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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Bartley -- Red Willow County

Bartley's CB&Q Depot with agents' living quarters upstairs. Families contended with heat, soot, noise, and vibration. Pure water made this a favorite stop for engineers.
The DeArmand Hotel in its heyday.
Bartley's Opera House during the "Dry Creek Flood," intersection of Commercial and Walnut Streets.

Bartley, a trim village in eastern Red Willow County, is nestled against the north bluff of the Republican River Valley. Dry Creek, just west of town, took perverse pleasure in flooding Bartley until, as a demonstration project, it became the first total watershed control system in the United States.

Northwest of Bartley on the bluff overlooking the tree-lined valleys lies the "silent city" of generations past. Among the many pioneers resting there are two strangers known but to God.

The town is named in honor of Rev. Allen Bartley, a Methodist Episcopal minister who founded Mallalieu University in the town. A picturesque building was erected at the corner of Ash and Commercial Streets. University classrooms occupied the upper floor, while the lower floor housed businesses. Board and room was $2.50 a week. Housing was at a premium.

By August, 1886, there were 40 structures in the town. Businesses totaled 23, many of them in connection with the university. Two years later Bartley's population had mushroomed to twice its original size, almost 400, with many more homes and businesses. The first post master was R.C. Fidler, Mrs. Bartley's brother.

Those purchasing deeds signed a statement agreeing to neither make nor sell liquor. One who disregarded his pledge appeared in an Omaha court. The case was dismissed, but it discouraged further abuse of the indenture.

When Mallalieu University was in its third year, the Board of Trustees met and voted to direct funding to another Methodist university also in its infancy, called "Wesleyan" at Lincoln. This closed the doors at Mallalieu forever.

Bartley was on the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railroad. In an interview with the grandson of the blacksmith who helped build the railroad's water tower beside the tracks, he recalls: "Grandfather used his forge, heating the rivets white-hot, threw them to the man on the tower who caught them in a bucket and then hammered the glowing rivets in place."

Bartley hoped to benefit by the proposed plan for a north-south railroad from North Platte to Great Bend, Kansas. However, construction of the CB&Q "High Line" through northern Frontier County thwarted that plan.

The Pioneer Sale Barn, built in 1919 and used until 1950, has an octagonal main building with enclosed pens to the south and west. A bleacher was constructed between an outdoor ring and the street to the east. Spectators also lined the east roof of the enclosed shed when weather permitted outdoor auctions. Stock was sold by the head as there were no scales. This unusual barn, also used for "literaries" and other entertainment, is now an artist's delight. Recently, several pure-bred hog sales have been held there.

A vivid memory is the 1935 Republican River flood. The town, on high ground, except for the railroad and elevator pits, escaped the damage neighboring towns suffered. Farmers on the bottom lands, however, lost farmsteads, livestock, and other property. Bridges were demolished and telephone communication destroyed. The local switchboard operator busied herself warning valley residents, and sending others to help those without phones. The story is told of an eccentric bachelor with no faith in banks who had buried his cash in fruit jars. For months after the flood he searched, but never found a dime.

Floods were often preceded by violent thunderstorms and tornadoes. One tornado tore through town and converged with a second one at a farmstead southeast of Bartley, causing injuries and property damage.

The discovery of oil in Red Willow County in 1960-1961 brought changes to the Bartley community, the richest field in the state. New faces, new ideas, and a broadened tax base helped schools and strengthened the general economy. The oil industry in 1986 still provides the area's main non-ag related business.

In preparing for Bartley's centennial celebration, the nearly 20 businesses and public services put on a fresh coat of paint, made posters, benches, and flower boxes. Many former residents returned home for the festivities.

Still influenced by its early Christian roots and temperance, the town has an excellent modern school and two churches, with access to other churches in nearby towns. After a hundred years, Bartley still proudly acknowledges itself "a dry town."

Happy one hundredth birthday, Bartley!

By Evelyn Martin, 510 Ames, Bartley, NE 69020

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL includes: Bartley School Annual, 1913 and 1978; Nebraska Place-Names , Fitzpatrick, 1960; Bartley Inter Ocean, 1925; The Village of Bartley Centennial 1986; A Pictorial Journey Through "The Good Old Days"; Views of a College Town, Sughroue, 1986; The Bartley Book, Arrington, 1967; Flames on the Plains: A History of Methodism in Nebraska , Parthenon Press, TN, 1983.