Skip Navigation

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  • Virtual Nebraska Logo

Virtual Nebraska

Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Bruning -- Thayer County

Among the early settlers in the northern part of Thayer County were a group of German Lutherans. By 1884 when they felt their stay "was permanent" they built a church (pictured at the extreme right). Later they built a larger church and impressive parsonage, and used the original church for a parochial school.
Bruning's semi-pro baseball team, managed by Herman Bruning, had an impressive record. (Picture of crowd extends much wider.)
Bruning's main street, 1912. Opera house on left, bank on the right.

"Oh, my goodness! There goes Irving's store!" exclaimed Mrs. Augustine in 1887, as she was looking out the door of her prairie home. Fortunately, what she saw was not her son's lone 10-by-14 foot combination post office-store that was "the town," but a collection of tumbleweeds and dust being driven northeasterly by a violent windstorm. Such were the humble beginnings of Bruning!

As he recounted the above event on July 4, 1927, Irving Augustine reported, "...things soon changed for the better." During that summer and fall, the town got a depot, a grain elevator, Meyers' blacksmith shop, and Schwitter & Philippi's mercantile store. As homes and more businesses appeared, Bruning became a "real town."

Bruning was just one of about 60 towns that came into being in Nebraska that year. Most were along branch lines being built between the main railroads. Located in Thayer County 23 miles from the Kansas border, Bruning was on the Burlington line that ran from Fairmont to Chester.

Starting the town wasn't easy. In Bruning's case, the people convinced the Lincoln Land Company that a town at this location was a "good investment." The land company's role was to lay out the town and arrange for a siding. In return, the company received every-other-lot in the 20 acres adjoining the right-of-way and could "fix the price" of all lots sold for the next two years. Not until Frank Bruning, Wilhelm Bruning, and H.J. Voss made several trips to Lincoln, and Frank went to Illinois to purchase the remaining 20 acres outright, were all requirements fulfilled.

More than a decade prior to this, settlers had established homes along the Dry Sandy Creek. With homesteads dotting the landscape, the center of activity was a schoolhouse called "Prairie Star," one mile east in section 3. The school was used for social and church activities, while the Frank Wells home, about a mile north, served as the post office, with mail delivered by the stagecoach that ran from Geneva and Belvidere.

Wells had come in 1872, as had Alfred Wilson and the Ernest Rippe family. Others soon followed. Most of the early settlers were Lutherans, who had emigrated from northern Germany, initially settling in Woodford County, Illinois, before coming to Nebraska. In 1884, convinced that their stay "was permanent," they built a church on the east edge of the future town.

The settlement was gradually transformed into a stable agricultural community. Frank Bruning's son, Herman, contributed greatly to its growth between 1900 and 1910, building three large cement block and brick buildings -- a hotel, a saloon, and an opera house -- all still standing as landmarks. He also helped establish the telephone system in 1901, municipal lights and water in 1914, and both sponsored and managed a very successful semi-pro baseball team. His sudden death in 1915 at the age of 44 was a great shock to the community.

The population of Bruning has remained steady at around 350, except during World War II, when the Army Air Base east of town brought 25 government-built housing units to Bruning. Many townspeople housed workers and servicemen's families in spare rooms in their homes or in make-shift apartments in basements.

Bruning has always been a progressive community. After the war Bruning was one of the first small towns to install dial telephones and build a modern sewage system. Curbing and paving was completed in 1974. Along with many new homes, we have a well-rounded business district with an outstanding grocery store, a new attorney's office, greatly increased capacity in the elevator. The Bruning Bank, now in the 4th generation of the Frank Bruning family, has been enlarged at least four times currently employing 20 people, with an insurance office in Ohiowa and loan office in Hebron.

Bruningites continue to invest in the town. In 1986 over $14,000 was raised for new band uniforms, in 1987 a third rescue unit was purchased, and in 1989 an $80,000 medical clinic was completed, using an initial gift of $25,000 from Larry Norder. Both churches have undergone extensive remodeling and the school, with an enrollment of 175-200, has had three additions, with a $40,000 sports complex built in 1990. A fund drive was begun in 1991 to refurbish the old opera house.

Confidence in our town, Bruning, continues. May it grow and prosper for another 100 years!

By Delma Bruning, 316 E. Main Street, Bruning, NE 68322

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The History of the Bruning Community, 1967; A Pictorial History of Bruning, 1976; and Bruning's Centennial History Book, 1987.