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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Morse Bluff -- Saunders County

The construction crew pauses for a photograph during the building of the Z.C.B.J. Lodge Hall, 1910. The hall is still much-used. [Haruza]
The Updike Elevator Company office, ca. 1900.
George's Saloon, Frank Vlasak at left, ca. 1940

European immigrants, mainly from Czechoslovakia, homesteaded the land south of the Platte near North Bend. A small settlement formed across the river from the Union Pacific tracks built in 1865, with nearby postal drops at "Benton," "Cedar Hill," and "Sand Creek."

When the Chicago & North Western Railroad built its branch line south of the Platte River in 1886-87, a town was platted on land owned by Chester Morse, and named for him. After being known as "Morse" for 15 years, the word "Bluff" was added to avoid confusion with a stop further down the line.

A newspaper, "Local Gleanings," was started by R.S.Honey in 1900. The town was incorporated in 1907, a water system installed in 1910, and electricity in 1912. The first school house was built just south of town on land purchased in 1886.

A Catholic church was built at Cedar Hill in 1880. A Methodist church was established at Sand Creek in 1897 and another in Morse in 1914. These two merged in the early 1920s. In 1945 St.George's Catholic Church had its beginning in a dance hall above the Wolf Garage. In the 1950s the parishioners completed the present church building.

Morse Bluff, a booming agricultural community in the early 1920s, had 216 residents and three dozen business. A visitor strolling the streets of Morse Bluff saw, in addition to the usual shops, a movie theater, a cement block manufacturing plant (a leading enterprise of the town), ice houses, and a warehouse to store beer. There was a city jail, a bank, a post office, a city hall, and an oil business. Down by the depot and section house, there was a stock yards.

The park had a tennis court, and the Czech Z.C.B.J.Lodge Hall, built in 1910, was the setting for many parties, dances, and plays, in addition to lodge meetings.

Enjoyed by many were the dances at Scott's Lake. The hall, decorated with paper lanterns, was cooled by breezes blowing across the lake into the big open windows. This entertainment center included dances, picnics, swimming, canoeing, and carnivals. Special trains stopped to unload and pick up passengers. Fireworks were mirrored on the lake on the 4th of July. When winter was its coldest, ice was cut from the lake for Morse Bluffs ice boxes. The last regularly scheduled dances were held in the 1950s. After its heyday, residents still cooled off in the lake, while thirsty cows drank from the stream.

The wooden bridge over the Platte between Morse Bluff and North Bend, built in 1880 just a foot above the water, buckled in a spring ice jam in 1912. It was replaced by one with iron spans and a wooden floor, one of the largest bridges built in Nebraska at that time. Costing over $87,000, it was the first state-aid bridge. As time went on, increased traffic and wider vehicles proved troublesome, so in 1973 a new, wide 1,508-foot bridge was completed, costing $1,488,254.

Floods in 1912, 1960, 1978, 1979, and 1981 damaged surrounding farm land and sometimes destroyed the road to North Bend. One year high school students had to travel nearly 80 miles a day, crossing the Platte at Schuyler or Fremont.

During the 1920-30s, four major fires destroyed eight businesses. A small number of volunteers, old hand-drawn apparatus, and a small pump contributed to the extent of these losses. Today Morse Bluff has a new firebarn and updated equipment. The elevator that burned in 1984 has been replaced with a modern structure.

The Morse Bluff High School closed in 1952 after 50 years of K-10. In 1962 the last train passed through town. Two years before, flood waters destroyed sections of track up the line, and it was not replaced. At its peak, four passenger trains stopped each day. The loss of the railroad furthered the decline of the town.

In 1987 a two-day celebration filled with music, entertainment, and food, marked the 100th birthday for Morse Bluff's 130 residents -- mostly commuters or retired people. There is no longer a Methodist Church, grocery store, or filling station. But, the streets have been paved and there are some new businesses: two bee operations, well digging, and a sand and gravel company. While the junior-senior high school students attend classes in North Bend, the enrollment at the K-6 school has increased.

By Joan Hruza, Box 36, Morse Bluff, NE 68648.