The Twin Cities...Gering and Scottsbluff -- Scotts Bluff County
Western Nebraska boasts of two thriving communities that share the banks of the North Platte River: Scottsbluff, on the north bank and Gering on the south. Known as "the Panhandle's Twin Cities," Scottsbluff is larger, but Gering is older.
Scottsbluff, one of Nebraska's "Big Twelve Towns," has the airport, hospital, and shopping mall and a population of 14,156. Gering, county seat for Scotts Bluff County, has the courthouse and offices and a population of 7,760. Each town has an industrial tract, parks, swimming pools, and schools. Located near the middle of the county, the twin city complex is only about 20 miles from the Wyoming border and just 200 miles from Colorado's industrial front range.
The North Platte Valley is approximately 20 miles wide at that location. The hills beyond the valley to the south average from 600 to 700 feet high; to the north, rolling hills are elevated 300 to 400 feet above the river. Each town has a railroad -- the Burlington cuts through Scottsbluff and the Union Pacific through Gering.
Sugar is "big business" in this area. The industry grew from humble beginnings to thousands of acres of sugar beets, and at one time included six large factories: Scottsbluff, Gering, Bayard, Mitchell, Minatare, and Lyman. Plants still in operation are at Scottsbluff, Mitchell and Bayard.
While agriculture is important, Scottsbluff/Gering also has a diversified economic base in its manufacturing activities, medical services, education, and tourism areas. The primary retail trade area extends 36 miles southeast, 20 miles west, 23 north east, and 45 miles north and contains approximately 42,080 persons. There are over 300 retail and nearly 100 wholesale firms in the area which distribute groceries, beverages, hardware, farm equipment, agri-products, automotive, electronic, electrical, and plumbing supplies.
A town was founded in March 1887 when this area was still part of Cheyenne County. Shortly thereafter they chose the name "Gering" for Martin Gering, the city's first banker. The new town's biggest promoter, Oscar Gardner, was named the first postmaster.
Its location was chosen based on the survey by the Union Pacific Railroad. However, tracks were not laid along the south side of the North Platte River until 1910, which was cause for great concern -- since a railroad was the lifeblood of a town in those days.
The primary objective of this new town was to help organize a new county, and be the county seat. Plans for organizing Scotts Bluff County went well, but there were three towns hoping to be named as its seat of government. After several elections, the balloting was between Gering and Mitchell. Support swung to Gering when voters were promised that, if Gering was chosen, the land company would build a free bridge at that location across the North Platte river. This promise was kept and Gering had the first bridge between old Camp Clarke (near Bridgeport) and the government bridge at Fort Laramie. Now there are three bridges across the river in the Gering/Scottsbluff area.
Pioneer churches laid a permanent foundation in the growth of the city of Gering. A baptist minister preached the first sermon in Gering in 1887, at a log house built by Martin Gering.
No single factor in community life is so full of history as the record of Gering's schools. It parallels the growth of the town. The first school session was held in 1887 with its first graduates recorded in 1891. The 1987 graduating class at Gering had 161 students.
Irrigation arrived in the area in 1902. The water is brought in by laterals from dams along the North Platte River in Wyoming, many miles to the west. Irrigation was the most important factor in the development of this new country, making the land in the valley profitable for farming and livestock feeding. Over the years, primary crops have been sugar beets, corn, dry edible beans, and alfalfa hay. The complex irrigation system, devised almost 90 years ago and considered to be "near-genius" in design, is also being used on several vegetable crops being introduced.
Like many towns, Scottsbluff came into existence as a result of the extension of the Burlington Railroad along the North Platte valley. The town site was laid out in 1899 by the Lincoln Land Company, a Burlington subsidiary, on land purchased from the McClenahan family.
By 1890 the town began to take form as W. Evans built a store, the Emery Hotel was started, and the first newspaper was published weekly. The bridge that made Gering the county seat provided a means for a sizable amount of traffic to access the railroad line on the north side of the river -- a situation that could have spelled the demise of the older settlement.
Then came the era of the "big ditches" and the construction of the Big Laramie and Tri-State irrigation canals. These projects brought several thousand construction workers into the valley. Alert Scottsbluff businessmen brought them into their bustling new town to trade. Before the construction boom began to taper off in 1910, the Great Western Sugar Company completed the erection of a factory and Scottsbluff had become the principal trading center of the valley.
With the advent of automobiles, people from both sides of the river and surrounding villages came to Scottsbluff to trade. The town kept pace with its business growth. It shook off its juvenile boisterousness by voting out saloons, temporarily, in 1907, and started replacing the frame buildings with more permanent brick structures, many of which are still in use. Concrete sidewalks began to replace wooden walks and electric lights replaced the gas lamp about the same time. A telephone system had been installed by the Platte Valley telephone company several years earlier.
Citizens organized a private library early in their history and then supported the city involvement in providing this service. The growth and development of the health care industry over the years has reached a goal where Scottsbluff currently hosts the largest health care facility between the state capital at Lincoln and Denver. Serving an 11 county area in western Nebraska and 2 in eastern Wyoming, the facility provides care for 9,000 patients each year with another 35,000 outpatients.
Compatible Siblings Help Spell Success
Gering and Scottsbluff, both cities in their own right, are maintained as separate corporations, having separate mayor/council governments, and separate school systems. The Chamber of Commerce is a "unit of businesses" representing both cities, and some facilities are also shared by both.
Traffic flows together along the busy highway between the two towns. Most of the commercial businesses serve both cities equally. There have been many discussions about joining the two towns into one government and one school system, but for the time being, the atmosphere in the area seems to be to leave the communities as separate units.
The twin cities share much more than the North Platte River. The area within a 50 mile radius is also teeming with history. It is rich in prehistoric artifacts as well as in the American tradition of pioneer days and the brief but colorful Pony Express riders. Spectacular "Scotts Bluff" towers over the two cities to the west. Immigrants along the Oregon/California and Mormon trails were awed at the sight of these rugged hills and great bluffs jutting up from the flat Nebraska plains. Ruts left by the wheels of covered wagon are still visible in the passes along the bluffs. The monument was incorporated into the national park system in 1919, so these landmarks can still be enjoyed by today's travelers.
Gering/Scottsbluff are like a hub of a huge history wheel with points of interest radiating in all directions. The Oregon Trail Museum, at the base of the monument, tells a vivid story of the building of the West by means of paintings, sketches, and other effective illustrations. Mitchell Pass, on the Oregon and Mormon trails, is one of the most famous of all gateways for human migration, dividing the huge bluffs. Roubidoux Pass lies south of Gering in the beautiful Wildcat Hills. Chimney Rock, the Oregon Trail's most familiar site mentioned in nearly every immigrant diary, is 25 miles to the east. Fort Robinson is north on the way to the Black Hills region. To the west, one soon encounters Fort Laramie, Register Cliff, Independence Rock, and the South Pass over the Rocky Mountains.
The determination, dedication, and perseverance of these early pioneers has carried over to the people of Gering and Scottsbluff, the twin cities on the plains of western Nebraska.
By Jolene Kaufman, Scotts Bluff National Monument, Rte 1, Gering, NE 69341