Belvidere -- Thayer County
The second stop on the "ABC Railroad" was surveyed in 1872 at the time when the St.Joseph & Denver City Railroad was being built. The following year a post office was established and given the name "Belvidere," meaning "beautiful to see." Henry Talmadge, in charge of an earlier station at Elm Grove, was appointed postmaster, and after some initial problems with the plat were worked out, the town developed in what was by then a "typical fashion."
In 1887 the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad established a line from Strang through Belvidere, then south to Hebron, and a second depot was built. Belvidere was incorporated that year and by 1900 boasted a population of 475, making it the second-largest town in the county. When the old wooden courthouse in Hebron burned down and a new one was needed, Belvidere made a try for the county seat, but failed.
A schoolhouse was built on the hill overlooking the town soon after the town was established, which signifies the importance of education to the community. That building was moved to main street and remodeled into the Burruss Opera House when the new, brick school was built in 1895. In May 1918, when a windstorm blew the roof off that building, a consolidated district was organized and a new building completed in 1921. Belvidere graduated its last senior high class in 1958, and a petition to consolidate with Hebron was carried in 1969.
That fall the town board signed a 99-year lease with the Thayer County Historical Society to use the old school as a museum and library. Since then a second building for larger items, an old country school, and a UP caboose and track speeder, have been added.
Three churches were built in Belvidere: Presbyterian in 1884, Christian in 1885, and the Methodist Episcopal in 1886. Only the "little white church on the corner" has survived. Now the Belvidere United Church of Christ, the congregation of about 70 people celebrated the building's 100th anniversary in 1986.
Fires destroyed a good many businesses and homes over the years. A volunteer fire department was organized in 1936, at which time a city water system was installed. In 1989, together with the rural district, a new fire hall was built. This group also keeps a lookout for tornadoes in bad weather.
By the 1920s the population began to decrease. The town fought to keep the main north-south "Meridian Road" on its main street, but lost to those who wanted State Highway 81 one mile west of town. A population decline was felt when many families moved to California and other western states in search of jobs. The Depression and drought forced others from the land. World War II saw young people leave to serve their country or work in defense plants.
Belvidere has survived its share of disasters, the largest of which was on June 8, 1949, when a tornado roared up the main street, destroying a two-story business and killing three people. After clearing away the debris, a community hall was built from donations made, which continues to benefit the town.
Belvidere helped celebrate Nebraska's centennial in 1967 by creating a park on the William Lewis property. Lewis, a showman who had a traveling tent show, had built a bridge from his large home to the rehearsal hall on the other side, which adds to the unique setting. In 1972 Belvidere's centennial was celebrated in a big way: church-in-the-park, a parade, a rodeo, and many other activities made it a memorable day. Another celebration was held in honor of our nation's bicentennial in 1976.
During those years, Belvidere became involved in the Nebraska Community Improvement Program (NCIP), and was named "Number One Little Town" in 1971 and 1972. More community improvements have been made and as a result, Belvidere continues to win honors. The town's "woman power" was featured in an article by Tom Allan in the "Omaha World-Herald."
Belvidere's 1990 population is just 110. Agriculture continues to be the town's primary industry, with the large modern elevator serving as a major shipping point. The importance of the UP line cannot be minimized.
The struggles of a small town -- from an organized effort to keep the post office to beautifying the local park -- helps to keep Belvidere alive. There is no better place on earth to live. It is a place where everyone is a friend and neighbor. We care for each other and for our little town, Belvidere.
By Jackie Williamson, P.O. Box 387, Belvidere, NE 68315