Alexandria -- Thayer County
Long before anyone considered living in this region, the Oregon Trail was carved through what is now Thayer County. The Big Sandy Station was not far from where the town of Alexandria is today.
Our history begins with the story of "Meridian," a town that no longer exists. Located near the 6th principal meridian, it was established in 1859 when George Weisel, after building a brush dam and mill on the Little Blue River, built a store and platted the town. Meridian was the county seat of "Jones County," and as such was a very busy place.
Issac Alexander, who arrived with his family in 1859, built a log cabin and stockade in the Big Sandy Valley. His oldest son, Silas, who lived in Meridian, was sent to St.Joe to talk with the officials of the St.Joseph & Denver City Railroad about "running their proposed line through Meridian." However, when the line was built, it missed Meridian by two miles, going instead through land owned by the Alexander family. A new town was created and given the name "Alexandria" by the railroad, the first town on the "ABC Railroad," (so named for the alphabetical naming of stations on the line).
When the first train arrived in 1872, Forsney Summers had built a store, the Nightengale House (hotel) was completed, and an implement dealer was ready for business. Silas Alexander dismantled his house in Meridian and hauled it on hay racks to Alexandria. In the shuffle of county names, when Jones County became Jefferson and the former Jefferson County was named Thayer, Meridian lost its county seat designation. One by one, businesses were pulled down the road to Alexandria, and others were torn down and the lumber reused on new structures.
One such building, Walker's Saloon, moved in 1875, was later used as a grocery, an implement and hardware store, a post office, a confectionary, and finally a saloon again. Purchased by the American legion and auxiliary in 1933, it was moved across the street, where it still serves this group and is the senior citizen dining hall.
A native limestone barn, built in 1880 by blacksmith Hank Austin, became a garage. A cement block building, once visited by Henry Ford, is now Heinrich's repair shop. The opera house is now a restaurant. Thomas' lumberyard, that did a thriving business until 1945, became a hardware, a laundromat, and is now a craft store.
Alexandria became known as "storm city." Tornados in 1875, again in 1877, and the biggest one in 1881, took several lives and resulted in floods that took out bridges and railroad tracks for miles.
"The Alexandrian" newspaper, established in 1879, becoming the "Alexandria Argus" in 1894. Published by the Thornburg family from 1897-1946, it eventually was sold to the "Hebron Journal & Register."
Alexandria's bank, which survived the 1929 crash, did not make it through the 1980s farm crisis. After it was sold to the Aurora Bank in 1982, an attractive addition was built. The FDIC, in a dramatic caravan complete with state patrol escort, closed the bank on April 10, 1985, and the building remains empty.
Alexandria's first school, an "ambitious project" blown away in the 1875 "cyclone," was replaced by a smaller building. A two-story brick schoolhouse was built in 1911. Following consolidation with Daykin and Tobias, a new school was built north and east of town, and given the historic name, "Meridian." The old PWA school auditorium, built in 1936, is being repaired by graduates of the old school for alumni activities.
A rural mail carrier, Richard Dill, known as "the father of pre-stressed concrete," built a concrete-slab house in 1936. Now on the National Register of Historical Places, it is presently owned by the Buchli family.
Recreation has always played an important role in Alexandria. A huge water slide was featured in Averill's Park in 1900. David Conner's park south of town on The Sandy was complete with cabins, boating, swimming, a swinging bridge, and croquet. Today the state lakes at Alexandria, fed by the same springs that made it a good stopping place on the Oregon Trail, hosts thousands each year for camping and fishing.
Alexandria's current population of 255, while down from its peak of 450 in 1910, is very much alive. The mural of the old roller mills in the new mini park on main street demonstrates our appreciation of the past and the great community spirit that has helped Alexandria place high in, and win, many NCIP contests.
By Virginia Priefert, Rte 1 Box 47, Belvidere, NE 68315