Skip Navigation

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  • Virtual Nebraska Logo

Virtual Nebraska

Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Hubbell -- Thayer County

Hubbell's Brass Band, in fancy dress uniforms, pose for a photograph on main street prior to 1900. Behind them is the drug store, a meat market, real estate office, another drug store, Woolsey's store, and Clark's Store. [TCM]
The biggest flood was in 1869, but high water in 1915 and 1919 were also well-remembered. This photo was taken in the 1931 flood. [TCM]
A series of floods from 1941-51 left their mark on Hubbell.
The first building build by H.H.Johnson burned in a fire. Replaced, they are a credit to the town. The two-story building is the IOOF Hall. [Harris]

The town of Hubbell, located on this side of the Nebraska-Kansas state line, was established in 1880 when the Republican Branch of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad was being constructed through the area. The town of "Ida" is on the Kansas side of the line.

The Lincoln Land Company platted 120 acres belonging to Hubbell Johnson, the sale of which was split 50-50 between the company and Johnson. Since there was already a town named "Johnson" in Nemaha County, the name "Hubbell" was chosen, this being not only Johnson's Christian name, but also his mother's maiden name.

An early historical account relates, "...the development of the town, from when its first lots were surveyed to the time it was incorporated as a village, drives one to the hackneyed phrase 'mushroom growth.'" Three limestone quarries near Hubbell aided in this growth. Described as having all the earmarks of the typical "western town," the first saloon was opened "without delay" -- and was said to have done "a most flourishing business" (especially since Kansas was a "dry" state.)

The "forces of good" arrived almost as soon. The Presbyterian denomination began holding meetings in private homes and in its second year, 1881, the parishioners built a church and secured a resident pastor.

A four-teacher school, "one of the largest schools in the county," was also built in 1881.

Hubbell's phenomenal growth ended abruptly when the Rock Island Railway established lines both north and south of the town, cutting off much of the trade area. Growth not only stopped, but declined.

Perhaps in an effort to reverse the slumping economy, promoters "from outside the county" leased land near Hubbell and proceeded to bore for coal. On April 1, 1890, word was sent out that, "...coal [was] found at Hubbell in paying quantities." The town went wild. Everyone wanted a piece of the action. When a shaft was sunk to the depth indicated, not a particle of coal was found. Investigation proved that the coal exhibited at the test hole had been purchased in Kansas and was apparently used to "salt" the shaft the night before the discovery was announced.

One of the things that drew people to this location was the good supply of water on Rose Creek, so-named because of the wild roses that grew along its banks. Using water power, both a grist mill and a saw mill were established. A huge flood was noted by early settlers in 1869, said to have run "from bluff to bluff." Subsequent floods washed away the Marks Mill, and "snatched a child from his mother's arms" as she attempted to ride a horse across the swift current to higher ground. In 1915 and in 1918, floods visited the community again. The next series of floods came in 1941, 1948, and 1951. Heroic stories of rescues have been recorded, noting, "...those were thrills one does not care to relive."

Among the interesting people of Hubbell was Gus Pike, whose legs had been paralyzed as a child. As he grew up, his brothers built a small wagon, which they harnessed to the family dog, so he could travel about. Pike developed a musical talent, becoming a fine "fiddle player." For years he played at dances, returning home in the wee hours of the morning with his ".38" revolver for protection against coyotes or would-be robbers. After his mother died, he purchased a goat to pull his wagon, since it was difficult for him to cook food for a dog, and "a goat could eat anything."

A telephone exchange was established in Hubbell in 1906, and secondary grades 9-12 were added about 1916. Electrical power and paved streets came in due time.

A number of fires contributed to problems within the community, the worst being one that swept over the H.H. Johnson block. The buildings were replaced with new, modern structures that "are a credit to the town."

Bessie Johnson Roderick Brown's 1963 story of Hubbell states that the town grew to 600 inhabitants, but official census records list a high of 375 in 1900. The present population is 71.

By Jane Graff from material found in the files of the Nebraska State Historical Society.