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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Prague -- Saunders County

At first glance, Prague, build among the rolling hills of the "Bohemian Alps", looks much as it did at the turn of the century.
Looking more closely, tall trees now tower with the church steeples, modern street lights illuminate the wide, paved streets, the silver standpipe proudly carries its name, and the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill are gone. [Nebraska State Historical Society]

The small town of Prague is located in western Saunders County in the area known -- once disparagingly but now affectionately -- as the "Bohemian Alps." Many of the residents are descendants of the Czech settlers drawn to America in the 1880s by a promise of prosperity.

Prague owes its beginnings to the railroad, which chose this site as the location of a station along its Ashland to Schuyler branch line.

The Lincoln Land Company, involved in many railroad town sites, purchased 160 acres from Joseph Kaspar. The company platted a town and sold lots in the spring of 1887. The first structure in the village was a saloon built by Frank Pop, which opened for business on September 15. A general store, hardware store, and another saloon soon followed. The post office was established in December. The people wanted to use the name "Praha," for the capital of Czechoslovakia, but since there was a town by that name in Colfax County, the English equivalent of the name, "Prague," was used.

The first train arrived that fall in October. Just one year later, in October 1888, the Village of Prague, with a population of 200, was incorporated.

The Czech background of its citizens was and is the dominant cultural and social theme in Prague. Religious needs are currently being served by two churches, the United Presbyterian Church organized in 1877 and St.John's Catholic Church, established in 1901. In the early years, both churches conducted their services in the Czech language. For many years, Prague High School, and St.John's High School continued to offer Czech language classes in their curriculum.

Prague's development was representative of other rural communities with rail connections. The railroad provided improved transportation and shipping, which guaranteed a steady growth of the town as the market area expanded. The town quickly became a thriving community with a variety of stores, businesses, and services that catered to the agricultural nature of the economy. The business most identified with the town's early history was the Fisher & Simanek Lumberyard, established in 1887. In 1903 Fisher sold his share to his partner, Thomas Simanek, who operated the business until his death in 1931, a span of 44 years.

In 1913 Dr. Joseph Kaspar built a hospital in Prague --the first in Saunders County. With the exception of a two-year period, Prague had a hospital until 1953, one of only two operating in the county.

With the increasing popularity of the automobile, rail use declined, which in turn caused service to be further curtailed. In 1941 the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, successor to the Burlington & Missouri River (B&MR), abandoned the line from Prague to Schuyler. For a time, rail shipments of grain continued between Prague and Ashland, but passenger service was discontinued. In 1982 the Burlington abandoned the remainder of the line.

Some changes are reflected in this loss. The number of businesses has declined as residents, needing to travel elsewhere to markets, also buy goods and other services while in these larger metropolitan areas. Prague, however, did not die. It continues to take pride in its history, especially that of its Czech ancestry.

In 1987 Prague celebrated its centennial. The crowning event was the construction of "the world's largest kolache." The project used 700 pounds of dough, 250 gallons of cherry filling, and took two hours and 45 minutes to bake, as compared to 10-15 minutes for regular kolaches. When it was done, the giant kolache weighed 2,605 pounds and measured nearly 15 feet in diameter.

Prague's highest population of 421 was recorded in 1930. The 1980 village had 300 residents. Governed by a village board, the chairman is Kenneth Kuncl, and trustees include; Alphonse Polacek, Robert Koranda, Ronald Paseka, and David Odvody. Janice Prohaska is clerk/treasurer.

By Deb Playfair, Curator of the Saunders County Historical Museum, Wahoo, NE 68066

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Prague Centennial History, SCHS, and Saunders County Nebraska, published in 1983.