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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Morrill -- Scotts Bluff County

Morrill in 1919. Below: An early auto, with wagon wheels, owned by Carroll Nichols, 1908.
An early auto with wagon wheels, owned by Carroll nichols,1908.
The Burlington "Y" track, where the trained turned around each day and went back to Mitchell. On the right is the "U" shape sugar beet dump. 1914.
Main Street looking south, 1987.

Morrill, in far western Nebraska, is not a metropolis by any means, but it just keeps thriving. It is a solid little town with excellent schools, progressive businesses, and pride in community development.

It all started in 1886 when the first settlers, Akers, Ford, Richards, and Weeks, found this fertile valley at the mouth of the Sheep Creek draw and staked their claims. They had come from Fort Collins, Colorado, so they called their new settlements "Collins."

As new families joined the community, they built a school -- a sod building to accommodate 18 school-age children. Established as a community effort, a social was held and $40 raised to buy desks and benches. The first teacher, Cora Akers, was paid with contributions.

They received a post office on January 2, 1889, with Weeks as postmaster. He also handled a few groceries and other essentials. The town was established.

After several summers of drought, it became apparent that farming would not be successful unless irrigation was available. The settlers, with only shovels, teams of horses, and a "slip", dredged out a canal eight miles long and brought water to the valley. Later the Tri-State Canal was built on this ditch line. Irrigation provided the initial push for town growth and it began to thrive.

The first Collins post office lasted only a few months, after which the settlers got their mail from the county seat and land office at Sidney, 125 miles away. (Usually mail was brought back to town by anyone having business there.) It wasn't until 1901 that a post office opened again in what was known as "Gaines Store."

When the railroad made its appearance in the area, the present location of the town was determined less than a mile from the early settlement. Charles Henry Morrill, president of the Lincoln Land Company, laid out a tract of land for a town when he heard that the Burlington was planning to have a depot in the area, and named it for himself.

The Burlington put in a "Y" track, allowing the train that arrived from Bridgeport with mail and passengers at noon to then turn around and go back. Prospective homesteaders could come to the end of the line, rent a team and hack for $1.50 from an enterprising liveryman, then scout the area for a suitable homestead site. Now Morrill was really thriving.

Morrill incorporated as a village in 1907. A building spurt had begun in 1905 as a result of the irrigation canals, so things were already booming. By 1908 the list of businesses and professional people was a long one. They provided all the goods and services needed by the growing community. All the buildings on main street were frame, except two; one, built of rock hauled from eight miles west of Morrill, and the other, a two-story brick, built as a mercantile store and opera house. Both buildings are still in use. In 1910 many of the frame buildings burned, but they were replaced with better ones.

Electricity came in 1912. Adam Abts provided the electricity using a big semi-diesel generator. The current would run from 4:00 to 10:00 at night. John Jirdon's memoirs record,.."if you weren't ready to go to bed, it was back to the kerosene lamps." Morrill continued to thrive.

Several business contributed to the town's growth. Morrill became an important shipping point for potatoes in the 1920s. Sugar beets, a major cash crop, used a unique U-shaped dumping station for the trip to the processing plant just six miles from town. Dry beans proved to be a good alternative crop (Nebraska processed 205,000 acres of beans in 1986). Started as a livestock and grain business, John Jirdon established a line of agricultural services. Jirdon Industries has grown and expanded to handle a full line of fertilizer, ag chemicals, and seeds. Jirdon Agri-Chemical, under separate ownership, is also a sizable business.

Morrill takes pride in its churches, now home to seven denominations. School facilities have continued to improve over the years, with the 1980 elementary added to provide for an increasing enrollment. Recreational opportunities include two parks, a swimming pool, and golf course. Morrill, with a 1987 population of 1,100, is a great little town and it continues to thrive.

By June Marron, Morrill, NE 69358