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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Bee -- Seward County

The north side of Bee's main street looking east from the railroad station soon after it was established. First building on the left was the hotel.
The south side of main looking east, 1900s
Main looking west. The corner post office was once Ruzicka's meat market. The open space once contained several shops which burned in 1922. [Harris]
A two-story schoolhouse with four rooms but no gym was built in 1892. Pictured are the children and teachers in about 1910.

Bee, located in the alphabetical lettered precinct, "B," is one of the few towns in the world bearing the name of an insect. The village came into being when a railroad (Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley) was built from Fremont diagonally southwest to Superior in 1887-88. Within its first 100 years, Bee has had three major changes.

First, when Bee was platted, it was settled by English-speaking people anxious to get in on the ground floor of the new town. Within a short time there was a lumberyard, two elevators, four stores, a bank, a hotel, two churches, and a school. The Modern Woodmen Lodge built a two-story brick building on a lot donated by Michael Dunigan. Meetings and dances were held in the rooms upstairs.

Soon many businesses lined the street -- a creamery and a half-dozen more, including a drayman and a doctor. The surnames of these early residents included: Gumbel, Bedford, Moler, Terwillinger, Agur, Price, Leese, Noxon, Drake, Bates, Thomas, Patrick, Bye, Herrold, Feary, and Batchelder.

Change occurred within a decade, when the original shop keepers and farmers moved on, selling to some newcomers to America. Eventually the citizens of Bee were replaced entirely by Czech-speaking people, many who came as a result of political and economic troubles in their homeland. Now the names are: Ruzicka, Barcel, Kudrna, Stava, Dolezal, Plisek, Pelan, Sedlak, Kavan, Styskal, Makovicka, Krenk, Zavodny, Bushek, Rezac, Bila, Vampola, Vondra, Pavel, and Policky. The change, while involving many people, didn't alter the purpose of the town -- that of a market place, and community center. As time went on, businesses included a produce station, mechanic shop, service station, and a bowling alley.

The States Ballroom, built in 1939, was a spin-off of a WPA sidewalk project. With several weeks of pay still available for men who needed the job, Vlad Sobotka, a local builder/architect, is said to have sat up all night designing a structure that would keep them busy and "use the material at hand." The next morning he staked out the 12-sided, 5,000 square-foot building that used the concrete, gravel, wooden forms, and many hours of hand labor. This unique structure is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

For many years the ballroom was "the place to be" for Saturday night dancing, wedding receptions, anniversaries, and the great Bee Fireman's Picnic. In 1951 Emil Korinek got permission to paint lines on the floor and put up hoops for a basketball tournament. The event has continued under the guidance of Milo Novratil, school principal, for 7-8th grade boys in what also is affectionately called the "Bee Astrodome."

Then, from a busy town of nearly 250 residents in the 1920s, Bee has become a quiet residential town of 192. People not yet retired find employment in Seward or Lincoln. The railroad line that created Bee was abandoned in 1962. Its loss was felt by townspeople and farmers alike. The drop in population was not as significant as was the closing of nearly all the businesses here, many of them during the 1970s.

Today there is only the post office, a grain elevator, and the tavern still in existence. On any Friday night in the year, however, Bee comes alive, as cars line both sides and down the middle of the street. People chat while they wait in line for a table, and a plate of fish, imported from Norway then prepared and cooked to perfection. Music and laughter radiate from Lou & Mary Ann's Bar, which now fills all three buildings on the north side of the street.

Despite all the changes it has seen, Bee expects to continue well into the future. Pride has kept the village intact. Retiring farmers have built comfortable homes near the new Catholic Church. The school, the last remaining Class I school in the county, provides K-8 education for 25-30 students.

An active fire department built a new hall to house its equipment, and space for community activities and a polling place. Some buildings have been repaired, while others have been removed to improve the town's appearance. The old Woodmen Hall, however, is slowly deteriorated, used only for storage today.

Bee is sort of a melting pot of second and third generation Czech descendants and a cross-section of younger families who call it "home."

By Rosalyn Chmelka, Box 67, Dwight, NE 60635

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: On A Bend of The River , Graff, 1967; "The Seward County Independent"; and "The Log," Seward County Genealogical Newsletter.