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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Stromsburg -- Polk County

From a Swedish colony named for Stromsborg, a section of Ockelbo, Sweden, to the Swedish Capital of Nebraska in 1966, this community reflects many of the artistic and architectural examples of this heritage.
The old depot, built on the north side of the tracks in 1903. [Flodman]
The ole' opera house, also built of "native bricks," now Viking Center.
The north side of the Square, ca. 1900.

Stromsburg came into being when Lewis Headstrom, a Swedish real estate agent, was sent from Illinois to establish a colony in Nebraska. The local consensus is that the town was named for Stromsborg, Sweden, a section of Ockelbo where he was born.

Among the first homesteaders along the Big Blue River and Prairie Creek were William Records, who arrived in 1869, the Morrills, Smiths, Buckleys, and Larson. The first business was a general store on the northwest corner of the main intersection, established by the Stromsburg Town Company and run by Headstrom and John Buckley.

A schoolhouse was the next building erected in Stromsburg, even before the first residence was completed. In 1873 a city square was laid out, trees planted, and hitching posts installed around it. Within a few years, nearly all areas of business were represented.

As evidence of the ethnic interests, the first churches established included a Swedish Baptist in 1873, a Swedish Lutheran in 1874, a Methodist Episcopal in 1875, a Swedish Methodist in about 1880, and a Presbyterian in 1881. Still active is the Baptist, Methodist, and Lutheran, with the addition of an Evangelical Free, and a Covenant Church.

The coming of the Omaha & Republican Valley Railroad in 1879 (a branch of the Union Pacific) gave the town and the community a big boost. A few years later the Burlington extended a line north from York. Farmers could ship grain and livestock directly to Omaha or Chicago.

By 1882 Stromsburg had two brickyards furnishing material for businesses, churches, and homes. Buildings of "native brick" still standing include the opera house (now converted into Viking Center, and Viking II and III), the First National Bank (Wilson Block), Svenska Varen, and a number of homes.

At one time six trains a day came and went, including passenger trains to York, Central City, and Lincoln. Later the "motor" replaced the passenger trains. The CB&Q line between Benedict and Stromsburg was removed in 1942, but the UP freight line is still operating. Stromsburg's location on Highway 81 has been an important factor in its stable population.

A huge oatmeal factory once stood near the tracks where the Overland Sand & Ready Mix plant is now located, which is one of our largest industries today. The other major employer is the Midwest Covenant Nursing Home, which has 100 residents, 12 apartments, and is staffed by 200 persons.

Our weekly newspaper, "The Headlight," was established in 1885. The Scandinavian Insurance Company, started by Swedish settlers in 1887, is still a growing company. Its centennial was celebrated in February 1987.

An interesting chapter was written in Stromsburg's history in 1916 when an attempt was made to relocate Polk's county seat. While Stromsburg was quite a bit larger, it was farther from the center of the county. The election, while causing a great deal of concern, did not get the two-thirds majority required for the change.

Stromsburg school system has continued to keep pace with the community. In 1990 the enrollment was 372 with a staff of 43 instructors and administrators.

The Buckley family, descendants of early settlers in Stromsburg Precinct, donated several acres of land at the south edge of town for a city park. The city has since then purchased more land to enlarge the facilities. Buckley Park offers free camping, a double ball field, tennis/basketball courts, a sand volleyball court, a swimming pool, two pavilions, a playground, and an area for picnics. This has become a favorite camping and tourist attraction.

Another interesting feature is the Midwest Park Arboretum in the northeast part of Stromsburg. The arboretum has more than 75 different varieties of trees and plants, with more added each year. As a member-organization of the Nebraska statewide arboretum, it has an historical gazebo, the "Pioneer Couple" statue, and both playground facilities and picnic tables.

Governor Frank Morrison proclaimed Stromsburg to be "The Swede Capital of Nebraska" at the Swedish Festival in June 1966. In 1992 Stromsburg will celebrate its 40th annual festival, "Midsummer's Day Holiday." Held on the third weekend in June, it features authentic Swedish food, crafts, parades, and a multitude of activities for the over 10,000 visitors that attend.

By Mildred Flodman in cooperation with Carolyn Peterson, Rte 1 Box 34, Stromsburg, NE 68666

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Early Days in Polk County" , Mildred Flodman, 1966; and History of Stromsburg, 1872-1972, Mook Wilhelms & Geraldine Rystrom.