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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Humboldt -- Richardson County

Judge Tinker's dream was realized when his town, Humboldt, was established. A narrow two-block-long street was an oversight. [Arington]
The CB&Q depot, with its platform of "Humboldt bricks," ca. 1918. The elevator and Power Bros. Sheep barns are on the right.

Mail for pioneer families, sent out from Brownville, was deposited at the store of an early settler Judge O. J. Tinker. In applying for "a postal address," his son, Edward, suggested the name "Humboldt," for Humboldt, Tennessee. On January 11, 1861, when it was approved, Tinker's daughter was named postmaster.

Judge Tinker dreamed of establishing a town design around a lovely central park. In 1865 he purchased "the perfect town site" from John Scott for the sum of one dollar. Perhaps Tinker's focus on the central park contributed to the town's oddity of having the narrowest street in Richardson County. Two blocks long, it is only eight feet wide.

Three year later, anxious to see his town develop, Tinker made an offer to Ruell and William Nims (brothers who owned the trading post on the "North Fork" of the Nemaha River) of ten acres of prairie land if they would build a general store facing the park. Accepting the conditions, they put up the "stone store," a building still in use.

Soon thereafter, word was received that the Atchison & Nebraska Railroad would be built through the county. The Tinker family and the Nims brothers donated land for a siding, and the town quickly developed. When the first train arrived in 1871, a bandstand had already been built in the center of the park. A lovely fountain, built of native stone, was added later. Humboldt organized a brass band, which was said to have had "the finest band wagon in the whole state." Incorporation occurred in 1873.

The first schoolhouse, used as an all-purpose meeting place, had been built in 1867 for ten pupils. Over the years there were three other schools, with the present one built in 1930. Currently serving about 260 students, a gym and other additions were built as needed.

Several century-old family businesses grace our streets. Marburger's shoe store and Prater Jewelry were both established in 1879.

The first "flouring mill," which started building in 1871, ran into difficulty when the backwater from its dam infringed on the building site of a second mill on the other side of the Nemaha. When the matter landed in court, no progress was made on the business, and the community was without a mill. The Cooper Flour and Feed business was not established until 1879. Guy Cooper carried on the business, followed by his sons Guy Jr., and John. In 1976 the business was sold to the Central Soya Company.

Other Humboldt-based businesses include:

-- Caffrey harness racers. Stallions from this stable were considered to be top breeding stock and used all around the world. The Humboldt Park Racing Association built one of the best half-mile tracks in the state in 1886.

-- The Powers Sheep Company, established in 1900 by the Powers brothers, handled as many as 100,000 lambs per year. This enterprise continued until 1956.

-- Rist's Plainview Hog and Seed Company, established in 1911. Frank J. Rist formulating and marketing "Rist's Hog Mineral." In 1925 Frank O. Rist started one of the first radio stations in Nebraska, KGDW.

-- Colonel Harding's sale barn, built in 1900, featured William Albright, "the first auctioneer west of the Missouri." His grandson, "Cricket" Albright, also cried sales here for many years.

-- The Humboldt Brick Company, incorporated in 1906, ran 12 kilns with a capacity of 60,000 bricks each. Nearly every Burlington Railroad platform in the state of Nebraska was paved with "Humboldt Bricks."

When Humboldt hosted the Richardson County Fair in the 1920s, Charles Lindbergh was featured doing airplane stunts. Together with his friend, Errold Bahl, who lived in Humboldt, they also gave rides. Bahl and Harry Frey designed and built an airplane, "The Redbird," which they hoped to manufacture. The original model is in the museum at Albany, Kansas. Another design, "The Lark" was manufactured for a time.

Humboldt is a busy town of 1,100. There are five active churches, and many retired citizens. We have a modern hospital, a nursing home, and our senior citizen housing overlooks the recreational park. The fair and fall festival -- a three-day, four-night event -- continues to be a highlight, with a large parade, free entertainment, and a home talent program.


By Veronica Arington, Rt 3 Box 53, Humboldt, NE 68376.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The History of Humboldt, 1867-1967; "Humboldt Hummer," 1911-12; The "Humboldt Standard," June 1897; History of Richardson County 1917; History of the State of Nebraska , 1882, by Andreas.