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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Newport -- Rock County

Newport, where hay has been the primary commodity since the days when the town was new. Richard Johnson owned the livery barn, Frank Bassett and Harold Wideman ran the saloon, and Sol Ritz, the Hotel. (All these buildings later burned.) n.d. [Christensen]
Main Street of Newport, 1907. [Alderman]
Haying the way it used to be done. Some still use this method.
In the 1940-50s, haying became more mechanized.
Hay is often bailed in the field and hauled to market by truck.
Duane Shald's crew, "packaging" stacked hay for shipment. 1982. [Greenfield]
Large power equipment now rolls hay into huge bales. Saves both time and handling. Pictured is Gilbert Fox, Emmett Hay Company. [Christensen]

Newport, in Rock County, is near the place where the beautiful Elkhorn River Valley begins. In 1883 it was a bustling town of nearly 500, and known as the largest hay shipping center in the world. As many as 25 train-carloads were shipped out in one day.

Hay was not only the "prairie gold" for the area, but was often burned for fuel to warm the homes by using "hay twists." The streets were paved with hay. Baled hay was stored in the many huge barns and in large piles on the ground awaiting shipment. For many years all income for the community was hay-related in one way or another.

The railroad established the town. In 1880 Newport was just a railroad station. By 1883 the railroad had reached Ainsworth, 30 miles to the west.

Watching the trains come in was very exciting. There was a hurry and flurry when someone called "...the train is coming!" We ran to see who came in or went out on the passenger coach, watched the freight being loaded and unloaded, and the engine take on water. We counted all the mail bags and cream cans being sent to market, or just chatted with all our friends who were watching too.

The storage end of the depot was built on stilts. The story is told about the time someone crawled under the floor during the night, bored a hole through the floor and into a whiskey barrel. He must have known just where to drill, 'cause he drained the contents, carried it away and didn't lose a drop. The man who ordered the whiskey found an empty barrel.

The early residents came to Newport with high hopes. The town prospered and grew, boasting a fine church and school, two hotels, two newspapers, and two doctors, along with many other business establishments. Many lovely homes were built, some of which are still occupied.

Events and time have changed many things. Fire was a major menace. By 1923 all but one of the remaining buildings on the west side were destroyed. Slattery's Market is in the one remaining original building. A brick building completed in 1915 housed a bank and post office, and presently is occupied by the post office and Rebecca Lodge.

The Sandhills 4-H Livestock Show was held every August for 25 years. People came to exhibit their livestock from five surrounding states.

Newport is no longer growing, but it is far from dead! People are still proud of their town and towk together to make good things happen. Community money-making projects and effort built a tennis court, teen center, remodeled the church, and our gymnasium -- the social center of the community. We have had bake sales, cake walks and card parties. If Newport needs something, we get busy and fill that need.

Bridal showers are given for every young person who marries, and funeral dinners are served for the bereaved families.

Many local men volunteer their time to coach the elementary boys in basketball so they will be able to compete when they get into high school. All the men work together to put on an annual pancake feed to help the Methodist Church, although some of them belong to other churches. Seven AKSARBEN Good Neighbor Awards have been given in the community.

A memorial park and the Spring Valley rest area were started by Vic and Maude Thompson. Community effort succeeded in getting KOLN-TV at Lincoln to build a transmission tower one mile north.

Irrigation and electricity have changed the picture from the one A.H. Gale wrote about in 1898 in the "Rock County Leader" when he said, "This area is not suitable for farming." The many fields of tall corn, storage bins, pickers, tractors and trucks now buzzing by make a mockery of his words.

Hay is still big business, as the choice valley hay is in demand in other areas, and much of it is fed to the sleek cattle on the many ranches in this beautiful valley. Only the methods for handling it have changed.

We love our community! People who live here, love, marry, and raise families. The children grow up and go off to school. Some come back to stay, while others leave, and return to find the main land-mark, our gym, waiting.

To know Newport, you need to live here, for it's made of hearts, not houses.

By Rachel Greenfield, Audrey Olson, and Betty Christensen, Newport, NE 68759

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Rock County Centennial book, 1988; "Those Who Came Before Us"; "From Oxcarts to Orbits"; and "Newport Centennial."