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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Byron -- Thayer County

Early settlers along the Kansas-Nebraska border did well to find enough logs to build a front to their dug-outs along "Scorpion Gulch." Frank James Byron, descendant of the English poet Lord Byron, lived in such an abode. [Petr]
A business block in Byron, ca. 1920.
Byron's Main Street, 1991.

The story of our town began with the coming of the railroad. However, it is a bit different since Byron began with a different name and as a "town divided," not only by the railroad, but also by the Nebraska-Kansas state line.

In 1873 the St.Joseph & Denver City Railroad Company received a grant of many acres of land for the construction of the railroad. In 1877 a prominent Fairbury attorney, Thomas Harbine, anticipating the location of this road through Thayer County, purchased a quarter-section of railroad land for $1,240 on which he platted a town named "Harbine."

The first building on the town site was the depot. A general store and a hotel appeared simultaneously on the south side of the railroad, in Kansas. While both sides grew, the Nebraska side lacked enough people to incorporate. When a crew of 80 men was building a siding through town, the ambitious village board "signed them up" as citizens and papers were prepared for incorporation.

By this time, 1889, a Jefferson County town named Harbine (started by the same man) already had a post office. The citizens of this embryo-town in Thayer County were obliged to choose a new name.

Frank James Byron, whose father had been killed in the Civil War, lived in a dugout with his mother and step-father on the west side of town in a ravine known as "Scorpion Gulch." Since Frank was a descendant of the English poet Lord Byron, it seemed fitting to the inhabitants to name their town "Byron" after this resident-celebrity. The Kansas-side remains Harbine to this day.

In its heyday, Byron boasted 20 or more stores and shops, plus a weekly paper, "The Byron Gleaner." It was an active community, socially. A town band was organized in the early 1900s, there was roller skating and dancing at Hayes Hall, and the "Five Hundred Club" presented home-talent plays that were a big attraction during the winter months. Annual street fairs, called "Byron Harvest Home Festivals," were started in 1907. In addition to a fine racetrack, people brought their livestock, poultry, agricultural products, and handwork to be placed on exhibition. Prizes of embroidery scissors, pocket knives, and hats, were awarded.

In 1902 a local farmer got a brilliant idea. By stringing a 12-gauge wire from fence post to fence post, connecting it to a box containing two batteries, then hooking it to his homemade transmitter and receiver, he was able to talk with his neighbors. This developed into the Byron Telephone Company, which remained a locally-owned business until the 1960s.

While there are many tales of "border skirmishes" during prohibition, the most serious crime in our town was a 1910 bank robbery. At midnight four men broke into the bank and blew up the safe, getting away with a large amount of cash. Bloodhounds were brought from Concordia, Kansas, and put on the trail of the thieves. When they were captured two days later, most but not all of the money was recovered. Two years later, a farmer out plowing his field reaped a "surprise crop" when he hit a large bag containing 1,400 pennies.

Byron's peak population of 206 was reached in 1930 and again in 1967. Today it is around 130. Of the two original churches, one remains and the other was remodeled into a senior citizens' center. The American Legion Post led a fund drive in 1946 which culminated in the building of a Memorial Community Hall, and a library became a plus in 1964. There is a local and rural fire district to provide protection for the community.

The high school merged with neighboring Chester-Hubbell in 1982. Elementary students are still taught in Byron, and a much-needed preschool was established in part of the schoolhouse in 1986.

Byron is noted for its men's baseball and softball teams. Enthusiasm has always run high. In more Victorian times, when some church-goers objected to Sunday ball games, the teams and fans simply crossed the tracks and played their games in Harbine. The local Lions Club sponsors T-Ball and Pee Wee softball each summer, raising the next generation of ball players. There are three extension clubs and 4-H for the kids. The Burlington Northern now operates the tracks along the state line, and while Byron has experienced a decline in population, a viable business and social center remains.

By Merna Tietjen, Sarah DeRienzo, and Norma Doil, Byron, NE 68325

 

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: History of Byron, 1880-1971 , Mrs. W. G. Reinke; and History of Byron- 1967 , Decker and Grupe.