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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Pilger -- Stanton County

The first homestead site, and Schauble's log cabin played a prominent role in the centennial celebration of Pilger in 1987. [Klima & Foote]
The first homestead site, and Schauble's log cabin played a prominent role in the centennial celebration of Pilger in 1987. [Klima & Foote]
Pilger's first portrait. Bennish's store on the right had " an endless supply of penny candies ..." and groceries, too.
During the early years, Pilger was plagued many times by flooding, ca. 1912. A "town ditch" was dug to prevent future damage
Even the ditch couldn't handle the water that came down the Elkhorn from the hill country west and north of town, 1940
Pilger's main street in early 1900s
Pilger's main street in early 1989

Brothers Charles and Mitchell Sharp were our first settlers in 1865 near Humbug Creek, a tributary of the Elkhorn River. They returned to Omaha to spend the winter, but came back the following spring with other families: Layton, Hoffman, Scott, Rustemeyer, and Schauble.

Pilger now stands on what was the Peter Schauble homestead. The first residence, a log cabin built by Andrew Schauble, later became a stage coach station. A post office, established in July 1868, was given the name "Canton."

In 1874 John Peter Pilger and his wife purchased 160 acres along the Elkhorn. Five years later, when the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad was being planned, the Pilger's sold their land to P.E. Hall and moved to Stanton.

In May 1879 bonds were issued to aid in the construction of the railroad through the county. A depot was built immediately and the first train arrived in Pilger on September 15, 1879. The following year the Pioneer Townsite Company purchased the land, platted the town, and managed the sale of lots for home and businesses. The records indicate that the name of the post office was not changed to "Pilger" until July 1884.

Pilger was incorporated by the county commissioners in June 1887. At that time it was noted, "...this village is free of debt, has good sidewalks (wooden), a fine schoolhouse, and is about to erect a jail."

A school (District 1) was organized in 1868 near the Humbug settlement. With the coming of the railroad, boundaries were changed and the schoolhouse moved into town, south of the tracks. In 1890 a four-room school was built north of the depot, replaced in 1909 with a six-room brick building. Between 1873 and 1894 a dozen rural schools were established near Pilger. The reorganization movement in the 1960s resulted in the majority of these schools merging with neighboring Wisner. The new Wisner-Pilger Junior-Senior High School opened for the 1969-70 school year. Elementary grades remain in their respective town locations.

Many churches have been active in the Pilger area. Trinity Lutherans organized near the Altona settlement in 1881, another Lutheran church was established eight miles southeast of Pilger in 1885, and Evangelical Lutherans started meeting in homes in 1890. A Baptist Missionary Church was organized in 1901, and a Methodist Episcopal congregation organized in 1891. An LCA Lutheran Church was organized in 1900, and a Danish Evangelical Lutheran group in 1926. These two merged, completing a new church in 1949. Catholic residents are served by churches in Stanton and Wisner. At this time there are three active congregations.

The town started with a depot, post office, and a general store, but expanded rapidly. It seems business people appeared on the scene simultaneously with the settlers who had come to farm the land. During the early years, nearly every variety of business and profession imaginable could be found in Pilger.

The coming of the automobile changed all that. Competition with large trading centers proved too much for many small businesses. Dentists and most doctors moved to bigger towns. The livery stables and millinery shops became obsolete, and the drug stores, newspapers, and movie theaters were no longer able to survive.

Despite these changes, Pilger, population 400, remains a productive, active community that serves many needs of the farming area and its people. Although size and type vary greatly, there are 50 or more businesses actively serving the community. In addition, we are proud of our library, museum, and a well-established senior citizens' center.

Farming and livestock remain the primary industry. Neighborhoods continue to be close-knit, probably as a result of the days of rural school districts, telephone party-lines, corn-shelling, threshing crews, and quilting bees, when neighbors depended on neighbors.

Plans for centennial activities started in 1985. Dedicated citizens wrote and published a centennial history, and worked on the plans for the July 1987 celebration. We are all proud of the effort, cooperation, and work that went into the event.

The logo, "Pilger Pride -- 100 Years in Stride," provided the theme of the event. It is our hope that the fine community spirit put forth for Pilger's centennial will continue years to come.

By Virgie Frerichs, Rte 1 Box 136, Pilger, NE 68768

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Centennial History of Pilger , 1987, Centennial Book Committee.