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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Thurston -- Thurston County

A tranquil scene along one of the creeks in Northeast Nebraska, ca. 1870
A prairie fire, always a worry in early years, was fought with bucks of water, burlop bags, and shovels. [Nebraska State Historical Society]
Downtown Thurston on a Saturday afternoon, 1989. [Harris]

The original name of the railroad station at this location was "Flournoy," thought to be the name of a man who "worked on the railroad in an official capacity of some kind." In 1895 the name was changed to "Thurston," in honor of John M. Thurston, the U.S.Senator who was responsible for getting the laws changed so that the county could be opened to settlement.

Since the land on which the town is located was part of the Indian Reservation prior to 1884, its settlement came as a direct result of steps taken at the time of the land-rush. Dr.Wilkinson, agent of the Winnebago Indians, accepted John Hutchens' bid of $2,500 for the town site. John Lemmon, from Oakland, was the first to move his store to the new town. Soon there were shops of almost every kind and description.

The first depot was a boxcar located near the old sand pit south of town. Later a "proper depot" was built, with a larger one constructed in 1918. At first there was only one freight train each day with a passenger car on the end. In time there were three passenger trains daily in each direction. The stock yards were used by the farmers for shipping livestock to Omaha or Sioux City. This rail line, like many others, was phased out and has been removed.

The first schoolhouse was also used as a church. The Catholics held services in the morning and the Methodists in the afternoon. In 1906 the school was moved and another classroom added. As time went on, a two-story brick schoolhouse was built. A kitchen, lunchroom, and auditorium were added in 1957. Now part of the Pender-Thurston system, the building houses some 155 students in grades 2-6.

At one time there were four churches in Thurston; Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, and Assembly of God. At this time, only the John Huss Presbyterian Church remains. This congregation is responsible for the mural, "Spanning the Ages," painted on the north side of the firehall in 1976. The church is a symbol to all that God is in His heaven and all is right with the world.

Many fires plagued the town in the early years. Until 1948, the only fire equipment was a small hose cart. At that time the first fire truck was purchased. A second truck was purchased in 1969, and a fire station built in 1970. In 1973 a fully-equipped rescue unit arrived, and 20 or more people took the EMT course to properly staff it.

The Kenneth P.Lewin American Legion Post was organized in 1956. One of its money-making projects was an annual buffalo feed. Originally held in the Legion Hall, it grew so large that it was moved to the school gym. In 1959 a record 1,320 people were served. Several years later, when buffalo meat became too expensive, it was discontinued.

Watermelon Day was revived in 1960 after being discontinued during World War II. Sponsored by the Legion and auxiliary, it includes a dinner, kiddy parade, ball games, and of course, all the free watermelon you can eat.

The town started taking on a new appearance when a post office was built in 1972. In 1976, when several new homes were added to the community, Thurston installed a new sewer system. In 1978, after the old hotel was torn down, a new park shelter house and playground equipment were built, and tennis courts added.

Thurston's population peaked in 1930 with 230 residents. The current number of residents is just over 140, about the same as it has been for a decade or two, but "with the spirit that has prevailed in all of the years gone by." Although not large, it is still a very special place to all who grew up here, and people proudly say, "We are a warm community!"

Material submitted by Lila Lander, Pender, NE 68047, from the Arg-U-Not Club "History of Thurston, 1989."

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Thurston Gazette, 1905.