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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Mead -- Saunders County

The Mead depot, ca. 1900s. In the 1980s the depot was moved to the city park, and in 1988 it was remodled and became a day-care center. [Hilfiker]
A huge disesel engine supplied power for Mead. [Meyer, Scribner]
Street scene in the 1930s. A very tall falg pole stood at the middle of the intersection. [Hilfiker]
A view of downtown Mead, 1989. [Harris]

Mead, population approximately 500, is located in the Todd Valley, once thought to be "the course of the Platte River." Designated as "Saunders" by the postal department when it opened an office in the depot in 1877, the Omaha & Republican Valley Railroad registered the village plat two months later as "Alvin." On August 4, 1880, after the Union Pacific acquired the line, the name was changed to "Mead," probably for one of their officials.

Homesteaders, mainly of Swedish ancestry, had arrived in the area as early as 1867. They had to travel the 15-20 miles to Ashland or Fremont for supplies, so the railroad and new town with its businesses and services was welcome.

The first store was built in 1877, and soon there were many businesses that made life on the prairies much easier. The first building was razed 110 years later and a small convenience store constructed. The first house, also built in 1877, is still in use today. By 1886, when the population exceeded 200, the village incorporated.

Henry Brown, a black man who came to Mead in 1885, was the first barber. In addition to his shop, he had "a confectionery," and his wife operated a hotel and restaurant. The Browns were well-respected citizens and remained in Mead until his death in 1905.

A water system and electric lights came in 1914. The light plant operator started the engine by using his weight to turn the huge fly wheel. Running from dawn until dark, the "put-put-put" of the engine could be heard all over town. Natural gas arrived in 1954, a city sewer system in 1955, and the first paving in 1963. More paving was done in 1974.

In 1928 a volunteer fire department was organized, though earlier there was a two-wheeled cart and box of equipment, which was manned by the citizens. Today a well-equipped fire and rescue department serves the town and rural fire district.

For over 20 years there were five churches in town at the same time. Today there are three -- Lutheran, Covenant, and Catholic. A Baptist Church is located northwest of Mead. Though there were schools in the area before, the first school building in town was built in 1886. In 1919 several districts consolidated and a new school was built. In 1973 a new junior-senior high school was built. The alumni association, organized in 1897, continues today.

The first Saunders County Old Settlers Picnic was held near Mead in 1885. Then for several years it was held in various groves around the county. About 1905 was moved permanently to the school grounds, now Mead Park. In 1935 an estimated 4,000 persons attended the golden anniversary event. It disbanded in 1947, but a reunion was held in 1967, Nebraska's centennial year.

In the 1930s, with the drought and depression upon them, the people looked forward to the free outdoor movies provided once a week by the businesses of the town.

In 1941 the government bought 27 sections of land near Mead on which an ordnance plant was built. This, and World War II, changed the lives of the people immensely. People flocked to the town of 260 looking for work and a place to live. The population quickly rose to 1,500. Anything and everything was used as a place to live. During construction, one single-story house had beds for 18 in the basement, with a family of six, plus two roomers, living on the main floor. The government brought in more than 100 people from Barbados and Jamaica to work at the plant. They were housed in dormitories just south of town, and for a short time became a part of the community.

During the war, the school was also greatly over-crowded. There was not much entertainment available and gas rationing kept people close to home, but everyone "made do" with what they had. After the war many people, finding jobs in nearby cities, remained in Mead. New homes were built and some buildings in the downtown area were remodeled or replaced.

Today, Mead, twice the population it was in 1941, is primarily a farming community with a large co-op elevator. Several thousand acres of the ordnance plant were turned over to the UNL for ag-research & development. Other land went to the Behlen Observatory, to the Nebraska National Guard, or was sold back to farmers and livestock feeders.

Many residents, commuting to work in Fremont, Lincoln or Omaha, return home to the small-town atmosphere found here in our town, Mead.

By Genevieve Hilfiker, Box 75, Mead, NE 68041

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Past and Present of Saunders County , 1915; Saunders County History, 1983, and "Mead Centennial 1877-1977. There are numerous anniversary booklets written by churches, including one about the building of the ordnance plant titled "The Exodus, 1941."