Ceresco -- Saunders County
Ashel and Horace Andrus, their sister and her husband, Ira Nelson, all from Ceresco, Michigan, settled in southern Saunders County in 1868. A post office, given the name "Ceresco," was established the following year by Nelson when an influx of settlers, many from Sweden, purchased railroad land or took up homesteads on the open prairies. The first mail deliveries were made by Charles Whitney on horseback. Later it was carried on the daily stagecoach from Lincoln to Fremont. During an outbreak of disease among horses in the area in 1872, however, the mail was delivered on foot.
In 1886 rails for the new Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad were laid one mile east of the small settlement. Not wanting to be "overlooked," the people of Ceresco moved their post office, businesses, and homes -- lock, stock, and barrel -- to the new town site. By 1887, when the town was incorporated, it included 30 businesses.
On May 10, 1895, a fire, originating in the "Hole in the Wall Saloon," destroyed the entire downtown. Found to have been arson, the town board imposed a very high license fee for saloon keepers. In their effort to keep the community "dry," businesses were occasionally raided to make sure no alcoholic beverages were sold. On more than one occasion, confiscated cases of beer were escorted by the town board to the depot to be transported "out of town."
In 1911 Ceresco had a hospital "of sorts" run by Dr.Frank Wright and his wife, who used upward of 20 rooms in the converted Kelly Hotel to nurse patients back to health. A brick schoolhouse was built in 1912 to replace the one and two-room building used earlier.
The dirt streets were graveled from 1920 to 1924. Five acres were purchased for a park in 1929. It has been improved over the years, with play ground equipment, a picnic shelter, and a tennis court.
When Highway 77 was built from Lincoln to Wahoo in 1937, the old route that jogged west along the Lancaster County line, then turned north to Main and east through town before swinging north again, was straightened. Some say the changes, which made it both faster and safer, caused the decline in Ceresco's once-bustling business community. Good all-weather roads to larger cities also contributed to a change in shopping practices.
After World War II, additional changes were seen. In 1944 REA (Rural Electrification Association) power was brought to town. (The village is currently served by OPPD.) Garbage collection was introduced in 1951, a lagoon sewage system was constructed in 1954, a new well was dug in 1955, and mercury-vapor lights were installed on main street in 1956. When a major housing development on the west side of town was approved in the 1970s, a larger water tower was built on the hill to replace the 40,000 gallon storage tank built in 1915.
Ceresco hosted an annual three-day Farmers Institute, sponsored by the University of Nebraska, between 1905-15. Chautauquas were held in the park in the 1920s. During the summer, after an open-air concert by the town band, shops did a brisk business until well after midnight. The Harvest Festival held during the 1940-50s gave way to an annual 4th of July celebration currently enjoyed by the community.
About 50 homes were built from 1938-68. Since 1968, more than 40 homes have been added, and a retirement apartment complex was completed in 1986. The town's population jumped from 340 in 1940 to well over 800 in 1980. A recession and rural economic slump in the 1980s has curtailed further building, with the current population about 700.
A big centennial celebration was held in 1967 on the occasion of Nebraska's statehood. During the nation's bicentennial year, a three-fold project was initiated. The "Festival" was held in June, the "Heritage" project published the history of the town, and an "Horizons" project resulted in the planting of trees along Ceresco's main streets for future generations to enjoy.
Ceresco celebrated its centennial on June 19-21, 1987, the anniversary of the town's incorporation at its present location.
By Jane Graff from material submitted by Audrey Roesler, 520 South 2nd, Ceresco, NE 68017.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The History of Ceresco, Nebraska, 1868-1977 , Union College Press, and "The News" centennial edition, June 11, 1987.