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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Rockville -- Sherman County

Rockville Station. A large crowd is gathered to see Chris and Lena Nielson off on a trip back to Denmark for a visit. 1909. [Ritz]
Rockville, 1910, the day after Halloween. Junk by the saloon, an outhouse down the street, and various pieces of machinery. The village board bought coal to steam up the engine to move it out.
Ritz' ox cart, 1885. The oxen's harness, included a bit and reins, was made by Jurgen Ritz.
New bridge as it is in, 1987.
Swinging bridge over the river after the flood, 1912.
Our town...Rockville, 1988. [Photos by Jean Thomsen]

Rockville was the second settlement in Sherman County, with the first families arriving in 1872. Early homesteaders were colonial Americans of British and Anglo-Saxon descent. Then Germans settled south of the Middle Loup, Danes to the east, Bohemians and Czechs to the southwest, and the Poles to the northeast in the hills.

When the Union Pacific Railroad built through the area in 1886, a town site was selected and land purchased from Austin Butts, Charles Webster, and William Stephens. The plat comprised over four sections of land. Perhaps the promoters visualized Rockville as a metropolis, or thought they needed a large tax base. But their primary purpose was to insure incorporation so a license for a saloon could be attained. It was not long until there was one.

A post office had been established in 1873. The names Laona and Rockford were already taken, so "Rockville" was suggested, and as such the town was incorporated in 1887. The main street, "Ley," was named for the man who surveyed the town.

A sod schoolhouse was built in 1874, with a little red building next. In 1886 a larger frame school was built and in 1925 a two-story brick school took its place. The brick school and a gymnasium are currently owned by the town.

By the turn of the century, there were two grain elevators near the depot, which brought farmers to Rockville to sell their crops. Main street had over a dozen stores, among them a stock exchange, produce station (which sold insurance, paint, and tombstones), two hotels, a bank, and Woodman of the World Hall.

St.Mary's Catholic Church was built in 1909, and after extensive remodeling inside and out, it still serves the community. The Community Church organized in 1935 and was served by ministers from Evangelical and Reformed, and Congregational churches. In 1968 it became the United Church of Christ, and it was rebuilt in 1982.

In addition to the arrival of the railroad, a wooden bridge built over the Middle Loup River in 1886 also strongly influenced the growth of the town. In 1907 a steel bridge was built, but only five years later floods washed out the north end. A temporary hanging foot-bridge was built before repairs were made. Floods in 1947, 1955, and 1957 required considerable dike and jetty work, in addition to repairs on spans and floor planks. Major reconstruction began in 1972, which included a concrete bridge and realignment of the highway.

Electricity came to Rockville in 1921, a sewer system was installed in the 1970s, main street was hardtopped in 1978, and most recently fire hydrants and a water system have been added.

In 1947 a small park featured a memorial board listing the names of all those who had served in World Wars I and II, a gold star denoting those who died. Though time, deterioration and vandalism caused the memorial to be removed. Restoration plans are being considered. In a show of patriotism, Rockville, like many small towns, erected a concrete-based flag pole in the main intersection. However, it was removed in the late 1950s after being viewed as a traffic hazard.

Rockville celebrated the Nebraska Centennial in 1967 and the Sherman County Centennial in 1973. The really big celebration was held for Rockville's centennial July 4-7, 1986, with parades, a barbecue, shows, ball games, and fireworks. An all-alumni meeting was enjoyed as many returned "home" for the event.

Today Rockville is a quiet rural community of 120. It is a place where one can hear the howl of coyotes, and the calls of quail, turtle doves, cardinals, and migratory birds in their flight. There is a distant train whistle off to the south, cattle lowing, the purr of irrigation motors and grain dryers, and large tractors coming and going to the fields, and best of all, happy children playing.

Rockville is lucky. Many other towns in early Sherman County such as Austin, Souleville, and Hayestown disappeared years ago. Our town enjoys special events such as the Fourth of July barbecue, games, and fireworks, and the Christmas party with treats, drawings, and of course Santa Claus. Not all small towns will survive another 100 years, but I hope that Rockville is one of them.

By Jean Thomsen, P.O. Box 144, Rockville, NE 68871

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Centennial book, and Sherman County Centennial Souvenir Edition.