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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Friend -- Saline County

Charles Friend started his own town in the right place at the right time. The Friend Milling Company, pictured here, was established about the time that the railroad came through, 1873.
Friend in 1895, with several brick buildings already in place.
The old Friend depot, next to the small, white police station.
Downtown Friend, 1970's.

A souvenir post card, courtesy of the Friend Chamber of Commerce, showing Friend, Nebraska, as the "midway point of the nation on Highway 6," invites tourists and visitors to "write a friend from Friend." Many do.

The town had its beginning in 1870. That year Charles Friend arrived in Nebraska and, with his team of horses, worked on the new railroad grading that was heading west out of Lincoln. He decided to homestead along the proposed route in Saline County. After spending the spring and summer "sleeping on his claim," he went back to Lincoln, where he clerked in a store during the winter. The following spring he returned to his land, bringing with him a load of goods to sell.

With a few boards and a new door, Friend opened a general store on the front of his house. In June a post office was established in his store, and he was appointed the postmaster. The settlement name, "Friendville," was approved on August 1, 1871.

The Burlington and Missouri River Railroad reached Friendville, which of course played an important part in the actual development of the town. While on the "alphabet line" it did not come in the proper sequence, a detail which didn't seem to bother anyone, however. A second store came into existence, followed by a blacksmith shop, and a flour mill. In 1873 when the railroad station was completed, it was named "Friend," which later became the official name of the town.

That fall, 56 acres of Friend's homestead was surveyed for a town. The plat contained 16 blocks. The settlement began to take the shape of a frontier town, as trees were planted along the roughly-graded streets, and the business district expanded. The population quickly increased and as it did, a hardware store appeared, closely followed by a hotel, a bank, and a lumber yard.

In 1874 there was a grasshopper plague and the town's growth came to a standstill, temporarily. The people of Friend, however, were hardy, optimistic, and ambitious, and soon the town bounced back. A schoolhouse was built and the first church societies were established and well supported. Another bank was established, and a cheese factory was opened.

The first newspaper was published in 1882, the same year that the town was incorporated. That was also the year that the district agriculture society chose Friend as the site for its fairgrounds. The society built a large dining hall, an exhibit hall, two long rows of stalls for horses, and pens for cattle, hogs, and sheep. Of special interest was the half-mile race track and a grandstand. It was said to be "the best race track west of Chicago," which enable them to bring in many big-name race horses. Dog races were also a great attraction and people came from all over to see them.

Friend continued to grow, and by 1890, there were 1,347 residents, not far from today's, 1,108.

Some industrial activities that were part of Friend's development and no longer on the scene include a cabinet and wagon shop, a brick factory, a broom factory, a cigar factory, a barbed wire factory, a hatchery, and several produce stations. These were in addition to the butcher shops, livery barns, a photographer's studio, tailors, millinery shops, a theater, an opera house, and a grand hotel that are also long-gone. There still is, however, a very active business district, supplying many of the needs of the city and surrounding farming community.

Good medical facilities are important in making a town thrive. In this respect, Friend has been very fortunate. In 1919 Norman E. Warren bequeathed land and money to the city for the purpose of building a hospital. Today, in addition to a modern hospital, there is a manor and a medical clinic.

Friend's school system has been maintained as a progressive, accredited institution. Excellent recreational facilities are also available. An active chamber of commerce provides community activities which include a pancake feed, Fourth of July fireworks and barbecue, and Christmas festivities.

Friend's centennial, celebrated in 1971, brought out beards, beautiful dresses, and a complete array of activities to commemorate our first century. In 1983 community leaders received the "Tree City U.S.A." award from Governor Bob Kerrey.

Visitors to our town, traveling on U.S. Highway 6, are greeted by the colorful billboard signs that say, "WELCOME TO FRIEND!"

By Darlene Shippen and Dorothy Kelso, Friend, NE 68359. Photographs courtesy of Friend Sentinel, Margaret Milton, Tom Clouse, Paul Rogers, and Saline County Historical Museum.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The Friend Centennial Booklet, compiled in 1971.