to stablize the economy. Crop failure, due to drought, is virtually unknown. Wells and pivot systems have sprung up all over the area and practically all the land in this vicinity is now under irrigation.

bertrand2jres.jpg (14986 bytes)While the Burlington-Northern Railroad still serves Bertrand, only freight trains come up the "High Line." Passenger and mail service were discontinued in the 1950s.

Bertrand celebrated its first 100 years in 1985 with a variety of activities. These included a religious service, banquet, rodeo, pageant, parade, style show, thrashing bee, and a buffalo barbecue. A king and queen were crowned and the entire village was in a festive mood from April through July.

Bertrand's population currently stands at 775. Its businesses, though fewer in number, continue to serve the community. There is a newspaper, bank, grocery store, variety store, electrical contractors, beauty shops, cafes, bowling alley, taverns, gas and service stations, grain elevators, carpenters, mechanics, plumbing and well services. The town owns a fine care home (dedicated in 1973) with private rooms now available.

Most residents are descendants of a sturdy stock of pioneers that settled the area. Their pride and integrity have bred a fierce loyalty to this little town of Bertrand.


By Maxine Waters Carlson, Box 303, Bertrand, NE 68927

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Local History from Earliest Times, L.E. Brown, first editor of "The Bertrand Herald" 1927-28; Bertrand, the First 100 Years, by Maxine Waters Carlson, 1985. Copies available locally