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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Western -- Saline County

The depot at Western, as passengers wait to board the incoming train. Three drays and draymen stand ready to pick up freight and baggage.
The cabin built by the Witts in 1861 about two miles from Weston. Believed to be the first log cabin in the county, it was torn down in 1910.

The Village of Western, in southern Saline County, was laid out by Dr.L.E. Goodell in 1872. There were 39 people living here at that time. Buildings included a schoolhouse, a post office, a blacksmith shop, and a few dwellings, mostly made of sod. George Hunt built the first store two blocks east of the present main intersection.

There are several theories about how the town got its name. Many think it was named for homesteader Wesley West, on whose land the post office was established in 1871. The name "West" was not accepted, so another syllable was added, making it "Western."

The first settlers, most of whom were of German ancestry, settled a few miles east of town on Swan Creek in the early 1860s. The Witt, Wahl, Gutzmer, and Fennes families came from Wisconsin in covered wagons. They lived in their wagons until dugouts, sod, or log houses could be built. Stories are told of bands of friendly Indians that visited the area, and of the wild turkeys, deer, elk, and buffalo they saw.

The village was incorporated in 1880 four years before Western became a station on the Burlington line that went through the southern part of the county. Western's population went from the 412 in 1900 to a peak of 511 in 1930. The population dropped to 430 during the 1950s, then held at about 350, with a present count of 264. Now predominantly of German and Czech descendants, many residents are retired or self-employed. Some of the younger folks commute to jobs in nearby towns.

Western has two churches: the United Methodist, established in 1865, and the United Church of Christ, built in 1884. Both are noticing the effects of the decline in population.

Western's first school was built in 1871 of sod. The walls soon collapsed so, classes were moved to Goodell's building while another school was built at that location. The fourth building was located three blocks south. In the late 1880s a two-story building was added just east of the present building. The sixth and present building used for school purposes was built in 1913. An auditorium was added to the grounds and dedicated in 1950.

When the high school closed in 1968, Western became a Class I school. Approximately 60 children attend Western's elementary school. The community strongly supports the educational program provided by the five classroom teachers, one resource teacher, and an instrumental instructor. Eighth grade graduates attend either Tri-County to the east, or Meridian High to the west.

In 1972 Western celebrated its centennial through the efforts and enthusiastic cooperation of the community. A king and queen were crowned, and there was a tea and style show, a box supper, a threshing bee, a beard contest, a birthday cake, the burying of a time capsule, and a greatly enhansed version of the town's annual Old Settlers' Picnic.

A highlight of the summer season continues to be the Old Settler's Picnic sponsored by the Western Community Club. The first picnic was held in 1897 on the west edge of town in a pasture called "Stevens' Grove." The early picnics were called "Old Settlers' Homecoming Picnic and Fair." Except for a very few years, they have been an annual event. Large crowds attend and people 80 years or older register for prizes and awards.

At the center of town, standing guard over the main street, is the old Saline County Bank constructed in 1887 by William Bench. George Sawyer operated the bank in this building until his death in 1933. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, it currently serves as the post office.

There are 19 other places of business in Western, plus a public library, the American Legion Hall, a community hall, a volunteer fire department, a senior center, and the county's area transit office.

Plainview, Western's cemetery, was established in 1888. American Legion Post 255 organizes the traditional Memorial Day services. In 1987 the post installed and dedicated an Avenue of Flags. The 43 flags, honoring deceased veterans from as far back as the Civil War, are an inspiring site as they wave in a gentle spring breeze.

Today, well into our second century, Western looks forward with confidence, meeting the needs of her people, and providing them with a pleasant place to live.

By Laurene Gillespie, Box 415, Western, NE 68464.

 

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: "This We Remember," a centennial booklet of personal memories and experiences.