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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Waco -- York County

Waco became a town when the tracks were laid from Seward to York in 1877. Pictured is train-time, 1912.
Bird's eye view of Waco, 1907.
Bird's eye view of Waco, 1907.

The beginning of our town, Waco, coincided with the railroad laying its track through the county, from Seward to York in 1877. In June a depot was established in a box car and Joseph Strickler was appointed station agent. Sarah Chapin, niece of the president of the railroad, owned 160 acres of land along the right-of-way. She offered 10 acres as a town site if "Waco" would be selected for its name. She had grown up in Waco, Texas, and was a graduate of the college in that city and wished to honor her home town and alma mater.

The first store was also started in a box car, but as soon as a large frame building could be built, the stock was moved to the permanent location. By February 1878 there were six businesses and a post office.

Just two years after Waco had been platted, the town had grown to 50 businesses and dwellings. Waco continued to grow and by the turn of the century had a Chautauqua, movie house, bowling alley, horse racing track, newspaper, and several doctors. There was even a visit by William Jennings Bryan when he was running for president.

With the coming of the automobile, Waco soon had several garages and automobile dealers, including Apperson, Brush, Grant, Ford, E.M.F., Overland, Regal, and Chevrolet cars.

Waco's highest population was in 1910, with just over 300 residents. It stayed about that size until the 1930s. Even during the Great Depression, Waco residents kept entertained at the free movies, roller skating, and the annual homecoming picnic. The S.Y.A. Highway (Seward-York-Aurora) went through town instead of at the north edge like Highway 34 does now. There was daily bus service and several passenger trains. With all this traffic, Waco needed three service stations and a "cabin camp," the forerunner to motels.

In the 1930s Waco had its "John Dillinger-style gangsters" come through town. They robbed the bank and took the owner of the Midget Hamburger Shop hostage, leaving him tied up several miles from town. They were never caught. The next day the hardware store quickly sold out of locks.

In the 1940s a lot of young men were called into the service, many of them gone for five years, and some never returning home. During the war, people would wave at the troop trains as they passed through town and wondered who might be on board. It was a lonely time for those left behind. After the war, farming changed more than at any other time in our history. Horses were a thing of the past and the irrigation-age had started. Since we are on the main-line of the Burlington Northern, the elevator and agri-based services have continued to do a good business.

Over the years Waco kept up with the times. We have a good water tower and a well-equipped fire department with a first-response unit. The town has a modern sewer system, natural gas, and paved streets. While we no longer have a local school, becoming part of the big Centennial District in 1967, we have a ball park, tennis courts, a community building, a fire hall, and a nice park.

In the last decade, Waco has experienced something of a rebirth, with several new homes being built and the Earth Stove Factory locating on the edge of town. In addition to the elevator complex, we have a good grocery store, a tavern, a beauty shop, a gun shop, a taxidermy studio, a bank, several garages, and a body shop. Waco, with a current population of 230, has survived -- good years and bad -- and is still a great place to live and raise a family.

By Jerry Finley, Box 167, Waco, NE 68460.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The Waco Centennial History Book , 1977.